An inebriating dialectical diary of words, sounds, images and landscapes, Jean-Luc Godard’s “Self-Portrait in December” sees the Nouvelle Vague’s most enduring enfant terrible focus on his own life and work by focusing on everything around him. Festivals, cinematheques and cultural webs should welcome this galloping reflection on the filmmaker’s rapport with art, nature, politics, philosophy, history, and most of all, cinema.
Shot in and around Godard’s home in Switzerland last winter, the film maneuvers adroitly between personal assessment by abstraction and by association. Solemn, snow-covered fields and frozen lakes are juxtaposed with darkly glowing interiors, evocatively lit by single lamps or insistently featured windows.
Godard himself comes into view only gradually, beginning as a disembodied voice, then as a shadowy profile, then shot from behind or from large distances, before eventually moving into the light. Seen in his production offices and editing suite, or at home idly conversing with his nubile housekeeper, he portrays himself as something of a misanthrope, seeming to simultaneously play up and debunk his living-legend status.
His thoughts emerge as an uninterrupted, chaotic train of ideas, from studied reflections to spontaneous responses, restlessly questioning the nature of creativity, culture and learning like some kind of wily high-art channel-surfer.
Along with light-flooded windows and doors, Godard uses screens within the screen as a minor motif, running occasional clips and snatches of dialogue from films by contemporaries and admired directors such as Jacques Demy, Nicholas Ray , and Roberto Rossellini.
Soundtrack is a vigorous melange of overlapping, often unintelligible dialogue, multifarious sound sources and sonorously clanging musical chords. The elements are featured to great effect, with wind, rain, storms and lapping waves all cranked up to a thunderous level.
Superlative technical contributions go unacknowledged, however, since the film carries no credits at either end.