Stuffed with literary, musical and cinematic references, elegantly photographed and sharply edited, Jean-Luc Godard’s latest puzzle, “For Ever Mozart,” may consist, as the director asserts, of four films “which do not necessarily form a whole” or may simply be, as a title suggests, “30 people in search of a story.” At any rate, this meditation on the war in Bosnia and the process of filmmaking is unlikely to excite audiences, even longtime Godard buffs. The man who revolutionized the cinema in 1960 with “Breathless” is now firmly relegated to the margins.
Godard still makes no concessions to audiences, but the wit and bravado that once suffused his films are long gone. His recent work has been plodding and didactic, and “Mozart” is more of the same. He is also open to the charge of trivializing the slaughter in Bosnia with the ridiculous scenes of conflict depicted here.
Pic begins in a typically chaotic style, introducing a trio of characters who undertake a futile trip to the Bosnian war zone. Camille (Madeleine Assas) is an intellectual, a professor of philosophy and granddaughter of Albert Camus; her husband, Jerome (Frederic Pierrot), is apparently a successful businessman (he reads financial newspapers and is concerned about the value of the franc); their maid, Dzamila (Ghalia Lacroix), is presumably Godard makes nothing clear a Bosnian Muslim.
They set off by train, continue the journey by foot, and are soon captured by heavily armed Serbs, whose dialogue isn’t translated. These scenes, presumably intended to humanize the Bosnian conflict, come across as appallingly superficial and insensitive.
In pic’s second section, Godard re-examines the process of filmmaking he handled with such insight and brilliance in 1963’s “Contempt.” Here, a director and writer both, significantly, flabby elderly men, not young cineastes are working on a film titled “The Fatal Bolero.” Auditions are held to find a lead actor, and scenes for the film are shot on a windswept beach. Godard gives the audience little indication of the film’s content (one character repeatedly asks what the title means), and allusions to John Ford don’t help much (presumably the reference to Henry Fonda being in “She Wore a Yellow Ribbon” is a deliberate mistake).
When, eventually, “The Fatal Bolero” opens, the audience is less than enthused. In “Mozart’s” most amusing scene, potential patrons badger the cinema manager with questions like “Is it in black-and-white?” “Are there naked breasts?” One remarks, “I hope it’s not poetry.” Finally, most go off to see “Terminator 4” and frankly, you can hardly blame them. Pic ends with a Mozart concert and the pages of the score being turned symbolically. In a film bursting with obscurities, this brings everything to a surprisingly banal conclusion.
It’s pointless to talk about performances in the film. Major actors once did fine work in Godard films, but here the cast members just go through the motions. The director’s savage irony is present, but in a humorless way. Godard obviously still loves the process of filmmaking, and on a visual level “For Ever Mozart” is quite accomplished. The writer-director gave the pic’s world preem to the people of Sarajevo for a special screening, a noble gesture but probably a mixed blessing for the long-suffering audience.