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Jean Luc Godard's Weekend As Didactic Self-Reflexive Cinema

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James Goodman

5 March 2005


Communication Essay

Jean Luc Godard's Weekend

as Didactic Self-Reflexive Cinema

According to Stephen Prince in Movies and Meaning: an Introduction to Film,

Screen Reality is a concept that pertains to the principles of time, space, character behavior and audiovisual design that filmmakers systematically organize in a given film to create an ordered world on-screen in which characters may act and in which a narrative may unfold.(262)

One mode of cinematic screen reality is self-reflexivity. While the other three modes of screen reality seek to sway the audience into accepting the authenticity of the world and the story that are on screen, the self-reflexive style deliberately attempts to tear down the illusion of the cinema. In doing so, it reinforces the awareness that film is socially and culturally constructed and that at its core, film is art, not reality. There are two purposes in using self reflexive techniques, either for comedy or with the hope of addressing a social or cultural issue. (Prince 290)

The more familiar of the two modes of self-reflexive cinema make use of a comedic style, and what's more, many contemporary comedies embody comedic self-reflexivity (Prince 291). These comedies do so because it facilitates a more personal rapport between the characters and the audience, thus amplifying the humor that can be seen in the narrative. However, there are certain limitations to comic self reflexivity. By presupposing the audience's familiarity with the humor or references in the narrative, the mode risks reaching an audience that does not relate to the material presented. Some films are unable to meet a large audience because their narratives are constructed from "inside" jokes that can not be understood by all who will see it. (Prince 290)

The other mode of self-reflexive cinema that addresses an issue of importance is commonly known as didactic self-reflexivity. Beginning in the 1920s with Bertolt Brecht, a playwright who wanted to craft plays that were reflective of society and that made sure the audience was aware of this. He wished that his work inform the public and impact social change, to share his perception without a screen. Seeing realism as an impediment that kept the audience from perceiving the message of the art, Brecht sought to devise theater that was uncompromisingly revolutionary and candid. This new style was characterized by the employment of titles to reveal the next action, in the way that the characters of the play sometimes spoke to the audience, and was all together anti-naturalist. The techniques of didactic self-reflexivity were "anti-illusionist in that they sought to dispel the illusion of a self-contained fictional world created by conventional drama and stagecraft." The basic purpose being to rupture the obstruction between the viewer and the characters. Jean-Luc Godard's Weekend, released in 1967, was completed just prior to the student uprising and general strike in France during May 1968. It is a film in which Godard unequivocally proclaims his adherence to the Marxist critique of capitalism as well as an affinity for Third World rebukes of the West and imperialism. Throughout the narrative Godard contrasts the wealth and decadence of France with its consequential atomization, violence, and barbarism. He also infuses the narrative with extensive discourses on the failure of Western military democracy and the need for revolution. The 1960's were a decade of great upheaval within France: the repercussions of the Second World War were still being felt; there were colonial wars in Indochina and Algeria; furthermore, a general malaise and discontent was sweeping through society, effecting the young especially, under the onslaught of materialism and modernity. Weekend, at its core, is a direct reflection and expression of this decade in French history, which can be said to be symptomatic of all the great Western military democracies. The film is a direct and unapologetic attack upon the decadence and atomization that have resulted from this process. Weekend represents the culture of political violence and social experimentation, artistic and sexual, which was the latter half of the 1960s. This somewhat comic but depressing film of Godard's is a satirical poem and construct of the contempt with which he obviously holds bourgeoisie society. Much of the film expresses this through the use of symbolism and metaphor. In order to better facilitate the process whereby the audience becomes aware of Godard's intentions and his message he introduces us to a young Parisian married couple. Godard sets the clichÐ"©d couple, alienated and bourgeois, on a journey for Corinne's parents' country house, hoping to find them either dead or willing to sign the will. As they persist in their journey we are given various opportunities to appreciate the absolute complacency and ignorance of the couple (meant to be emblematic of all bourgeois). Godard tries to peel off the hypocrisy of bourgeois society through the weekend trip of this Parisian middle class couple. Weekend is a clear continuation of the style, and even ideology, which originated with Brecht's work in the theater. Jean Luc Godard weaves didactic self-reflexive techniques throughout the film, in order to "break the illusion that the spectator is watching a real, authentic world on screen rather than a movie." In doing so, Godard finds the ability to share his discourse directly with the audience instead of employing characters to do the job for him. Much of the film is thus transformed into an essay in the sense that there are moments in which the dialogue is aimed at the audience. Weekend makes use of three kinds of didactic, self-reflexive techniques: nontraditional camera techniques, the inclusion of imaginary characters, moments of performance self-disclosure, and the manipulation of titles.

One key element of didactic self-reflexivity is the frequency of nontraditional camera techniques, which is also one of the most distinguishing features of Weekend. The unique nature of his style of camera movement is exemplified in four key scenes. The first, and most original, is the tracking shot of the traffic jam at the beginning of the film. Altogether it is near ten minutes long and is one of the clearest representations Godard has constructed to illustrate the predicament that modern Western society is faced with. Godard preempts this scene with the title, Une ScÐ"Ёne de la Vie Parisienne. Here in Paris,



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