August 7, 2017

Numero deux

Filed under: film,film as subversive art — ABRAXAS @ 11:05 am

Numero deux is also concerned with the difficulty of crossing sociocultural barriers, be they physical or psychological. Rarely has a film concentrated on the concept of blockage in so many forms. This starts at the beginning, when the title has trouble appearing on the screen, as if the movie were facing some invisible block or obstacle on its way to the audience. The film does get started eventually, but various devices keep the sense of blockage going. Some operate through the film’s style: the uneven progress of the story; the frequent interruption of one scene by another; the competition between film and video images, which sometimes seem to get in each other’s way. Others operate through the movie’s content: the stop-and-start pictures on the monitors in Godard’s workshop; the image of a primal scene that must be repressed as soon as it is witnessed; the linkage of birth (commencement) and death (cessation) in the girl’s blackboard sentence. When the narrative proceeds a little farther, we will encounter the film’s most blunt metaphors for blockage: the constipation and impotence that plague Sandrine and her husband, respectively. When she compares her mother with a “factory” that “hurts” when it “charges and discharges,” Sandrine is also describing herself and many others – women who feel cut off from life’s flow by the demands of work, and deprived of healthy sexuality by the insensitivity of their husbands. We will also learn that Sandrine’s spouse is abusive, using anal intercourse (blocking a channel) to punish and control her.

One more aspect of Numero deux that Kristeva’s ideas illuminate is its Godardian use of sound (immediate, surrounding, ungraspable) to combat the tyranny of the image (distant, hard-edged, authoritarian) that dominates commercial cinema. Kristeva holds that early infancy is bathed in sound as the child develops within the “chora,” which is both the fleshly envelope of the womb and the sonic envelope of the noises (most notably, the mother’s voice) that filter through to the infant’s hearing. Nostalgia for this stage of life persists long after its peace and plenitude are ruptured by the rude awakening called birth. This helps explain the power of music (increasingly important in Godard’s cinema) to touch us in ways for which rational considerations can’t wholly account. It also helps explain the cacophonous sounds in Numero deux, a film that extravagantly favors physical immediacy over coded communication. Numero deux loves noise – noise for the ears, such as the gobbledygook of overlapping sound tracks, and noise for the eyes, such as video static and on-and-off television pictures. Godard told us earlier that language games can cure sickness, so it isn’t surprising that verbal and visual puns are a major component of this movie (which was produced after he himself had recuperated from his serious motorcycle accident). The way to heal blockage is with slippage – and nothing slides more easily, or with a more liberating effect, than a word or image whose meaning has no fixed abode other than in-the-moment dialogue with its audience.


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