Movie Journal
J. Hoberman on movies and movie-related things

MOVIE JOURNAL: J. Hoberman on movies and movie-related things

Second Chance: Godard’s Numéro Deux on DVD

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Sooner or later: Virtually all of the great Godard films of the 1960s are available on DVD. Now the more difficult work is trickling out. “Numéro Deux” (a 1975 collaboration with the artist’s companion Anne-Marie Miéville) has reappeared, courtesy of Olive DVDs, years after a VHS release went out of print.

The first masterpiece of Godard’s post Maoist period, “Numéro Deux” also his first, truly assured use of video technology. Shot on tape, released on 35mm, the movie is almost entirely images of images—set entirely inside Godard’s Grenoble studio and, with the exception of the two framing shots, played out on a pair of TV monitors. The camera never moves but the little TVs bring us everything—sports, news, music, and sex.

“Numéro Deux” is nothing if not personal. Godard addresses the spectator, explaining that he had presold the movie as a remake of “Breathless” (hence the title) to made on the same modest budget. In fact, the film “Numéro Deux” remakes, however loosely is Godard’s 1966 masterpiece “Two or Three Things I Know About Her”, taking as its subject the effect of modern capitalism on sex as experienced by a multi-generational working-class family crammed into an apartment in a high-rise housing project.

Cartoonish but not exactly funny, “Numéro Deux” progresses as a series of improvised fragments and interviews and, as every member of the family save for the child exposes his or her genitals, it might easily be X-rated. Porn was still something new in the mid ‘70s and “Numéro Deux” is hardly that (or even anything that could be considered erotic), but Godard did take advantage of the new permissiveness to make his most sexually explicit movie—as well as a highly original form of social criticism.

Where “2 or 3 Things” was produced in sumptuous cinemascope, “Numéro Deux”’s two-monitor set up produces a bleak sense of isolation and claustrophobia. At the same time, Godard uses the video camera to invent a dozen new ways of splitting the screen or layering the image. The effect is grim yet visually entrancing. The brilliance of “Numéro Deux” lies in this strategy—Godard doesn’t allude to the media but rather he sets out to reproduce it.

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