Two Or Three Things I Know About Her Review
Godard’s 1967 film Two Or Three Things I Know About Her (2 ou 3 choses que je sais d'elle) considers the situation of women in the built-up anonymous suburbs of Paris, and again tackles the subject of prostitution, but unlike the Nouvelle Vague romantic twist on the situation depicted in his 1962 film Vivre Sa Vie, Two Or Three Things I Know About Her approaches the subject in a more political and philosophical fashion seen in his previous film Masculin Féminin (1966), considering the wider global situation that gives rise to their circumstances. Godard additionally develops theories on communication in his approach to filmmaking that he would further explore in Made In U.S.A., made simultaneously with this film.
Consequently, Two Or Three Things I Know About Her has very little that resembles a plot or narrative. The principal character in the film that we are introduced to and follow through the film is Juliette Janson (Marina Vlady), a housewife with two young children who is expected by her husband to do some part-time work on the street as a prostitute to keep up with the consumerist necessities of living in a modern capitalist society – specifically Paris. She gives a running commentary to the camera, on her character’s feelings, impressions, emotions and the reasons for her actions. Various other women, in similar circumstances also turn to the camera and talk about their experiences and the reasons for what they do – their lack of prospects, their failure to hold down mundane secretarial jobs and the general dullness of their lives.
In reality, the principal character in the film is actually Jean-Luc Godard, who provides a whispered voice-over, drawing attention to various traits about the characters, the places they go to, explaining what is going on, pointing out the construct of the film and how it is expressing itself. This experimentation with the form is the film’s real raison d’être, Godard pondering on language and words, how they give meaning, how they can also be meaningless and imprecise and how their meaning can vary depending on the context in which they are presented. Specifically, as a filmmaker, Godard is interested in how words interact with images – the power of signs, titles, slogans as well as the wider “language” of our environment. The film is frequently dominated by images of huge overpasses and high-rise buildings which often dwarf the characters, who are shown as little more than small heads in front of them. Their surroundings and all the accoutrements of modern living “speak” louder than the characters themselves, and are more alive than the drabness of the lives of most ordinary Parisians.
The title of Godard’s film Two Or Three Things I Know About Her indeed refers to Paris, but it could equally apply to women in general, since the director shows very little depth of knowledge about either subject. He has a point to make certainly, but it’s hardly profound. In one of the opening scenes where Juliette’s husband is shown listening to a radio broadcast about the bombing of Vietnam while she interjects about a fashion article she has read in a magazine, Godard returns to the simplistic view of men being politically aware, while women are more interested in consumer products. Other conversations between men and women make equally broad or banal points and reveal nothing significant or insightful about these people’s lives. The political commentary is laughably lacking in finesse, Godard missing no opportunity to rail against America – a scene where an American journalist in a stars and stripes T-shirt takes Juliette and Marianne to his room is remarkably unsubtle (America screwing French women) and needlessly obscure (he makes them wear American airways bags over their heads). Various other comments about Vietnam are delivered with all the incisiveness and depth of grafitti painted on a wall. The whole area of the use of language is of course part of film’s point, but the director’s “philosophising” about language is similarly facile if not nonsensical. Asking “What does it mean to know something?” while deconstructing the very words it is using to ask the question doesn’t exactly prove anything, or at least nothing meaningful.
Although the labelling on the disc itself claims the DVD to be Region 0, the Nouveaux Pictures’ UK release of Two Or Three Things I Know About Her is actually Region 2 encoded. It is released alongside two other Godard titles - Vivre Sa Vie (1962) and Masculin Féminin (1966). The film was recently released on DVD in France by Arte. As well as a booklet of essays on the film, the French DVD includes among the extra features a 26-minute discussion between Jean-Luc Godard et Jean Saint-Geours on prostitution, an 8-minute on-set interview with Marina Vlady, a 13-minute examination of the film by Freddy Buache and Dominque Païni and the original trailer – all, like the film, unfortunately without subtitles. Sadly, none of these extra features have made it over to the Nouveaux UK release.
The film is transferred to DVD anamorphically in its original 2.35:1 aspect ratio and the film looks reasonably well in its cool, light Eastmancolor tones. It's exceptionally grainy, but this never causes any problems with artefacting or macro-blocking. One or two marks can be seen on the print in a few scenes and the overall look is soft, but this is nevertheless a good transfer.
The soundtrack is presented in Dolby Digital 2.0 mono and is surprisingly clear and relatively free from background noise. It’s not a particularly showy soundtrack, but functional and handles Godard’s silences and sharp noises well.
The subtitles on this release, unlike the other two Nouveaux Godard releases, are optional, which is particularly welcome for this film as they often obscure the small talking heads at the bottom of the compositions (see screenshot below). Subtitles are generally an unwelcome addition to Godard films, adding another level of remove that the director’s did not intend. This is true of any foreign language film, but particularly so in a Jean-Luc Godard film where he is so precise about his communication techniques with the viewer. The subtitles can’t but fail to capture everything in a Godard film - from the tone of the intertitles, the phrasing, the play on words, often failing to translate posters and notebooks and occasions when dialogue and words on the screen in the intertitles overlap.
The only extra feature on the disc is a Photo Gallery, which has nothing more than 10 screen captures from the film. The DVD also comes with a thick booklet – the same booklet is available in each of the three Godard films released by Nouveaux - Vivre Sa Vie (1962), Masculin Féminin (1966) and Two or Three Things I Know About Her (1967). It contains a brief biography of the director, a short introduction to each of the films, a complete filmography and reprints dialogue from a couple of key scenes from each of the three films.
A film doesn’t necessarily need a plot or narrative, but it needs to present something else in their place in order to engage a viewer. Two Or Three Things I Know About Her has one or two moments when you feel Godard is achieving something meaningful, but the majority of the film’s series of merely boring, banal and scarcely connected scenes, conversations and situations overwhelms any desire of the viewer to make anything of them. If this is the point Godard wanted to make about the situation of Parisians in a consumerist capitalist world lacking in meaning, then he has succeeded to some degree but it’s hardly a major revelation and it is not presented in a format that encourages any thought or consideration of the matter. Perhaps in order to take his film work to another level, this period is a stage the director needed to go through – deconstructing his approach to filmmaking, removing the artifice, stripping down to the most basic, essential, level of communication – in order to bring his method to a level that culminates in the self-destructive havoc of Weekend before moving beyond the traditional form. At this point however in Two Or Three Things I Know About Her, there is not enough depth or rigour in his treatment of his ideas or technique. Perhaps for its time the film could be considered revolutionary and an important landmark, but it must be judged on how it stands up now, and by those standards the film, looking more like an artschool project, does not even measure up to other Godard films of this period. The film is quite well presented on DVD, with a fair anamorphic transfer and good sound, but there is no relevant supporting material among the extra features that could shed any light on this very dull, dated film.