For Ever Mozart (1996)

17 08 2014

Before one begins to unpack For Ever Mozart, it is perhaps crucial to explain the film’s origins, specifically that the film itself contains three ideas that Godard had for separate, individual productions. One about French artists and actors in Sarajevo, another about the study of filmmaking, and finally, one about music and its emotional significance. To a viewer unfamiliar with Godard’s work after 1968, the results might be alienating and frustrating, an sculpted mess of ideas. But there’s a beauty to Godard’s organized chaos, he has gracefully woven three narratives into one, and made one of his most political and yet, one of his most affecting works.


Camille is an unemployed professor of philosophy who receives a spark of inspiration. She seeks to travel to Sarajevo to put on a production of Marivaux’s The Game of Love and Chance. She is able to convince her cousin, Jerome and her maid, Djamila to join her. Vicky Vitalis, her filmmaker father and an obvious stand in for Godard himself, also accepts an invitation. He eventually retreats back home while Camille, Jerome, and Djamila soldier on. They are then captured by Serb paramilitaries, and presumably left for dead. We return to Vitalis who, informed of this tragedy, tries to complete his movie.



On the surface, the slaughter of Camille, Jerome, and Djamila seems to be a warning towards those going to spaces marked as “unsafe” – one which Camille’s mother seems to foreshadow. She declares it is crazy and a death-wish to go to Sarajevo to perform a play when there’s plenty of places where one can do it in France. Of course, Camille’s desire to put on a play in Sarajevo comes with a pointed political purpose, she is after all not a student of theater but rather a professor of philosophy. The problem begins to emerge here. She basically uses Sarajevo for her own personal political plaything. There, her intentions seem oblivious to the struggle and needs of the city, she’s just going there because she knows it’s a suffering place. This doesn’t justify the violence acted upon the bodies of Camille, Jerome, and Djamila. Their deaths and unfair and tragic, but they are done in by their own desires (specifically Camille) to help without thinking that they might be invading.


To provide a real life example, sometime in the past five years there was a group of primarily white students from Austin, Texas who made it their personal mission to  not just visit and bring joy to Detroit, Michigan but to save it. The audacity of their intentions might be lost on someone who comes from a similar upbringing, after all they were trying to provide a positive change to a city that is so often framed in the mainstream as suffering and in need of help. However, their efforts not only resemble colonialism, they are actually a form of it. The white savior complex that is repeated throughout media and fiction influenced their ideas, made it seem possible. They wanted to help, but they were invading. Intentions are not the sole thing to measure one’s actions, especially when in this case, the “positive intentions” are something patronizing and racist.


I see Camille’s intentions as the same as these Texan students. She speaks a similarly positive message, but with no regard for the existence of those who live in the space they are going to be occupying. Perhaps calling this “Godard’s film on gentrification” is a step too far, but the film seems to suggest some acknowledgement of the rhetoric around “nice” colonialism. Camille’s mother is the conservative foil to the white leftists, urging them not to bother themselves with “unsafe” spaces. We can recognize this as close-minded, but the white progressive voice is just as close-minded, oblivious to the existence of natives. Godard himself, as a white leftist, has to decenter his own voice, a thing he struggles with but he acknowledges it here and in the segment Camera-Eye from Far From Vietnam.  The privilege of white leftists is so often left in the margins of their discourse, ignored because it would require to confront something uncomfortable, that you are one of the oppressors.


While Godard works through privilege and (perhaps) gentrification in his scenes focusing on Sarajevo, he looks for something else once Camille, Jerome, and Djamila are murdered. It becomes a film about dealing with grief, though in the process it doesn’t excuse Camille’s own imperialist ideas of “peace” it does accept that her death would be an impossible fight for Vitalis. He struggles to process the reality of losing his daughter. Although his grief is never depicted through his own words (he seldom speaks) it does manifest in his shooting of the film within a film. There, he relentlessly tasks an actress to repeat one line of dialogue “yes” but each time is insufficent. The cold weather eventually breaks her down. The repetition seems to underscore Vitalis’ mind dealing with his daughter’s death. It tells him “yes” this happened, but his heart and brain can do nothing but reject it every time. Fiction often suggests we have an “aha!” moment in dealing with a death, where we’re able to put it behind us and triumphantly move on. Godard suggests something that is closer to reality: that we must confront it everyday. We may come to accept it, but  it will take many takes and even then, we don’t stop thinking about the person in question.