“No one is independent!”
When one considers the films of Jean-Luc Godard, they usually think of his early work, which includes such classic films as BREATHLESS and CONTEMPT. Much of Godard’s later work is largely ignored by many film lovers, possibly due to the fact that his later films are much less accessible than his early work. With the exemption of Alain Resnais, the French New Wave filmmakers’ later work just didn’t seem to stand up to the films that made them famous. This also applies to Godard, but that is not to say that he didn’t make some excellent films later in his career. After 1972’s TOUT VA BIEN, Godard abandoned narrative filmmaking. He went to work on avant-garde films (even more avant-garde than his usual work, that is), and did not return to narrative until 1980. In 1980, Godard made SAUVE QUI PEUT (LA VIE), or in English, Every Man For Himself, titled Slow Motion in the UK. While the film does have a traditional narrative structure, it still features the strong political commentary Godard has always been known for, which is elevated even further in this outing.
SAUVE QUI PEUT (LA VIE) follows three struggling people, who weave in and out of each other’s lives. We are first introduced to aptly named Paul Godard (Jacques Dutronc), a snarky filmmaker whose struggling relationships with the women in his life begins to interfere with his frame of mind. Our second protagonist is Paul’s ex-girlfriend, Denise Rimbaud (Nathalie Baye), who is trying to get rid of the apartment they once shared so she can move away from the city. Introduced half-way through the film is the most interesting character of the three, Isabelle Rivière (a gorgeous, young Isabelle Huppert), who assumes the role of a prostitute, found often in Godard’s work.
The film is a sort of rebirth for Godard, who in fact called it his “second first film”. Like Godard’s debut BREATHLESS, SAUVE QUI PEUT (LA VIE) finds Godard experimenting with brand new things. He uses slow motion (hence the UK title), in the most tense moments, where other films would usually have fast-paced action. He also plays with music and sound in many interesting ways. He has dialogue overlapping in situations, where we end up hearing the actual dialogue of the scenario, but also an internal monologue from the protagonist in the scene. Like in many of his other films, Godard plays with the tone of the film. Where some situations (like Isabelle’s degradation by a client) would be taken very seriously in most films, Godard finds ways to inject a strangely dark humour, making it impossible not to chuckle in a moment you wouldn’t ordinarily find funny.
The character of Paul Godard provides an autobiographical side to the film. He is a filmmaker who is adored by the public, but just doesn’t seem to know where to go next. Both men and women beg to sleep with him, which shows the filmmaker’s obvious self-confidence, but he usually refuses. The strongest character in the film is Huppert’s Isabelle. The stone-faced prostitute serves as the filmmaker’s existential medium, who appears to be selling her body because she simply has nothing better to do.
While it may be slightly confounding on first glance, SAUVE QUI PEUT (LA VIE) is a very strong film. At times it can be challenging to comprehend but each viewer will have a unique experience while watching it.
SAUVE QUI PEUT (LA VIE) kicks off the second half of TIFF’s Godard retrospective, GODARD FOREVER PART 2, which leads up to Godard’s latest film, GOODBYE TO LANGUAGE 3D. SAUVE QUI PEUT (LA VIE) is an essential film for anyone planning on catching GOODBYE TO LANGUAGE 3D, as it sets a sort of precedent for the themes and tools Godard employs in his new film. SAUVE QUI PEUT (LA VIE) will be presented in its original 35mm format, on a beautiful archival print and will be accompanied by SCENARIO DE SAUVE QUI PEUT (LA VIE), a 20 minute video essay on the feature. The series runs through December. For more information and for tickets, visit tiff.net.