On Sunday morning, I texted Roberto a photo of my ninety day coin. He sent back “love u.” I hadn’t seen him in ages.
I biked between meetings until the afternoon. Then I noodled around on my phone and discovered that two Godard shorts were playing at Metrograph.
I had no idea Godard made short films for omnibus collections. Who knows about omnibus collections? Not me. These films are buried in a body of work I think I know and know I love. Beware of experts, especially the ones you impersonate.
Part of an omnibus called The Seven Deadly Sins, La Paresse (Sloth) was made in 1961. (Watch the short here and here.) Nicole Mirel plays herself, as does Eddie Constantine, who appeared in La Paresse four years before he played Lemmy Caution in Alphaville (a film I copied without shame for my own, The Take, in 1986, a date that is almost equidistant between the release of La Paresse and today).
In Out of My Father's Shadow: Sinatra of the Seine, Eddie’s daughter, Tanya, wrote about her father’s work with Godard.
Using Constantine was, for Godard, comparable to Tarantino’s use of Travolta or any 21st century casting of Nick Nolte: high concept/mild condescension lulz.
Nicole Mirel only acted in films for six years.
As the film opens, we see Mirel sitting on a stone wall next to a river, reading. I assumed she was sitting next to the Seine, but I’m not convinced now.
I don’t know what she’s reading. (See above.) I’m sure it matters.
Mirel spots Eddie Constantine in his car, sitting in front of Studios de Billancourt. Was she waiting for him? It seems so. “Mr. Constantine!” she shouts. Eddie Constantine recognizes her.
That’s it, that’s the dialogue.
Eddie appreciates her Chanel dress. They seem to be in Paris but Nicole asks for a ride into Paris. Are they in Boulogne? There are also Billancourt studios in Boulogne. I’m embarrassed that I can’t figure this out.
Eddie Constantine is tired, he is slothful. The music is not. Michel Legrand’s delirious Hawaiian lap steel guitar theme plays through eight of the fifteen minutes. The pain is in the dissociation. Godard only does his disjunctive edit routine once, in the opening, and we don’t get much sound-on-sound interference.
Mirel wants a role. Constantine says “I’m not saying no,” and Mirel says “Me neither.” They’ve struck a deal, so Eddie drives to Mirel’s place behind the Champs-Elysées. She lives with her parents but they’re “on vacation.”
Constantine stops for gas and asks Morel to get him a sandwich. He asks for “white bread with paté” because it’s “less tiring to chew.” Nicole leaves, and he opens the driver’s side door. This is when he asks the attendant if he wants to make 10,000 francs. “No. I’m not interested.”
Eddie is so slothful that he wants someone to tie his shoe. He has to tie it himself, though.
Constantine has the Tommy Lee Jones quality, the ability to be very tired and very sexy at the same time. This is his tiredest role. He’s most engaged when he finds out that Mirel also does not cut the folio pages of her Gallimard paperbacks. (She is not reading the Ernaux.)
Mirel strips down to her bra and panties and tells her neighbors—or her parents?—not to bother her for twenty minutes. She comes back, gets naked, and asks him what’s up. “So?”
We see the extent of Eddie’s sloth. He says, “It’s too bothersome to get dressed afterwards.” No sex for Eddie! Godard, always ready to take a film back from the actors, wraps up the movie with a final voiceover, disdainful in its sweep.
“Who will dare to say that idle hands are the devil’s workshop? We just saw, on the contrary, a sloth so strong that it overwhelms the other sins. Isn’t that morality?”
But Jean-Luc can’t take the meaning back from his actors. Mirel and Constantine are so constant in the distance they place between themselves and so firm in chasing their individual goals (a job and a nap): negative and positive nestled together. Whether or not Godard is interested in morality—or the possibility of conjuring it through negation—doesn’t matter. The energy here is not mild. La Paresse is Peak French Nothingness: short, pure, and hilarious. Ne pas dormir!
The second film was Le Grand Escroc (The Great Swindler) (1963). From The Films of Jean Seberg, by Michael Coates-Smith, Garry McGee, a synopsis:
It’s Patricia Franchini, Seberg’s character in Breathless, returned as Patricia Leacock, the name a nod to cinéma vérité filmmaker Richard Leacock. Originally created for a collection called The Most Beautiful Swindlers in The World, Le Grand Escroc was only shown once, in 1964, and then excised from the collection. The short has been floating since then, appearing occasionally in retrospectives.
A quote from Godard about the film:
Godard picked Marrakech as a location because Anna Karina, then his wife, was in Morocco for a film shoot. She wrapped before he got there, and he was apparently angry about it. (If you are one of those people who reasonably thinks, “Enough with the Godard,” go see one of the Godard/Karina Late Nites at Metrograph. The gravity with which Jean-Luc films Anna is the key to his love/hate algorithm. Godard’s sound editing slash is the hate to the stillness of his fixed frame love.)
I don’t know why Le Grand Escroc was really cut from the final compilation but I reckon it “passed” the distributors “by” because it isn’t “good.” La Paresse is something a person should see; Le Grand Escroc is for Breathless nuts and Seberg completists.
In the opening, Seberg’s Leacock is reading Melville’s The Confidence-Man, a book about a boatload of scammers. It’s America, see. Much of the film’s dialogue is taken from Melville’s text, and is combined with a story (plot only) that Charlie Chaplin apparently wanted to film as well, of a counterfeiter who printed money for the poor, or gave his profits to the poor—it’s not clear which. We watch Leacock filming the counterfeiter, listening to his speech, and then telling her cop buddy all about him. And then she turns the camera on the audience.
But nothing in Le Grand Escroc is clear enough to be compelling or charged enough to sustain all the vagueness. I only know about Melville and Chaplin because I Googled it. The only erotics of attention comes with Seberg’s handheld noisy boi film camera, which whirs Godardly loudly when she uses it. Godard has his love/hate circuit flipped on for Seberg but Charles Denner’s swindler and Laszlo Szabo’s cop don’t arouse Godard the way Belmondo and Constantine and Léaud do. We don’t have a stake in the swindler’s moral project, which is a gloss on the political perils of being a documentary filmmaker, possibly always a swindle. Only people of the sixties or the film world will understand Godard’s subtweets about filmmaking (and the fact that Jean-Pierre Melville named himself after the American novelist). Godard doesn’t hate anyone in this one as much as he hates himself/Constantine in La Paresse, and neither do we.
The best moment is spatial: a long shot in an intersection. Leacock’s cop drops her off in one car, she runs to film the counterfeiter standing next to another car, and then she runs back down to hop in a cab, moving around the frame like a Spirograph in the dust of Morocco.
After the movie, I biked home. My hand to God, as I dock on 6th and B, I hear my name. I look up. It’s Roberto and his wife, Kristi. What the. We hug. I ask him the question I am asking myself at that moment. Should I get ice cream before dinner or after?
The following is also true. Roberto and Kristi had just walked twenty-odd blocks to get ice cream at Ice & Vice and then, realizing they were hungry for actual dinner, switched gears and came back uptown, heading to Awash on 6th. And that’s when we collided.
Roberto told me, calmly, “Just eat dinner first, do the work, and then see.”
And Sunday was Robertos’s birthday. How about that.