Between Documentary and Agit-Prop: Jean-Luc Godard's Ici et Ailleurs

By Ginsburg, Shai | Tikkun, January/February 2007 | Go to article overview

Between Documentary and Agit-Prop: Jean-Luc Godard's Ici et Ailleurs


Ginsburg, Shai, Tikkun


[TELEVISION/FILM]

Between Documentary and Agit-Prop Jean-Luc Godard's Ici et Ailleurs

THE HISTORY BEHIND THE making of Ici et Ailleurs (Here and Elsewhere) is somewhat difficult to trace. In 1970, the Arab League and/or Palestinian Organizations commissioned the French filmmaker Jean-Pierre Gorin, possibly jointly with Jean-Luc Godard and/or Anne-Marie Miéville, to make a documentary entitled Until Victory. It was to be a portrayal ofthe Palestinian armed struggle against Israel. Initially, the task seemed easy. The film opens with footage filmed in May and June of 1970, and includes scenes of desert refugee camps; Palestinian live-ammunition training (is it just training?); school children drilling gymnastic exercises; a woman, standing in front ofthe camera as a rifle leans against the wall just behind her, struggling to read a text about the Palestinian revolution; a small boy proclaiming Palestinian slogans; and an older man repeating the same slogans. Against the backdrop of these images a narrator speaks in French. All that seemed to be called for at that stage was to combine all these elements together in order to impart a sense of a Palestinian people, ofthe Palestinian popular army, and of a war between a nation against its oppressor-a war that would be fought as part ofthe worldwide revolt against imperial oppression, until victory was won.

After the filmmakers' return to France, however, these film footages looked more complex. By the end of 1970, "Black September"-the clashes between the Jordanian army and Palestinian militias (in which Israeli and Syrian forces were also involved)-left many ofthe Palestinians who appeared in the film dead, and as Palestinian victory seemed more elusive, the filmmakers became uncertain about the relationship between the footage they shot and the film's intended subject. By then it was also hard to contend with the deceased human subjects. Some critics allege that Godard and Miéville joined Gorin only at this point. Additional fictional scenes depicting a middle-class French family were introduced as a juxtaposition to the original "Palestinian" footage. The filmmakers likewise added collages of still photos, film clips of news items, and commercials, and matched these with a composition of sound bites-of news and sport broadcasts, political speeches, television programs, Nazi and Palestinian marching songs, a memorial service to the dead ofthe Jewish Holocaust, and more. Finally, the directors composed a voice-over commentary that runs throughout the film, which recounts its production process alongside the moral and theoretical problems the directors had to face. In September 1976, Ici et Ailleurs was finally released.

As the title ofthe film suggests, Ici et Ailleurs was now perceived as being divided between the here of the French middle class and the elsewhere ofthe Palestinian revolution." At the same time, as the filmmakers incessantly repeat, the conjunction et (and)-both as a written word on the screen and in the narrator's commentary-un-derscores the uncomfortable, even baffling, coexistence ofthe incommensurable realities of French affluent consumerism and Palestinian disenfranchisement. How, they ask, can the French middle class, preoccupied as it is with its own petty problems of unemployment, political affiliation and marital discordance, comprehend Palestinian misery? After all, Europeans are overwhelmed by television and the consumerism it celebrates. The bombardment of images and sounds that envelope everyday life elides the distinction between the significant and the trivial, obscuring the plight ofthe Palestinians. How, then, can the very real death of Palestinians-just one sound bite, one image among a throng of others-be salvaged and grasped for what it is?

Ultimately, by its very nature, Ici et Ailleurs misrepresents Palestinian reality. As an art form based on the incessant turnover of images and sounds to create the illusion of movement and life, cinema can only approximate the reality of silence and death. …

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