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"Notre Music" is divided in three kingdoms: Hell, Purgatory and Paradise like in the Dante's Inferno in the Divine Comedy. Hell shows footages of many wars; Purgatory mixes reality and fiction in Sarajevo; and Paradise is a surrealistic view of a beach "protected" by the American Marines.Written by
Claudio Carvalho, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
I first saw Notre Musique at the NY film festival, and responded to it strongly because it was, after going through a slew of his more recent work of the 80s and 90s (often hit or miss, more miss), a very well structured, interesting picture with a very distinct look and feel that balanced the elegiac and darkness with some light. Watching it again, I'm still fascinated most by the first segment 'Hell'. If this was just a stand-alone short film, I would rank it among some of Godard's best work from the 60s. It's brash, it's seemingly unending, the narration actually does fit the images on screen (which, from my perspective, is what ends up usually irking me with some of Godard's later work when he does this), and all of these images of civilization decaying through war and other disasters, and the machinery and technology used for all of this death and horror, really works to a great effect.
Purgatory, the second segment, is often quite good, as it's a really well-balanced mix of fiction and documentary as real life writers and professors and journalists go through issues like Sarajevo, troubles in the middle east, and cinema itself as Godard humorously and sometimes somberly goes through a lecture to some students as he's part of the setting. There's even a perfectly understated, interested performance by the lead Sarah Adler. When the film then transforms into the last act, Paradise, it kind of starts to break some of the power and interest in the previous sections of the film (I didn't really connect with much of the symbolism, as beautifully photographed as it all was). But what ends up really impressing me most about Notre Musique is that I really could understand most, if not all, of what many of these long stretches of dialog were about- unlike in some past, notoriously messy films by the director- and it worked without Godard's way of filming subjects and locations. Julien Hirsch's cinematography, going through the director's vision, is often so striking I'd say it's some of the best that was done in 2004 anywhere.
There's still some kind of documentarian's spirit at heart, and it really does work best in the conversations that go on in the film, as lots of subject matter gets covered. This mixed with a partially fictionalized story helps to make something pretty special, if not really sensational, and in its 80 minute running time nothing overstays its welcome. If anything, the film is almost too short by a few minutes. It's a mix of history, politics, poetry, cinema, and the meanings of life and death, and not often does it come off pretentious.
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