My friend and much-missed former neighbor Andrew Grant called my attention today to a post at the blog Kinoslang by Ted Fendt, concerning a 1998 short by Jean-Luc Godard entitled Adieu au TNS. The piece examines the work and challenges the writings of Richard Brody about it, saying that Brody's description of it in his Godard biography Everything Is Cinema tries to implicate the work "in some kind of cryptic, but sympathetic engagement with anti-Semitism and/or Fascism that Brody feels runs throughout Godard's work."
The essay is in large part an effort to refute some of Richard's conclusions and claims, and convincingly cites a text from the short work which Fendt translated. This is essential material for the Godard enthusiast and scholar, but I bring it up here mostly because I am cited in a footnote, along with a post I put up in 2008 which was vigorously challenged at the time by critics Craig Keller and Miguel Marias.
Looking at the post now I am struck, albeit sadly not surprised, by the self-righteousness and belligerence of it. Having engaged, enthusiastically, in some cursory research on the subject of Robert Bresillach, I spun out an insistent quasi-indictment of Godard as a Suspect, if not out-and-out Bad, Agent with respect to the whole anti-Semitism and/or Fascism thing.
Not to indulge in backstairs rhetoric, but I've come to believe that I was even more wrong than Keller and Marias took me to task for being. My "eureka" moment came over last summer, when the film I used as my main springboard text, Godard's 2001 Eloge de l'amour screened as part of the Museum of the Moving Image's J. Hoberman-honoring installation/movie series based on his recent book Film After Film. Watching the film as a whole, rather than cherry-picking individual scenes and mining data that might shed light on the historical context of the figures invoked but in fact do nothing to illuminate how those figures are used in the film's context, what I saw was provocative, indeed, but hardly in any respect programmatic. Phillppe Loyrette's recitation of the "testament" of the collaborationist writer Robert Bressilach is many things, but it's also so tetchy and hobbled that it's almost poignant, but not in a way that could suggest that Godard believes either figure is to be followed, their philosophies to be embraced. Similarly, the reflections of Berthe, which I'm so cynical about in the post, play not as an attempt to cast a cold eye on the French Resistance but an expression of a striving to pacifism. It's worth remembering, too, that while it's apparent from the film's perspective that Berthe is an admirable character, she is in fact a character and not necessarily a mouthpiece for the director. I have been guilty, in examining other Godard works, of taking incidents from Godard's biography and applying them to his films in order to express skepticism over what the films are doing, most recently in a rather contentious consideration of his most recent feature Film socialisme. I don't renounce my writings on that film, but I do think I might have done better had I made the close reading that Andy Rector and others in that thread rightly accuse me of sloughing off on.
I will say I now think I was wholly wrong on Eloge. I don't think it endorses anti-Semitism or insults the Resistance. Rather, I see it as what the title says it is: an elegy, and a pained, messy one that is, in a seemingly contradictory fashion, spun out with a staggering formal assurance and elegance. The phrase that most often comes to mind when considering it is Adorno's subtitle to his Minima Moralia: "Reflections from damaged life."