There were only about 40 people in the audience at the recent sneak preview of Jean-Luc Godard's new movie Eloge de l'amour (In Praise of Love). Fifteen of them walked out in rapid succession within as many minutes. By the film's end, some 94 minutes later, there were less than a dozen of us left. Despite it all, spontaneous applause erupted at the conclusion of the movie. And not because the ones doing the clapping were glad it was over.
The mass exodus that took place at In Praise of Love may just say less about how bad the film is, and more about how good a work of art can be, if only we're able to meet it halfway.
Can a film contain too many ideas? According to the many moviegoers who walked out of In Praise of Love the other night, the answer would probably be yes. Jean-Luc Godard's films have almost always been notoriously difficult affairs, highly literate and densely constructed cine-essays that virtually demand our attention and even our participation. The pain or pleasure yielded by Godard's movies is often directly proportionate to what we bring to the experience.
In Praise of Love is no exception. There's a story here — something about an artist producing a play/movie/opera revolving around some former members of the French Resistance — but the movie slips back forth in time and space, actively resisting easy comprehension and feeling more like a dissertation than a narrative. Plot for Godard is simply a framework on which to hang a lifetime's worth of musings on life, death, history, philosophy and other topics most modern moviegoers don't want in their movies.
The film operates on numerous levels and it makes us work to understand it. It's jam-packed with cultural allusions, both high and low, and informed by an abiding interest in history, literature, poetry, politics, metaphysics and all the fine arts, beginning and ending with cinema itself. Thoughts, words and ideas are piled on fast and furious, but the film also offers image after visually ravishing image washing over us in waves of pure pleasure.
It would be ridiculous to argue that In Praise of Love is for every taste. Many will see the film as deliberately obtuse, overly solemn, self-righteous and as infuriating as it is elegant. There's some truth in all that, but the simple fact of the matter is that In Praise of Love is also quite brilliant. A new film by Jean-Luc Godard is a rare event these days, and the appearance of In Praise of Love at Regal Channelside 8 this week is nothing if not a reason to celebrate.