In 1997, during the Cannes Film Festival, the director of Contempt had come to present two chapters ofHistory(ies) of cinema. During a press conference, he delivered some of his thoughts to an audience of journalists.
At the Cannes Film Festival, Jean-Luc Godard was both at home and always apart. In 1997, he came to present History(ies) of cinema in the Un Certain Regard section. The sulphurous Franco-Swiss filmmaker then complied with the exercise of the press conference. Flanked by his producer Nicolas Seydoux, from Gaumont, he had delivered to an audience provided with journalists some of his thoughts. Reunion with an exotic spirit in a few selected pieces.
“When I was little, I was told: “Don’t tell stories”. Ever since I started making films, people have told me: “You don’t know how to tell stories”… History(ies) of cinema is a way of taking stock of my story in the history of cinema that I have accompanied for forty years. Cinema is the only one able to talk about History, “great History”, as they say, with its own history. There is no history of painting by painting, no history of music in music. What I wanted to do, naively, was for the cinema to speak, in the words of Paul Valéry, “in a low voice, saying great things, strong and gentle things”. Through cinema, which I explore in a somewhat archaeological way, we can try to find the thread of history.
“Cinema wanted to be everything. There is a worldwide desire for cinema. German producer Erich Pommer said: “I will make the whole world cry in his chair”. Gallimard never said that. He couldn’t be everything, but he was something. Certain peoples, at certain times, recognized themselves in the image of the world sent back by the filmmakers. Italian neorealism represented the change of a vision of the world. Italy has sinned, but because the Rossellini of Rome, open city was able to admit this misery, there was like a redemption, she lived again.
A film is a moment or a piece of cinema, just as a man is a moment or a piece of humanity.
“A film is a moment or a piece of cinema, just as a man is a moment or a piece of humanity. Almost every country makes movies, can have great filmmakers. But not everyone has a cinema. There is a German, Russian, American, even French cinema, because there were so many French filmmakers who loved cinema that it ended up forming an idea of cinema. But in England, for example, there are films, no cinema. The English recognize themselves in Shakespeare and Dickens, not in the productions of Rank.
“The fifth Element by Luc Besson (produced by Nicolas Seydoux, like Godard’s film, editor’s note) manages to make money, which hasn’t happened to me often. I can’t believe I can live with films that don’t bring in anything. Except to my producer. There are films that work, but from a strictly accounting point of view, cinema as a whole is not made to work. With the exception of Birth of a Nation, which was both an artistic success and a financial success, there is no relationship between quality and revenue. The Americans have always admitted this, but on this point they are letting themselves be influenced by the Europeans. And Europeans, when a film makes a lot of money, they also want people to say it’s good.
“A good film is a film in which there are discoveries. It’s the same process as with scientists: we have similar instruments, microscopes, telescopes, to observe reality, and by comparing the data we see an unexpected fact. What cinema has brought is editing: establishing a connection between two real things. It is a peaceful art: it is made to bring people together.”
“I was interested in the technique only to arrive at the content. Special effects, special effects, it’s good in The beauty and the Beast, because they make sense. I had fun on the second terminator, but on the whole I would like these kinds of films to be more childish and less childish. Cinema has this originality compared to literature or the painting that is done with machines. But we did not pay attention to this relationship with the machine, and it became inhuman.
“I remember a time when I was transporting the reels of a short film by Jacques Rozier, Blue Jeans. I ran into Jack Nicholson who was also carrying film reels. Well, we don’t see that anymore. Nor the big fights like there have been around Adventure.»