Oh, Woe is me (1993)
By the early 1990's, the vanguard of cinema, which had brazenly plunged ahead into all-out experimentation in the decades preceding, had been thoroughly put down. Either domesticated, retired, dead, or castrated by industry, the cinema makers had shrunk back into their seats and relegated their creations to a place of fanciful triviality on the stage of society; what once seemed a divine mission and noble vocation was a sideshow attraction at best and an effective tool to gain personal fame and wealth by its most practical definition. The broad and limitless spectrum of what constituted cinema had been clipped and de-clawed and categorized into video store sections of 'Horror', 'Comedy', 'Drama' and 'Thriller'. Ever the agent provocateur of cinema, Godard never got the memo and continued on making films that grew, evolved, never could be categorized nor even so much as summarized and went further into the thick woods of cinematic possibility rather than linger on its edges where it could clearly be seen. 'Play where I can see you', in a way and Godard's films, as always, do not. They venture where they will, they go further than we may be prepared to follow, and we must if we're to keep a grip on the journey. Godard's cinema can only be experienced and can only be known from one frame leading into another, never can the frames be separated and reassembled as plot descriptors, nor can they be so succinctly analyzed, that's not why we're here. The words that stick feel as though we've seen the convergence of narrative pull, of Simon and Rachel and what will they do next and perhaps we can't even agree on what they did do before this.
Once, we knew a place, we knew how to light the fire, we knew the prayer. Now, we know none of these things, we can only tell the story. Oh, Woe is Me has markings of the process of rediscovery, of finding those things again; it also carries the mark of merely being a story about those things. A hunter of stories stalks the film, the story now being the film's prize. What can be said of a film where the Gods step down from the heavens on their ziggurat and inhabit the minds of men? Quit talking and start chalking. Godard's tale tells us not of a generation that time forgot, but of a generation who forgot time, the beginning of the internet age, perhaps even unaware, was already changing the face and structure of the world. The age of information where all information is accessible, and all information is just data, all information is meaningless, each piece regarded with the same significance and anything else. To a lost age after the fall of communism, when the west celebrates its victory and war is all among us, God himself descends on the staircase built for him in the centuries past and inhabits the body of Simon. Godard does not cease to layer multiple meanings and stimuli on top of one another, a substantial element of his filmography from this point forward, the layering of audio here suggest the layering of video that will occur decades later in Goodbye to Language. Characters are dressed up from without, Depardieu is given a new hat, trench coat, newspaper and made to appear as another character. Characters are inhabited from within, as above so below, Simon becomes God, or at least says he does, or at least that's how the story is told. We who exist now have forgotten all these things, and where all originates from, but we know enough to tell the story. As one grand narrative after another crumbles at the twentieth century's end, the characteristics of communism, of christianity, of national stories and cultural tradition seem to be vanishing form the Earth, replaced by new ones, new quasi-narratives. History not printed on stone or page is easily washed away and we have entered the age where neither are used; same screen different content. Woe to the people of the coming twenty first century.
Our characters speak in riddles and proverbs, time-tested mantras to live by are tested again in a new time. Godard's later output, especially with this film, seems to come from a place outside of time itself. It is no longer reflective of film convention of any time, nor is it railing against it. Like all great artists, Godard has spent so many years fully immersed in his craft that it has fused with his DNA, the films of Godard's later periods find cinema at its most basic elements and building blocks, as the microscope drills in to matter and shows us sub-matter, Godard brings us cinema at a sub-celluloid level, the river of substance that flows through its veins. The film does not seem to begin or end, merely start and stop, at times even during we are at fits and starts, the film shedding and applying its layers at various intervals, sometimes all at once and others not at all. The film's plot builds and disperses much in this way, we are privy to all time at once and not in any linear fashion. at times we are within the film, and at times totally outside of it looking at it from a removed distance. How do we discern between these two states? Does not any inclusion in the runtime of Oh Woe is Me cause it to be part of the film? Godard's film is as a deep dark wood, we venture in and eventually emerge with the clear idea that we likely did not see all of what it had to offer. The mythology of the film sees that Gods sometimes abandon men to their folly and doom, and the art can abandon the artist just the same, and the person can abandon all wisdom and knowledge of their own culture and history, but never will history abandon us, it can't. Whatever happens will be absorbed into the story of us, be the Gods among us or not.