I am in no way an aesthete when it comes to French history or politics but “Le Gai Savoir” is a complex, abstract and fascinating film but there is a message that even the viewer can deconstruct and ponder about. Anyone wanting to watch a radical Godard film will no doubt enjoy “Le Gai Savoir”.
© 2017 KINO LORBER. All Rights Reserved.
TITLE: Le Gai Savoir
DATE OF FILM RELEASE: 1969
DURATION: 92 Minutes
BLU-RAY INFORMATION: 1080p (1:37:1 Aspect Ratio), 2.0 French Monaural
COMPANY: Kino Lorber
RATED: Not Rated
RELEASE DATE: October 10, 2017
Directed by Jean-Luc Godard
Written by Jean-Luc Godard
Text by Jean-Jacques Rousseau
Cinematography by Georges Leclerc
Edited by Germaine Cohen
Juliet Berto as Patricia Lumumba
Jean-Pierre Leaud as Emile Rousseau
Jean-Luc Godard (Narration)
While alone in an abandoned television studio, two militants, Émile Rousseau (Jean-Pierre Léaud) and Patricia Lumumba (Juliet Berto), have a discourse on language. Referring to spoken word as “the enemy” – the weapon used by the establishment to confuse liberation movements – the two deconstruct the meanings of sounds and images in an attempt to “return to zero” and truly experience the joy of learning.
For French filmmaker Jean-Luc Godard, while celebrated for his French New Wave films, his supporters and even his friends started to see a change with the filmmaker who shifting towards films that were becoming more political and going after government and also society.
While his film “Pierrot le fou” touched upon certain themes for very few scenes, his interest in German poet and playwright Bertolt Brecht and the thought of alienating a viewer through a separation of elements in the medium. Characters would address the audience about their thoughts, feelings and more.
And so the period between 1968-1979 is called his “Militant Years” or “Revolutionary Years” in which Godard abandons mainstream filmmaking to pursue low-budget political films and collaborating with Jean-Pierre Gorin.
And Kino Lorber has release two films from this period on Blu-ray, his 1968 film “La Chinoise” and “Le Gai Savoir” (Joy of Learning).
The film focuses on two primary characters, Patricia Lumumba (portrayed by Juliet Berto) and Emile Rousseau (portrayed by Jean-Pierre Leaud). Narration was done by Jean-Luc Godard.
To provide a background on this film, the film was shot before civil unrest took place in France and after. In France, there were massive strikes and many people on strikes would occupy universities and factories throughout France. Students went on strike against capitalism, consumerism, American imperialism and traditional institutions. This spread to 11 million workers on strike.
So bad were the strikes that the entire country’s economy was brought down and there was fear of civil war or a revolution.
While looked at as one of the dark times in French history, it is also regarded that the events led to a cultural, social and moral turning point for France.
In the film, Emile Rousseau (portrayed by Jean-Pierre Leaud) is the great-great-grandson of Jean-Jacques (Jean-Jacques Rousseau is a Francophone Genevan philosopher, writer and composer of the 18th century) Patricia Lumumba (portrayed by Juliet Berto), Third World delegate of the Citroen auto plant who got caught for giving people with recording devices, come in contact with each other inside an unused TV studio.
Patricia’s goal is wanting to learn and teach everyone that they must turn back against the enemy that weapon which he attacks everyone through “Language”. Emile tells her that because they are on TV, to go into people’s homes and ask them what they want to know.
The two take part in seven late night TV dialogues and eventually the two analyze the relationship between cinema and politics.
The two would then meet up for seven evenings to analyze sound and images. To decompose and to recompose.
“Le Gai Savoir” is presented in 1080p High Definition (1:37:1 aspect ratio). The majority of the film features Emile and Pamela surrounded by black backgrounds with lighting on them. There are then a plethora of classic images shows. The film received a 2K restoration and you can see details, especially Juliet Berto’s freckles. With that being said, for the most part, the picture quality is great but it’s not exactly a film that people will be expecting to see a whole lot as it limits visuals to Emile and Patricia. No backgrounds, just the two performing (like as if they were on a blacked out stage with a spotlight on them).
