July 11, 2005
Hélas pour moi, 1993
An ancient tale of forefathers journeying to a secluded, sacred ground in the forest in order to perform a solemn ritual of prayer and meditation underscores the film’s sense of disconnection and longing, as each passing generation represents a spiritual, ancestral, and cultural dilution of the observance until the ritual is reduced to words without meaning, gestures without cognition, landscapes without rooting.
The theme of spirituality is presented within the framework of a contemporary Greek myth as Zeus descends from the heavens in order to seduce Amphitryon's faithful wife Alcmene, this time, transfigured into the lives of Simon and Rachel Donnadieu - the faceless, disembodied voice of the descended god evoking, not omnipotence, but disarticulated frailty, a reflection of his seeming (ir)relevance in the modern world.
Jean-Luc Godard explores the nuances of the word faith to reflect, not only on eternal love and marital fidelity, but also intrinsic spirituality. However, as prefigured in the opening narrative, the word has become estranged from the consciousness of meaning: an utterance that is neither a prayer nor an invocation, but merely a casual expression ...a wistfulness.
The modulation between tragedy and comedy provides tongue-in-cheek whimsicality to the seemingly somber cerebral exposition. Dylan Thomas' elegiac poem Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night is juxtaposed initially against a highly formalized, dramatic shot of a lone Rachel pining for her absent husband, then subsequently, against an understatedly humorous shot of a sluggish bar patron reluctantly leaving the premises for the evening: the former, a poetic evocation of unrequited melancholia; the latter, a mundane caution on the perils of intoxication. The bifurcated juxtapositions further reinforce the idea of the importance of contextual fidelity (the ritual) rather than simply achieving a textual fidelity that can prove to be false (a surrogate).