Spirituality of the Social Field (Secular “Angels” in Rapport With Humanity)

We are incapable of liberating ourselves, and we call that democracy.
JLG’s “Our Music”

Why aren’t revolutions started by the most humane people?
– Because humane people don’t start revolutions. They start libraries.
– And cemeteries.

JLG’s “Our Music”

Violence leaves a deep scar. A trace of the oblivion always remains. The trust in the world that terror destroys is irretrievable. To see your fellow man turn on you breeds a feeling of deep-rooted horror. Violence severs a lifeline. A survivor is not only changed. He’s someone else. The dream of survival becomes a nightmare for he who is on the journey. Each of us became danger for the others. The body is a potential weapon. Knowing where we can be harmed, each of us can harm another.
JLG’s “Our Music”

My friend in Haifa said he dreams not about the enemy, but about himself, not about Israel, but Palestine.
JLG’s “Our Music”

Truth has two faces. It’s because those who do the books are mere accountants. For example, in 1948, the Israelites walked in the water to reach the Holy Land. The Palestinians walked in the water to drown. Olsinore is the real, Hamlet is imaginary. Shot and reverse shot. The Jews became the stuff of fiction, the Palestinians – documentaries. Imaginary: certainty. Reality: uncertainty. The principle of cinema: go towards the light and shine it on your night. Our Music.
JLG’s “Our Music”

Killing a man to defend an idea is killing a man, not defending idea.
JLG’s “Our Music”

Victim or criminal, there’s no other choice. The world is now split in two, between those who line up to voice their misery, and those for whom this public display provides a daily dose of moral comfort to their domination.

JLG’s “Our Music”

In 1993 in Sarajevo, despite the United Nations presence, the war-torn country felt as if it was waiting for a resolution that would never arrive. Almost 20 years later, Bosnia and Herzegovina is once more torn by strife. Frustrated with corruption, political inaction, unpaid wages and youth unemployment around 60 percent, workers started a protest… The unrest had spread nationwide overcoming the rifts among Croats, Serbs and Bosnians… Mothers without a job, former soldiers, professors, students, desperate unpaid workers…during the day protest in the streets, and afterward they gather in the assemblies…
Srecko Horvat, “Godot Arrives in Sarajevo”, The New-York Times, Feb. 18, 2014


“Hell”


“Paradise”


The poet Mahmoud Darwish and “Old-Testamental angel” Judith Lerner


“Purgatory”


“New-Testamental angel” Olga Brodsky

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This still refers to a clip from “Hell”-part of “Our Music” that Godard “borrowed” from a documentary about WWII. The clip shows Nazi execution of Russian civilians. Godard colored the picture to emphasize the contrast of the color of blood to pale verdure.

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This particular still from “Hell”-part is taken from a fictional film (belligerency enveloped with the “smoke” of the bright green became a metaphor of, as if, violent squeezing the chlorophyll, blood of the plants, and dissolving it in the air).

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People never forget the violence committed against them but those who just stood by on the side “observing” usually continue to live without emotional trauma, only rare of them will develop guilty feelings and shame for not trying to help the victims.

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In “Our Music” “Purgatory” is very close to “Hell”, but with a difference – in “Purgatory” some people are able to think about the monstrous violence of human history and express what they understood. In them human language becomes ennobled and loses its vanity when it approaches truth.

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Godard plays himself not only as a filmmaker but as a human being concentrated on the life of other people. The play of light in this shot suggests that Godard feels lightened when he inquires about the meaning of the destinies of various people. It is, as if, the destinies of other people bring light to Godard’s very being. In the moment we see him here, he is talking about individuals he never personally knew. But trying to recover stories of people’s efforts, grief, or tragic ends, he, as if, restores their destinies to the immortality of meaning.

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As so many times in his life Godard organizes the scene for shooting. Dressed as the character he impersonates in his film – himself, he, as if, transforms himself as a director into a personage among all the others. This photo reflects Godard’s idea of the cinema where there is no difference in value between the extras, episodic characters and more central characters, of the films about a new kind of spirituality, based not on individual wills invested in metaphysical dedications but on the very life of individuals as inhabitants of the public places, when even private lives are impregnated with public concerns.

