“‘I DON’T LIKE Godard’ is a statement one frequently hears at Film festivals”, writes Satyajit Ray in his essay “A Word About Godard,” an essay from our featured book Satyajit Ray on Cinema.
The book includes a wide range of Ray’s writing on film, including sketches of and essays on fellow filmmakers. Below is an excerpt from his essay on Godard in which he questions some of the assessments of JLG’s critics. You can read the full essay as well as Ray’s view of Michelangelo Antonioni here.
Now, I don’t like Godard too. But then, ‘like’ is a word I seldom use to describe my feeling about truly modern artists. Do we really like Pablo Picasso, or Claude-Michel Schönberg, or Eugène Ionesco, or Alain Robbe-Grillet? We are variously provoked and stimulated by them, and our appreciation of them is wholly on an intellectual level. Liking suggests an easy involvement of the senses, a spontaneous ‘taking to’, which I doubt if the modern artist even claims from his public.
Godard has been both dismissed summarily, and praised to the skies, and the same films have provoked opposite reactions. This is inevitable when a director consistently demolishes sacred conventions, while at the same time packing his films with obviously striking things.
Likewise, Godard has scenes in his films which begin to suggest a human involvement. But they are inevitably cut short or developed with deliberate illogicality, as otherwise they would be ‘conventional’ and, therefore, out of key with the rest. In more than one Godard film, key characters have been killed off by gunmen at the end, and there have been no logical reason for such obliteration.
Now, to a mind attuned to the conventional unfolding of plot and character, such things may well seem upsetting. But one can never blame Godard for thwarting expectations, for he is careful to establish his credo from the very opening shots. In Une Femme Est Une Femme, there is a prologue in which some of the main sources of the film’s style are actually named in screen-fillingletters. Vivre Sa Vie states clearly in the credits that it is ‘A Study in Twelve Scenes’ and Masculin Feminin calls itself a film in
The trouble, really, is not with Godard, but with his critics—or, at least, a good many of them – who are constantly trying to fit a square peg into a round whole. With any other art, I would have said with confidence that Godard would win in the end. But in the ruthless and unserious world of commercial cinema
that he has to operate, I have my doubts.