AUDIO & SUBTITLES:
“Le Gai Savoir” is presented with French with English subtitles. Lossless audio is 2.0 Mono and for those who have never watched a Jean-Luc Godard film, while you will get crystal clear dialogue, expect to hear a multitude of songs especially annoying sounds but also inclusion of sounds that are being analyzed by the characters.
“Le Gai savoir” comes with Godard film trailers (for films released on Blu-ray from Kino Lorber) and a short video by Fabrice Aragno (DP of “Goodbye to Language” and “Film Socialisme”) titled “Promenade Dans Le Gai Savoir”.
The Blu-ray comes with a 16-page booklet with essays by Richard Hell and Adam Nayman.
May 1968, France’s economy was shut down. The largest general strike in an advanced industrial country, 11 million workers were on strike for two weeks and student protests ran rampant. It was a blow to President Charles de Gaulle’s government and groups revolted against modern consumer and technical society.
1972. Filmmaker Jean-Luc Godard ala the man who was instrumental for Nouvelle Vague was no more. The era from the late ’60s to early ’70s was the filmmaker’s “radical” years. His interest in Maoist Ideology led to his partnership with Jean-Pierre Gorin and together they formed the socialist-idealist Dziga-Vertov Cinema group (named after Soviet filmmaker Dziga Vertov) and both would go on to create political films and from 1968-1973, the two would create films showcasing their Maoist beliefs. Also, Godard incorporating his Brecht style to alienate viewers.
“Le Gai Savoir” is a film that you will either love or hate. As many film critics who championed Godard’s earlier work would distance themselves from reviewing the filmmaker’s films during his revolutionary period, his radical years, because films such as “Le Gai Savoir” are complex and for some, incomprehensible.
Two characters who are literally opposites, wanting to meet each other in a TV studio to analyze film and politics, to analyze sound and images. To decompose and to recompose.
And knowing that they can get into people’s homes via television, they plan a three-year course to re-educate people through a political program.
Similar to classic Godard films which would often cut away to other scenes, to eliminate sound, bring back sound or throw in other sounds, these two characters want to start from teh beginning and go back to zero. To start anew and believing a revolution is waiting to happen.
The two read, they listen to radio and discuss the information they come across and eventually developing mutual beliefs.
For all its worth, the film proves to be a didactic style that Godard would be known for. He was not interested in going back to the days of being popular. In fact, when “Breathless” became popular, he wasn’t thrilled about it.
So, I am going to tell you right now…If you have never watched a Jean-Luc Godard film, do not start with this film. To appreciate this Godard film, you need to go along with the journey of knowing Godard’s previous films. Seeing how this filmmaker changed from “Breathless” up to “Weekend” and then seeing how the turbulent times had changed Godard.
From what transpired in France in May 1968, the Algerian War to the Vietnam War, those French New Wave years were over and this Maoist Ideological version of Godard is what the late ’60s and ’70s is what had become of the man. So, if you enjoy “La Chinoise”, enjoy “Le Gai Savoir”, then you will no doubt enjoy “Tout va Bien”, but if you enjoyed “Breathless”, “Band of Outsiders”, “Pierro le fou”, “Masculin Feminin” and want those similar style of films, Godard’s style of filmmaking and creative direction changes completely from “La Chinoise” and “Weekend” and on.
I am able to enjoy Godard films because I was able to go through the journey of Godard films, watching his films over and over and discovering something new each time. While I have no doubt the impact of this film is felt more by the French, especially those who lived during the late ’60s and saw or experienced the political unrest have feelings probably after watching this film.
I am in no way an aesthete when it comes to French history or politics but “Le Gai Savoir” is a complex, abstract and fascinating film but there is a message that even the viewer can deconstruct and ponder about.
Anyone wanting to watch a radical Godard film will no doubt enjoy “Le Gai Savoir”.