A large blue, white, and red colored block lettered placard initially defines the referential elle of the film title as the Paris region as an off-screen narrator (Jean-Luc Godard) speaking in whispered, barely audible tone provides a contextual reference of the year 1966 through the annotation of Paul Delouvrier’s appointment as prefect of the newly created Paris region juxtaposed against the images (and din) of heavy machinery, construction, and urban traffic. A subsequent vignette provides a secondary definition of elle, as the narrator provides an abstractly clinical description of the film’s lead actress, Marina Vlady, a photogenic young woman of Russian ancestry who recites the Brechtian methodology to “speak as though quoting the truth” before truncating her pensive reflection in mid sentence and turning away from the camera to the right of the screen, revealing her strikingly luminous profile. A quick, unmatched cut of the actress in medium shot, still overlooking a high-rise building from the balcony of a comparably high-density residential complex, introduces a third elle into the variable equation: the attractive, but intriguingly inscrutable heroine, Juliette Jeanson (M. Vlady), the wife of a financially struggling, yet seemingly content and undermotivated mechanic (and passive intellectual) named Robert (Roger Montsoret) who, as the actress herself had similarly performed earlier, articulates a passing idea through a half finished sentence – this time, in reference to popular (and prolific) detective and mystery author Georges Simenon and his novel, Banana Tourists – before turning to the left of the screen …an opposite, but equally reflexive gesture that, as the narrator once again comments, is of no importance. The three elles ultimately define the film’s discursive plane as the camera follows Juliette in the course of a typical day in the life of the young wife and mother as she performs her domestic tasks, shops, meets friends, and prostitutes herself to make ends meet in the uncertain socioeconomic climate of postwar Paris as the newly created regional administrative goverment rushes headlong towards rapid urbanization.
Two or Three Things I Know About Her is a highly eccentric and audaciously complex, but sincere, passionate, and infinitely fascinating exposition on identity, modernization, international politics, and consumerism. Articulated though the repeated reflection, “a landscape is like a face”, Jean-Luc Godard juxtaposes images of large-scale urban construction with character opacity and depersonalized sexuality in order to intrinsically correlate the incalculable human consequence of reckless government policy: an irresponsibility that is not only evident internationally, in the increasingly complex and aggressive U.S. foreign policy stemming from the Cold War (and particularly, its effect on the prolongation of the Vietnam conflict), but also domestically, as the Paris regional government constructs an alienating and culturally neutered modern industrial landscape in the wake of globalization (an economic reality that Godard, rather than characterize as an inevitable consequence of technological progress and innovation, unfairly identifies as another symptom of American aggression). Godard’s compositions of impersonal structures and desolate cityscapes – an undoubted influence on the cinema of Chantal Akerman – serve as a visual abstraction of urbanization and cultural flux that inherently reflect Godard’s deconstruction of images (or pre-defined filmic cues) in order to convey the syntactical difference between an object’s meaning and its significance. It is the filmmaker’s personal quest to find the unifying root of this implicit duality that is captured in the recurring image of the attenuating vortex of a cup of black coffee – an allusion to organic genesis in its coincidental resemblance to spiral galactical formation and nuclear mitosis – a desire to return to the origin of the fracture: to reconcile one’s abstract, intellectual knowledge with real, tangible, true human understanding.
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