Digital Truths: Weil’s Platonic Cinema (Part Two)

Ever since I watched it, I have wanted to write about Jean-Luc Godard’s 2004 film Notre Musique. Set in Sarajevo, it tells the story of two women – Olga and Judith – and debates ideas of violence, ethics, colonialism, the Other and the Israeli-Palestine conflict. The main reason that I obsessed over the film was the constant discussion of the Trojan War. At one point, the reporter Judith interviews the Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish, who calls himself the Trojan poet (compared to the Homer of the Greeks/Israelis) and muses on the connection between poetry and defeat or victory in conflicts. Besides this discussion of Homer, I also recalled two moments. One was the image of a woman’s face I knew I was meant to recognize (but didn’t) over a section of dialogue about the journalist’s nightmares, even though she lives in New York, but how a friend who lives in Haifa, dreams, not of his enemy, but of himself.

Perhaps because of the constant references to the Trojan War, I had identified that woman as Simone Weil. But I later discovered that it was in fact Hannah Arendt. Perhaps the confusion bled through from Godard’s previous film Éloge de l’amour (2001), in the final section of which, filmed in digital video, Godard has protagonist describe working on a cantata on Simone Weil. In the scenes immediately following, in a different way to the image of Arendt, the image of Weil’s face occupies the screen, taking the place of the scene of a road.

Of course, Godard planned this confusion for me, especially as earlier in the film, he has Edgar look back to the woman he met two years before and describe himself wanting ‘someone like Simone Weil of Hannah Arendt’, to which his friend says he’s sorry that he’d stopped working on his cantata. What I am left with, however, is the sense of the difference in movement between the two images of the two women – the movement through the darkness across the still Arendt image and the coming into presence of the Weil image. The former seems much more reliant on the flow of the narrative, while in the latter we watch as the car disappears into Weil’s right eye.

Daniel Morgan in his book Late Godard and the Possibilities of Cinema has discussed how the filmmaker manipulated the medium of digital video to bridge cinema and painting. He did this not only by heightening the intensity and artificiality of colour, like the impressionists, but also to show how movement can take place within a still image. If Weil resisted the cinema as Plato’s cave (in Marker’s documentary), what would she have made of this additional manipulation of the image in the digital realm? Is it closer or further away from the truth of the Platonic Ideas?

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