In First Name: Carmen the Godard stew is as easy to decipher as it has been since the 1960’s. It is still scattershot and montage reliant, but you can trace the director (Godard himself), the two young lovers, the orchestra, the waves and traffic—all melding together. It is avant-garde of course—but it isn’t a complete essay muddle.
Beethoven and Godard’s love of classical music is front and center. Any film with fine imagery and this much Beethoven is going to be solid at the very least. In characteristic fashion (talk about an auteur trademark!) Godard often drops the dialogue when characters speak or hits random on the score. Godard both understands and sort of despites the emotional impact of music on a film.
Godard is here as an actor (playing a director named Godard). His character lives in a mental institution and speaks in scowling riddles and fortune cookies.
Repeated shots of the orchestra (always playing Beethoven) practicing.
The action scenes, like all of Godard’s action scenes, are bad on purpose.
There is some very strong imagery here of the sun pouring in on the nude, young lovers. This would be the last collaboration between Godard and cinematographer Raoul Cotard (who is the DP for all of Godard’s nine best films).
There is a very tender moment (especially for a Godard film) at the 66-minute mark with the Tom Waits ballad (Ruby’s Arms) with the hand on the static television set. Godard quickly undercuts that emotion afterwards. Godard is almost always after the intellectual appeal, never the emotional.
The climax includes the meshing of the story of the young couple and the orchestra (diegetic now, actually in the hotel instead of just practicing and part of the cutaway mixture) which is well done.
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