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(Credit: Philippe R Doumic)

Film

Watch Jean-Luc Godard read a stirring Hannah Arendt excerpt

Jean-Luc Godard is the enfant terrible of the French New Wave, and it’s a tag that the impish auteur has always used to his benefit, even at the ripe age of 91-years-old. 

One of the finest filmmakers of all time, Godard started life as a film critic, helping him to cultivate a strong sense of what’s right and wrong for the discipline. Eventually then, when his time came to segue behind the camera, he was fully equipped to help usher in a new age of cinema, alongside contemporaries such as François Truffaut and Claude Chabrol. Together, Godard and the rest of the French New Wave auteurs changed the face of movies forever, establishing that an auteur is equally as authoritative as a writer. 

Making his feature film debut with 1960’s Breathless, Godard broke the established rules of filmmaking with irreverence, which would set an example for the rest of the movement across its numerous different global surges. Notably, his oeuvre is split into chapters, where the dextrous auteur draws from a myriad of artistic influences, but one thing ties them all together as a singular unit, Godard’s unmistakably subversive essence.

Working for nearly seven decades, it was only last year, in March 2021, that Godard finally decided to announce his retirement, which came as a surprise to all, as everyone thought he’d depart from this mortal coil whilst sitting in the director’s chair. He called time on his career gracefully, leaving us with 2018’s highly celebrated essay film The Image Book, an examination of the modern Arabic world, proving that his propensity for thinking outside the box comes naturally. 

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Godard once said, “I don’t make a distinction between directing and criticism. When I began to look at pictures, that was already part of moviemaking. If I go to see the last Hal Hartley picture, that’s part of making a movie, too. There is no difference. I am part of filmmaking and I must continue to look at what is going on. [With] American picture[s], more or less one every year is enough: they are more or less all the same. But it’s a part of seeing this is the world we are living in.”

Perhaps the most self-aware director in the history of cinema, this has allowed Godard to imbue his works with a palpable essence that everyone from all different walks of life can find some form of solace in. He’s political, socially conscious and candid, making his work profound in the way that film should be. He’s said more than many of the world’s most famous authors could ever dream of, and we salute him.

One of Godard’s most significant moments came when he delivered a moving rendition of an extract of legendary political theorist Hannah Arendt’s classic essay The Origins of Totalitarianism. A Holocaust survivor, in the work Arendt examines Nazism and Stalinism with a frankness that had not been seen at the time, looking back on modern European history and the type of tyranny that the continent stirred, as well as the meaning of free will and isolation. 

Understanding the meaning of The Origins of Totalitarianism entirely, Godard’s speech is one of the most emotive readings of it out there.

The short clip is taken from the 1997 movie We’re Still Here (Nous sommes tous encore ici), which was directed by Anne-Marie Miéville, Godard’s creative and romantic partner. In it, we see the unkempt and elderly auteur deliver this moving soliloquy to an empty theatre, leaving the power of Arendt’s timeless words to permeate the vast open space, etching them into your brain forever. 

His excerpt starts: “If it were true that eternal laws existed, ruling everything, human in an absolute way and which only required of each human being complete obedience, the freedom would only be a farce. One man’s wisdom would be enough. Human contacts would no longer have any importance, preserved perfect activity alone would matter, operating within the context set up by this wisdom which recognizes the Law. This is not the content of ideologies, but the same logic which totalitarian leaders use which produces this familiar ground and the certainty of the Law without exception.”

“Logic, that’s to say pure reason without regard for facts and experience, is the real vice of solitude. But the vices of solitude are caused uniquely by the despair associated with isolation. And the isolation which exists in our world, where human contacts have been broken by the collapse of our common home, again following the disastrous consequences of revolutions, themselves a result of previous collapse.”

Cerebral, unapologetic and moving, this short clip is Jean-Luc Godard at his finest, showing that age is nothing to the legendary auteur. 

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