Jean-Luc Godard’s “Two or Three Things I Know About Her” Is Radical Filmmaking At Its Best
The Criterion Collection is a distribution company that specializes in “important” classic and contemporary films. Through Hulu, many of these films are made available to stream. Once a week, I like to illuminate a Criterion movie — to deepen one’s understanding of filmmaking and film history. This week’s movie: “Two or Three Things I Know About Her” (1967).
Once in awhile, there comes a movie you watch that leaves you perplexed and at a loss for words. In those situations, I can only hope those feelings can transform into a positive experience for you. Sadly, most of the time, a movie that is so out there usually leaves the viewer disgruntled.
Why did I waste my time?
Personally, this experience usually end up after watching a film from the French New Wave movement. The term was given to French filmmakers of the 1950s and 1960s by critics (French New Wave was never officially a movement). The movies from these French filmmakers experimented with story structure, camera movement, themes and much more. Filmmakers such as André Bazin, François Truffaut, Jacques Demy and Jean-Luc Godard led the way with films that tested every conventional filmmaking technique that come before them.
Films like Truffaut’s The 400 Blows and Demy’s The Umbrellas of Cherbourg are go-to examples of the French New Wave movement. However, if you are looking for a movie with the true power of French New Wave, look no further than Jean-Luc Godard’s Two or Three Thinks I Know About Her.
It’s fucking crazy.
Two or Three Thinks I Know About Her is one of three films Godard filmed that was released in 1967. The film does not following a structured story. It is a filmed essay about Godard’s view of life set in 1960s France. Godard narrates the film, while we follow Juliette Jeanson (played by Marina Vlady) as she completes daily tasks like shopping and housework. Godard has said he wanted this movie to include everything about life, “sports, politics, even groceries. Everything should be put in a film”.
A fair warning: if you like your movies to have a rising action, climax and resolution, stay away from this film.
I have to give credit where credit is due. This film is just about as far as what you are typically going to get in a film. Godard gives the viewer a fresh look at his reality — given his cinematic boundaries. There is nothing in this film that is “spiced up” to give the characters or action an exciting edge. However, Godard enjoys the complexity of how he presents daily life. Although Two or Three Thinks I Know About Her is not a documentary, the film conveys sense of “realism” that I can appreciate.
There are some odd choices Godard uses to give you this reality. For one, the introduction to the main character is extremely revolutionary. We see Jeanson in center frame. A voice-over — Godard’s voice — introduces her, “She is Marina Vlady. She is an actress.” WHAT!? The viewer is introduced to the character with her actual name and a description of who she is and what she looks like. The adage “Show, don’t tell” is thrown out the window. Not only is Godard showing us his characters, but he is also giving us a description we can clearly see.
The viewer gets to see the characters break the fourth wall multiple times. For me, the most jarring instance came when Jeanson was shopping. This breaking of the fourth felt the most forced and unnatural. In these scenes, the characters wore an earpieces and Godard would feed them questions they would have to answer in character. For example, in the shopping scene, an employee of the store stops and looks at the camera, only to give her character’s plans for the evening. Another employee stops working and tells the camera she has hazel eyes.
Visually, the film is standard. No sweeping camera work or striking photography. Godard inserts shots of construction and city life in between scenes of the daily life of Jeanson and fellow Parisians. This is where the complexity is profound. Jeanson is a prostitute, and lives in the high rises that are being built in the Parisian suburbs. Godard views these high rises as “promoting a value system based on consumerism” —or as Godard see it: prostitution. Living in these high rises calls for someone to work and work, sometimes having jobs they do not want to have. Godard, in a debate with Zoom in 1966, called this way of life a “prostitution of the mind”.
Welcome to French New Wave.
If it sounds like I am knocking these type of movies, I am not. I applaud the originality that directors like Godard have with their films. The experimentation of films from this era is telling evidence of the changing landscape of movies. However, these are not easy films to sit through. Your mind will wander. You will be confused. It is an absolutely new and wild experience one can have with film.
I recommend for those looking to expand their cinematic horizon. Like always, this film is streaming on Hulu.