OH, WOE IS ME! (Jean-Luc Godard, 1993)

Jean-Luc Godard’s Hélas pour moi brings the myth of Zeus, Amphitryon and wife Alcmene into the present. It is a film “in search of God”—this from an artist who had otherwise seemed to get along without God just fine. Eight years later, his masterpiece, Éloge de l’amour (2001), would achieve, I believe, an epiphany—the apotheosis of the elegiac mode of his that perhaps began with Nouvelle vague (1990). In all three films, “the past requires redemption.”
     Abraham Klimt (Bernard Verley, giving the film’s sturdiest performance) is a publisher tracking down Simon and Rachel for the completion of a novel that he believes lies in their story. His solemn voiceover grounds fleeting imagery of Nature’s evanescence and human transience. It joins onscreen script, dialogue, zigzagging encounters between a wide variety of characters.
     Here are a few of the film’s words (some, borrowed), in whatever form they reach us:

The past returns to the present.

Everyone slept, as if the universe were one enormous error.

It was wise [of God? Godard?] to mix tragedy and comedy.

[Addressing Klimt,] You’re not missing any pages, Monsieur. There’s simply nothing to see.

The most profound human impulse is to challenge the truth.

All of us are surrounded by invisible dreams.

One has to learn to accept love.

     At one point the screen goes black amidst cracks of thunder and Klimt relates the following:

This is what is true. In 1932 the Dutchman Jan Oort studied stars that began moving away from the Milky Way. Soon, as expected, gravity started pulling them back. In studying the position and velocity of these returning stars, Oort was able to measure the mass of our galaxy. He was surprised to discover that the visible matter represented only 50% of the mass necessary to deploy such a gravitational pull. What happened then to the other half of the universe? [At this point we see Klimt, who is facing us, looking out of a rain-splashed window.] Phantom matter was thus born. Omnipresent and invisible.

     Here are a few of the film’s most beautiful images:

Water passing just beyond and below an of course unbudging leafy tree.

Klimt, raincoat in hand, on a fog-drenched pier.

A single red poppy in a field of grass.

     Only by taking over the form of a person can God argue His own existence. A search for God discovers only this: the search for God.
     Hélas pour moi is scattershot, sometimes irritatingly so, and largely opaque. Its disjointedness presumably reflects our lost connection with Nature, ourselves, each other, God.
     Perhaps it is from our sense of this loss that some of us deduce, or presume, God’s existence.
     Including dear Jean-Luc? Hm; another mystery.

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