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This shot shows the contextual interior of human thinking about the destiny of humanity in a time of austerity for the majority, attacks on humanistic education, on Social Security pensions and on Medical help. Smoking and drinking are named as serious societal problems, not the destruction of the economy by the 2 percent, bailing out failed financial institutions because of financial elite’s incompetence and greed, or present and future invented wars. In this shot we see the company of three persons, and a precious free gift to the public realm – notes of thinking about societal life’s real problems. This thinking is diminishing in front of our very eyes – three persons and only three hands: two belongs to the man writing notes; the second man has as if, only one hand and the third one has no hands at all to register his thinking.

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In Sarajevo the Public Library is not completely restored after war (no money) and is functioning as it is shown in this still. On the left we see part of a pile of books on the floor ready to be checkout, and on the right a librarian on the job amidst cold. The library was destroyed by shelling. Through the composition of this shot Godard shows the library not as a neat and comfortable interior framing the accepted value of human intellectual interests, but as mixture with the life outside, as a destroyed public space. Progressive minds today, as the logic of Godard’s images suggests here must learn, following the tragic for the destiny of Western culture times, how to function even amidst the destruction of the 21st century life. Education is the first casualty of war that let barbarization spread equally through the conquered and the conquerors.

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Vestiges of a smashed, by the settlers from Europe and their off-springs, American aboriginal civilization or, may be, ambassadors of the disappeared world, try to express their grief to the librarian of the semi-destroyed Sarajevo library. Are they manuscripts that became alive or ghosts who cannot stop suffering and are trying again and again to remind people of the inhumanities created by human history?

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These people survived from a killed civilization, appeal to those who again went through the destruction but Bosnians are too occupied with their own sufferings to be able to pay attention to horrors of others.

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Palestinian poet and scholar Mahmoud Darwish (playing himself) is interviewed by a progressive Israeli journalist, Judith Lerner about the origins of inequality between cultures, inequality breeding injustice with the same naturalness and matter-of-factness as teeth produce bites.

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Death and life, victimization and vulnerability to hate are registered in and remembered by the fresh architectural memorials where art is horrifying existential poetry of destruction.

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Old-Testamental angel, as if, incarnated into Judith Lerner (Sarah Adler) who tries to cure the emotional condition of today’s Israelis supporting the right-wing government with its blind megalomania, polished dogmatism and unconditional extremism.

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Judith Lerner is reading the philosopher Immanuel Levinas. The importance of this fact as a characterization of Judith humanism and spirituality echoes the importance of the appearance of the “angel” in Pasolini’s “Teorema”, reading Arthur Rimbaud’s poems.

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New-Testamental angel, as if, incarnated into Olga Brodsky (Nade Dieu) whom we see on the photos from a short film Olga made about her short life and will give to Godard as a confession, gift and inspiration.

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Olga is rushing to Godard’s lecture on cinema at Sarajevo University and into her own destiny. She feels alone and she feels being with everybody.

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“Christian angel” (the spirit of Christian sensibility at work) Olga Brodsky – the daughter of émigré from Russia, is listening to Godard’s lecture and thinking about her ordeal – the necessity to try to do something real to help people to understand that the right-wing manner of handling problems through violence can lead only to farther destructions and is “contrary to the logic of Creation”.

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“Christian angel” is in a process of making her decision to sacrifice herself for the sake of awakening Israelis to humanistic teaching of God Who became Christ with a message of love instead of power, rationality instead of hate, diplomacy instead of war and common sense instead of stubborn megalomania that feeds intolerance.

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“Human angel“has made her self-sacrificial decision.

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Jean-Luc Godard using paradoxical juxtapositions and sharpened metaphors is explaining to the students about miraculous interconnections between cinema, the world and human life in society.

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Godard explains shot-reverse shot principle in cinematic thinking by analyzing the cognitive mistakes of American film directors including Howard Hughes.

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Godard’s example of shot-reverse shot political meaning – shot: historical situation of Israelis – …

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… – reverse shot: historical situation of Palestinians.

