Each September, the Toronto International Film Festival grants discerning spectators a chance to experience wonderful films from all over the world, many of which may never appear again. Forget all the hype, the red carpet, the paparazzi; think of the chance of seeing the latest film by Abbas Kiarostami, Pedro Almodovar, or Hou Hsiao-hsien. So quiet and so subtle, Hou's Cafe Lumiere will probably never surface in even the most specialized theatres of North America. A film that will gain, however, at least a limited exhibition is the one I wish to present in this account--Notre Musique, by Jean-Luc Godard.
In Purgatory, the central section of Notre Musique (2004) by Jean-Luc Godard, there is a sequence that concerns the reconstruction of the single span, stone arch bridge in Mostar, a medieval town south-west of Sarajevo in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Spanning the Neretva River, the bridge was built by the Ottoman Turks in 1566 of 456 blocks of stone, hundreds of which fell into the river when the bridge was destroyed in 1993 during the Croat-Muslim war. Although Hungarians initially salvaged the stones from the river, the reconstruction was initially supervised by a French architect, Gilles Pequeux, (spelled Pecqueux in the film's credits, the correct spelling is without the "c") "not to restore the past, "he explains, "but to make the future possible." He is talking to Olga Brodsky/Nade Dieu, a young Israeli Jew of Russian origin who is tormented by the irresolvable tensions between Israel and Palestine and who, like Judith Lerner/Sarah Adler, another Israeli Jew, has come to Sarajevo to visit a country "in which reconciliation seems possible."
This sequence brings together three elements that inform the film. First there is the international, multi-cultural mix. Along with professional actors, the film contains the actual presence of Pequeux, the architect; of Pierre Bergounioux, a French writer; of Juan Goytisolo, a Spaniard who recites his poems (without subtitles) while squatting amongst some ruins; and of Mahmoud Darwich, a Palestinian writer who is interviewed by Judith. They have all come to Sarajevo for the annual European Literary Encounters and, of course among them, interacting with them, is Jean-Luc Godard.
Secondly, this sequence also establishes the two young women, Olga and Judith, who bear a strong resemblance to one another--the one moving towards darkness (as the press hand-out explains), the other towards light. Both want to understand these ethnic conflicts. Although Olga falls more and more deeply into despair when she thinks about the Palestinian/Israeli situation, Judith finds hope in the reconstruction of the bridge, taking pictures with her digital camera as if to capture at least traces of this once conflicted country in the effort to understand its relevance to her own.
Finally, there is the bridge itself. Rebuilt from fragments retrieved from the past, being meticulously reconstructed by numbering all the shattered stones in order to re-assemble them in order, "like learning a new language," as Pequeux explains, this process of reconstruction is what Godard has been doing with cinema all his life. He has constantly been building bridges--between the old and the new, between documentary and fiction, between film and video, between the real and the imaginary.
There is also a psychological bridge between the young women, as if they are separate parts of the same endeavour, the recto/verso of the same pain. Olga is more committed to the real, Judith to the imaginary. Olga's despair at the situation with Palestine leads her to contemplate suicide, preferably in some self-sacrificial way. Echoing the existential ultimatum put forward by Albert Camus in the 1940s, she explains to her Uncle Ramos/Rony Kramer, himself an Israeli Jew living in France, that "that will be total liberty, when it's the same to live or die. That's my goal," she explains. "Drole de but! …