Les enfants jouent à la Russie (1993) Poster

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Requiem
chaos-rampant15 March 2011
The first thing I noticed here, before I had even seen the film, is what is revealed by the plot synopsis. "A famous French filmmaker is hired by a major Hollywood producer to make a documentary on the state of post-Cold War Russia. The filmmaker, though, subverts the project by stubbornly remaining in France and casting himself as the title character of Dostoyevsky's "The Idiot," offering up a series of typically Godardian musings on art, politics, the nature of images and the future of cinema." Immediately it stood out to me that, back in 1970, Godard had jumped on the opportunity to travel to Prague and film guerilla. Pravda, the resulting film, was an essay on purely esoteric communist issues, things that mattered at the point for him. Now, on a grand occasion where his comments are expected, he stays at home and muses on art and cinema instead. His silence seemed enough statement and that the casting of himself, as in Prenom Carmen, matters.

But that's not quite so. Godard stays at home but tries to disentangle the web. He uses fiction as a thread that takes him closer into the reality of what is at stake here, the fate of post-Cold War Russia. If he stays at home, it's because he feels his presence there is not needed at this moment, that Russia has invaders enough to deal with.

Godard being Godard, a lot of his musings have simple sloganeering value, romantic or provocative. He tells us, "the West is trying to invade Russia, because it's the home of fiction, and because the West doesn't know what else to invent". His analysis of reality and fiction, the filmed image and the reality of it, has been thought of elsewhere. On the comment expected from him, perhaps by his enemies with a gloating of triumph, by the likeminded as a source of inspiration, he simply concludes that the people of Russia will decide where they go next.

Godard being Godard though, in the storm's eye of his tempestual mind, we find some measure of inspiration. Here, it's a lament. If the film was a musical composition, it would be a requiem.

What I appreciate here is how that requiem is rendered, with video footage from old Soviet films slowed down or broken apart, out of context, to see is there another kind of reality we can discern there, something new we can project upon what is now dead and only lives on celluloid. Heroes from the old books of Tolstoy and Dostoyevski come alive to enact their parts again. At some point we see two sisters usher into an old cinema a host of unseen guests, they greet them jovially by names only, Mr. Eistenstein, Vertov, Pudovkin, Parajanov, guests for the occasion of the dissolution of what they dreamed like Godard wants to share the defeat.

We get shots of people standing in front of a camera, their faces obscured by the lens. We get food for thought, that the Soviets of the silent era never used the reverse shot in their films. True or not, we take that for what we will.

In the end, we see Godard alone in a room filled with film equipment, the cantankerous old fool of cinema, stubbornly cranking a camera to make it work. What's important for me is that Godard has styled himself in that manner, feels himself to be that person.
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