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In response to a vain and frivolous question about the possibility for a new cinematic technologies to “save cinema” Godard’s face became darkened – the answer didn’t come. The darkened face of a prophet…

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What we see here is Godard’s semantic combination of two pictures both referring to the epoch of Nazi anti-Semitism and the “final solution” in action. The left photo is a Nazi anti-Semitic propaganda poster; the right is a dying person in a Nazi concentration camp (in the final stage before death – in the camp slang inmates in this state were called “musulmans”). By juxtaposing the two pictures Godard is playing on the historical similarity between the words “musulman” (technically, French word for “Muslim”) and “Moslem”, in order to suggest that in political context of today Palestinians under Israeli occupation find themselves inside the same emotional logic of being treated as the personifications of the abject human otherness, as Jews were in Nazi Germany. The left photo is how Israeli propaganda today represents the Palestinians in essence and the right one is the metaphor of the factual position of Palestinians in the occupied territories, suffocated without direct atrocities of the Nazi type. By Godard’s virtuoso montage following his analysis of the reality of Jewish-Palestinian dilemma, the place of Homo Sacer – Jews in Nazi Germany, is filled in 21st century by Palestinians. Godard is not idealizing Palestinians, as he never idealized Jews or for that matter the French, Germans or Americans. But the inspiration behind his analysis is, it seems rational belief in the human capacity for democratic decency in treatment of those who are different from “us”. “Our Music” is the expression of our spiritual obligation to find a peaceful resolution of human conflicts and of spiritual shame for the fact that with all our democratic rhetoric and Christian ideology of love we are not able to achieve it.

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Olga Brodsky, after her suicide by the bullets of Israeli police, enters the Paradise.

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The “Paradise” in the film is a place of “retrospective contemplation” when nothing can be changed and when experiencing of post-ideas in an existential vacuum is futile. This post-contemplation and post-communication is not only separated from action by the stone wall between life and death, a kind of “institutionalized” separation of thinking from human life (from thinking’s existential context), but from life inside thinking, from the very vitality of cognition. There is no thinking or contemplation in “Paradise” and there is no remembering, only memory fragmented and frozen by the absence of existence.

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“Our Music” is a film dedicated to the destiny of humankind – to the public realm, where even private relationships are shown as private elaborations of public epic of human existential, societal and cultural life. Godard discovers a new kind of spirituality that is not based only on private wills of the spiritually gifted individuals, invested into their metaphysical dedications, but on life of the streets, squares and cross-roads, amidst different and even anonymous human beings. Godard chooses Sarajevo as a personification of this new spirituality – the city too well acquainted with the disaster of wars, a place where we, Westerners, meet ourselves-the world.

The documentary is the film’s stylistic orientation, and the personal feelings of fictional or semi-fictional characters are impregnated with the circumstances and events of public life including the multinational, multicultural and international relations. It is, as if, the film was debunking the concept of private relationships as being completely private, being in the corset of private life. “Our Music” is futuristically oriented documentary where actors or those who impersonate themselves function as…“representatives of the future”. In the beginning of 21st century they are the special, exceptional people – the progenitors of the future, and if they, with their humanism and spiritually intellectual orientation, are successful they will be the regular people of the documentaries of the future. Can they be successful, or is the film a kind of pantomime macabre, a prelude to the human spiritual death?

The film being at the same time a documentary and a fiction is a documentary with love for ordinary people’s feelings, and it is a fiction with reverential respect for unimposing urban anonymity. It is a rapport of mutuality between private and public as equal partners participating in the making of human history. With sensitive spiritual care protagonists talk about human destinies while being trapped amidst the disasters of history – in the whole film there is no one word, no one glimpse of vanity: of concern about personal success, of care about personal material gains, advantage over others or even “innocent” indulgence of diving into entertainment and consumerism.

While experiencing the film we physically come to feel how artificial and ideological (fake) is the very differentiation between public and private. Here there is no reduction of private to public like in propaganda films in totalitarian countries, and there is no reduction of public to private, like in today’s commercial cinema in our so called democracies or in totalitarian countries (in movies ignoring the social reality, like in so called “white telephones” films in fascist Italy). In “Our Music” private and public are like two sides of a kiss – two sides of the human lips, external and sensorial.

In his whole cinematic life Godard was a match-maker of public and private, starting from “Breathless” (1957) and continuing in films like “Le Petit Soldat” (1962), “Vivre Sa Vie” (1962), “Made in U.S.A.” (1966), “Weekend” (1967) or “Tout Va Bien” (1972). But while in these films the private and the public were perfectly balanced like partners in the dance, in “Our Music” the synthesis of mutual dissolving of these two aspects of human reality was achieved through enveloping life by an atmosphere of spiritual seriousness, humility and muffled and cheerless optimism. What able to inspire private love are the same libidinous energies that inspire decent treatment of other people in the public realm – refutation to subdue others to our domination, the need to dignify other people with recognition of their humanity, the absence of manipulation and calculation in human relations.

