Jean-Luc Godard's 2 or 3 Things I Know about Her is not necessarily a hard film to understand, but at the same time there is no way I could go through the entire thing and explain it all. The first time I screened Criterion's new release of the 1967 feature I was watching it with a friend and as we watched I began giving my impression of what I thought was going on and what Godard was trying to do with the film, which does have a narrative, but as film scholar Adrian Martin says in his commentary, this is more of a visual essay than your traditional feature film. Once the film ended I read the back of the cover only to see most of what I had described was right there in black and white. I gave myself a pat on the back, but also realized that while I was able to keep up with Godard's message I couldn't help but feel lost, and never truly connected to the film -- as interesting as it may be.
The film is introduced to the audience via a Paris housewife played by Marina Vlady who prostitutes herself for extra money. However, this can hardly be considered the film's storyline as much as it is a metaphor for the entire film and how people prostitute themselves for damn near everything. Amy Taubin's essay included inside the booklet for this release finds a correlation between Godard and Andy Warhol and the desire to encompass "everything" in a movie. Taubin dubs 2 or 3 Things the greatest film by the greatest post-1950s filmmaker. I think she's exaggerating, but I say this considering myself to be an outsider looking in.
I'm not sure of Taubin's age, but I felt a generational gap watching this film, but even more importantly I think there is something lost in the translation. This is a very French film, with Paris being one of the "her" characters Godard refers to, and while much of what he is talking about can be compared to similar issues of today I wasn't able to always make the connection, which had me occasionally wandering while I watched.
Then again, another way to look at this film is not so much at the film's message as much at the man delivering that message and what it means to him and what it says about him. My experience with Jean-Luc Godard is limited to having seen Breathless, Alphaville and Band of Outsiders on top of 2 or 3 Things. For a director that is still working today, a new film expected to be released in 2010 and over 90 directorial credits listed in his name on IMDb I would say I am behind the curve, but this Criterion release is a great jumping off point for those looking to get a leg up.
The previously mentioned Adrian Martin commentary is a wealth of information regarding both Godard as well as the film, with particular attention to Godard's personal beliefs and how they shaped the film and his career. This commentary blends very well into two of the four included features starting with an interview with theater director Antoine Bourseiller, a one-time friend of Godard who was unceremoniously abandoned by Godard, but the ending to his story is quite moving.
Next are two archival television interviews, the first of which is with actress Marina Vlady, which is rather generic, but may be of interest to some, but the second is a gem with Godard debating Jean St. Geours, a representative of the French government. The conversation begins with the subject of prostitution and moves on and escalates as the two dance around each other in a heated, but controlled, debate. The debate lasts just over 13 minutes and cuts off quite abruptly making you wish you could see more beyond the cut.
Finally, there is a nearly ten-minute video essay looking at the multiple cultural references in the film titled "2 or 3 Things: A Concordance". To say it is in-depth and is sure to open your eyes to just how thought out Godard's film is barely scratching the surface.
As for recommending this title, I think it's pretty clear it is one for the die-hard Godard fans already invested in the helmer and looking for more, or those fascinated by his work and also wanting to dig in a little deeper. I wouldn't recommend this to a newcomer to his films (which is what I consider myself) and would advise you to look toward his earlier stuff and move into what I would call the second half of Godard's career.
2 or 3 Things along with the other Godard feature Criterion is releasing this week (Made in the U.S.A.) are considered to be two of the films marking the turning point in Godard's career from narrative based features toward what can best be described as visual essays. When asked about this film in the debate I mentioned earlier, Godard says it is "an analysis using sound and images" and it's a perfect descriptor as it invests the audience in wanting to learn more about both the subject at hand and its professor.