Jean-Luc-Godard died this month. The French-Swiss auteur was one of the most prominent pioneers of La Nouvelle Vague (French New Wave) in the 1960s which changed the history of cinema. Critics and cinephiles still revere him. His death revitalized the adoration of people who hold an appreciation for the medium and multiple streaming platforms curated a list of his best films in memory of the director-screenwriter.
Just a week before, a small Indie feature called ‘Adieu Godard’ won the Best Film Award in an Indian Language at the 27th Kolkata International Film Festival (KIFF) and became the first Odia film to release nationwide. Amartya Bhattacharya is the writer, director, editor, and cinematographer of this wacky dark comedy-drama. It’s his love letter to Godard and an idiosyncratic body of work that portrays the dichotomy of cinema and its perception.
“Ever since I got the news that Godard chose to depart willingly, it seems something we all should salute, respect, honour and admire. This death is no longer a tragedy, it’s a statement. A bold and dignified statement,” quotes Amartya in an interview with The New Indian Express.
It is hard to describe this film. The plot, however, entails, an old porn-addicted villager, Ananda, who travels to the local video store frequently to collect DVDs of foreign pornographic films. He is considered the village pervert yet he believes that porn is “a drug” and “it heals you from within”. Ananda doesn’t watch these alone in secrecy, his friends join him every day for a screening at his home where his wife and daughter displeasedly try to mute out the moans of people having sex on TV. This is a routine until one day he accidentally brings home a copy of Godard’s Breathless. While his friends are disappointed immediately, Ananda is mesmerised and watches it till the end. He rents his entire available filmography and turns into an intellectual in a rather amusing element of the narrative.
After a heated confrontation with the villagers where a false rumour about his daughter sleeping with her romantic partner Joe creates major disturbance among the men, and she’s called “a whore”, Ananda becomes determined to host a film festival in the village in order to change the thinking of its residents. This gets a divided response. Despite his high hopes for success, the screening enrages the viewers because of the absence of song, dance, sexual scenes and glitz of a typical Indian film. All of this is shot in black and white.
The second axis of the plot takes place in the present with Ananda’s daughter Shilpa narrating this entire story to her filmmaker boyfriend in a colourful cinematographic setting. She is a dominant woman who was the one to kiss Joe first in the village and also the sex-positive girlfriend of Pablo, the filmmaker that exposed his backward views about virginity. Shilpa comes through as a true Godardian woman.
This feature has so many dimensions and layers that there are some mixed reviews out there about whether or not it was a success. I think some of those critics are missing the point. It’s not a heartfelt ode to Godard about French films taking an Odia village by storm through its evergreen charm and transforming their taste in cinema forever. None of that happens. It’s grittier than that.
The French New Wave style is characterized by its experimental and avant-garde techniques. It’s a rejection of linear storytelling that comforts the viewer by the end. It is jump-cuts and disruption. It’s how ‘Breathless’ was shot. Godard was a perverse and difficult director who couldn’t care less about making a traditional movie with a storyline and I think Amartya captured his style perfectly. The dual storylines, both black & white and colourful, the different timelines, the opposing tones of the rugged, hyperbolic acting in the village vs Shilpa’s nuanced and manipulative conduct, as well as the layered social commentaries on voyeurism, sexual awareness, misogyny and hypocrisy intermingling makes for one great cinematic soup. It might catch viewers off guard, yet it has this odd electricity to it that is a catalyst for a stir of emotions. This film isn’t a rendition of Godard’s films; it’s a true embodiment of his spirit.
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