“Our Music” is a film about the “angelic” human beings and about “angels” among humans. Godard playing himself as a creature for whom private and public life are equally dedicated to other people as “adopted strangers”. But the two young Jewish women – Judith Lerner, Israeli public intellectual, and Olga Brodsky, an émigré to Israel, are not able to adapt to the impoverished condition of the moral life in their country. Judith Lerner (Sarah Adler), carrier of loving care for her country, tries to awaken public opinion in Israel to the impossibility of following right-wing government’s militaristic and totalitarian policies, while Olga Brodsky (Nade Dieu) considers sacrifice of her own life to restore justice in relations between the Jews and the Palestinians and help her country to restore humanistic orientation and become example of humanistic decency for Palestinians as younger brothers without democratic systemic background.

Godard himself addresses the sublime nature of existential contradictions (profaned by the belligerent atmosphere in the world) by explaining to the students at the Sarajevo University the shot-reverse shot logic in cinema – the necessity to keep the conflict between opposite sides or arguments (in life, in politics, in thinking) opened and for this reason – civil, not to close it by repressive action. Positive conflict is life of the human soul and human collectives – our existential music. Music is a very exact metaphor of mutually dissolving combination of private and public, much more than verbal language. Music is always “our music”, intimate and public at the same time. It is conflict and its peaceful overcoming what makes the life of human soul and life of human groups continuing and developing. Our music is the language of Godard’s montage in “Our Music”.

The absence in the film of enemies personified is very important – there is no place for hate and there are no human beings to scapegoat. The faceless system is selling to the people seductive illusion – the enemies to distract humans from their own liberation. There are problems, but there are no enemies. To address the problems people have to be educated, but the educational system even in democratic West is broken. “Our Music” is education without educating – disinterested and universal.

Triadic semantic structure of the film (“Hell”, “Purgatory”, “Paradise”) is not without its twists and complications. In “Hell” (consisting of clips from war documentaries and fictional films with battle scenes) everybody are equal – victims because they are also transgressors, and transgressors because they are also victims. In “Purgatory” the majority of people we see are trying to forget the horrors in order to go on living with the hope that the next horror will somehow not strike, and those including Godard himself who try to do something concrete in order to help to change the organization of human life from rivalry, competition, clashes and vanity, try to intervene into a life to promote this change.

In “Purgatory” “Hell” continues in the form of re-invention of wars and stimulation of people’s rivalry, indifference and hate, but it still allows for the rare human beings who are able to express their grief and their critical thoughts about the violence of human history, to do so. “Paradise” also is not without features of Hell. Of course, nobody tortures you in “Paradise” but you cannot express yourself, share your sincere feelings about life – only short everyday exchanges are possible there (nobody forces you to be intellectually mute, but meaningful speech is less and less relevant amidst semantic quietude and cacophonic noise, like in US in the 21st century). May be, for this reason Godard’s “Paradise” is guarded by the US marines. “Paradise” is a place of a visually beautiful landscapes and artificial calm, of a depressed mood or, conversely, of a childish excitement of playing sentimentally and sexually cheerful games – nothing meaningful is happening there. Memory is equal to forgetfulness when to remember something means to be in the middle of forgetting and when “contemplation” is separated from “action”.

Godard’s film is the place where new spirituality is born – that of the human multiplicities. “Our Music” is a vehicle of this spirituality of trying to live meaningfully in human communities without a common identity typical for totalitarian crowds, communities of different people with mutual respect for each other‘s differences. In the film spirituality has left the private life and private interiors (the interiors here tend to be public places – airport, embassy, TV studio, college lecture hall, library, streets, parks, and even greenhouse in Godard’s place looks like a public space) and it became public life, a matter of public, not isolatedly private will. The public will as Godard understands it, is not a commune of common ideology like Communist doctrine based on similarity/identity, but a combination of different wills learned to overcome animosity (rooted in fear of otherness) and impregnated with the noble human pain – a reaction on not surpassed human violence.

Morbid rage and pernicious fury of “Hell” (including clips of monstrous military training exercises), human intelligence with its orientation on purer life, locked in the present in “Purgatory”, and “Paradise” of loss and abandonment. Our hope’s path is in between Judith Lerner’s tireless efforts, Olga Brodsky’s heroism and artistic persistence of Godard’s genius.

Review of the film posted on June 2, 2014   “Our Music” by Jean-Luc Godard (2004)  by Acting-Out Politics