(1966)4.5Wheeler Winston DixonIn 1966, Jean-Luc Godard was at his peak as a filmmaker, and to accommodate the producers who were seeking to back his then-commercially successful work, he undertook a strange task; he decided to make two films at the same time, partly to prove he could do it, and partly to keep up with audience demand for his films. One of the films was Two or Three Things I Know About Her, a delectable meditation on Marxism, consumer culture, the Vietnam War, sexual politics, and gender roles, all photographed in sumptuous color, and ending with famous shot of a variety of household consumer products neatly arranged on the lawn of a suburban home. As with most of the best of Godard, the film is an essay rather than a narrative; there is a semblance of a plot, involving Marina Vlady's descent into prostitution to pay the household bills behind her husband's back, but this is merely a pretext for an extended examination of contemporary Parisian life, which Godard finds arid, soul-crushing, and stupefyingly empty. The most famous scene is undoubtedly the "cosmos in a coffee cup" sequence, in which Godard's camera stares intently at a cup of coffee as cream swirls around in it, cutting closer and closer to the steaming broth, as philosophical dialogue fills the soundtrack.
Godard demands much of his audience, but he gives much in return; it is some measure of how "dumbed down" we have become as a culture, even in contemporary European cinema, that films like Two or Three Things I Know About Her, once highly commercial propositions, now seem absolutely incomprehensible to most viewers. It's sad, too, because the film is absolutely gorgeous, and Godard has kept up the fight with his more recent films, such as the superb Notre Musique (2004), which deals with the events in Sarajevo in much the same fashion. But this being the 21st century, in which people have been brought up solely on popcorn entertainment, Notre Musique never made it out of a few major U.S. cities as a theatrical feature; happily, it is available on DVD. Two or Three Things I Know About Her has not, as of this writing, been distributed on DVD in the U.S., but only on VHS, although this may change in the future. And the other feature that Godard was shooting at the same time he was making Two or Three Things I Know About Her? That would be the long-suppressed Made in USA (1996), a brilliant and cerebral crime thriller nominally based on a novel by Donald E. Westlake, which Godard neglected to secure the rights to before filming. That film has just been released on European DVD only, the rights issues having apparently been resolved, at least for the moment. Both films are remarkable, individual, sensual, and utterly personal cinematic visions. The world of cinema seems divided into two camps: those who admire Godard intensely and those who feel that his philosophical tracts are both inaccessible and boring. The second group, who don't understand or appreciate his work, are precisely the ones who need to see it the most. Godard's films are a tonic for the senses in an age of hyper-commerciality -- an era he predicted in this prescient film and other works from this period in his long and still evolving career.
The feminine pronoun in the title of this film from Jean-Luc Godard refers to both a French housewife and the city of Paris, as each are changed in fundamental ways by the growth of consumer culture in Europe. Juliette Janson (Marina Vlady) lives with her husband and two children in a high-rise apartment block in Paris. Juliette and her family used to live in a working class community on the outskirts of town, but they've been drawn into the city in search of a higher standard of living, reflected in their new home and their desire for more of the latest consumer goods. Juliette's husband can barely support the household on his salary, so she taken to working as a prostitute without his knowledge to help pay the bills. Deux ou Trois Choses Que Je Sais d'Elle (aka 2 or 3 Things I Know About Her) follows Juliette over the course of a seemingly ordinary day as she looks after the kids, takes care of her husband and plies her trade when she has the chance. Shot simultaneously with Made In U.S.A., 2 or 3 Things I Know About Her found Godard moving away from his fascination with American genre cinema while exploring radical politics and alternatives to conventional narrative frameworks; it proved to be one of his last films to reach a large audience in theaters.