Synopsis: After a decade in the wilds of avant-garde and early video experimentation, Jean-Luc Godard returned to commercial cinema with this star-driven work of social commentary, while remaining defiantly intellectual and formally cutting-edge. Every Man for Himself, featuring a script by Jean-Claude Carrière and Anne-Marie Miéville, looks at the sexual and professional lives of three people—a television director (Jacques Dutronc), his ex-girlfriend (Nathalie Baye), and a prostitute (Isabelle Huppert)—to create a meditative story about work, relationships, and the notion of freedom. Made twenty years into his career, it was, Godard said, his “second first film.”
eyelights: its unusual stylistic choices. its surprising transgressiveness. its solid performances.
eyesores: its mundane plot.
“There’s no such thing as an adult.”
I don’t know much about Jean-Luc Godard. Despite his legendary status, I haven’t gotten around to exploring his oeuvre, except in a tangential fashion: I watched ‘Le mépris’ because of Brigitte Bardot, and ‘Alphaville, une étrange aventure de Lemmy Caution’ because a friend recommended it.
But Godard wasn’t a factor.
I almost didn’t watch ‘Sauve qui peut (la vie)’ because I was uncertain that it fell in line with my current crop of sexy films. I wasn’t especially drawn to it, having heard nothing about it; I just happened to have a copy of it in my hands. If not for its potential lurid quality, it’d have been ignored.
That would have been a shame.
Though ‘Sauve qui peut (la vie)’ is hardly the picture of the year for me, I was quite taken by its WTF stylistic choices, such as the soundtrack fading in and out, the movie coming to a halt in still images, or its seemingly random chapter breaks. It could be weird, abrupt, but it teased my mind.
Admittedly, its technical anomalies must have unsettled most audiences.
They must also have been taken aback by Godard incessant references to sodomy and incest, which I frankly didn’t expect at all – partly because the picture is from 1980 and also because I imagined a revered experimental filmmaker like Godard to be less crude than this.
Did he intend to shock?
Personally, I was more intrigued than offended; I would have liked to understand his intention and the reception that he received at the time. The fact that he hammered out six more films in the next six years suggests that reception wasn’t negative, as it certainly didn’t debilitate his career.
The picture follows three characters over the course of three chapters:
- Denise Rimbaud, a TV producer who has just broken up with her boyfriend Paul and is planning to move to the countryside.
- Paul Godard, a filmmaker, who is feeling alienated by Denise, his ex and his daughter. Lonely, he picks up a prostitute.
- Isabelle Rivière, a prostitute, whose mind is affixed to other concerns while she’s fulfilling the myriad desires of clients.
The picture is bookended with Paul, whose loneliness is felt from the onset, sitting by himself in a hotel room and leaving alone, even though he was initially with colleagues. It’s a weird scene punctuated by an opera singer drowning the soundtrack and an encounter with an amourous bellhop.
Such peculiar scenes are commonplace in ‘Sauve qui peut (la vie)’:
When Denise goes looking for a small farmhouse to move into, its owner explains to her how to get a good rimjob from the cows and proceeds to show her. When Paul goes to pick up his daughter at soccer, he and the coach discuss whether or not he’s ever felt like fondling or sodomizing her.
The picture is very transgressive in substance, even though it doesn’t try to titillate its audience. One has to wonder if Godard wanted to challenge them, or if he simply planned to get a rise out of them. Was he trying to force people to consider ideas that are usually considered too taboo?
Either way, it’s pretty much all I can remember, given that the accompanying stories are fairly mundane.
The performances, thankfully, up the picture’s game. Though Jacques Dutronc is passable as Paul, Nathalie Baye is excellent as Denise and Isabelle Huppert is her typically steady self as Isabelle (interestingly, I couldn’t recognize her face at all – but her deep, smokey voice was unmistakable).
‘Sauve qui peut (la vie)’ isn’t exactly a brilliant film, but it’s certainly a unique experience. Between its stylistic choices and and its unconventional exchanges, it’s quite the mix. There’s no doubt that many people would feel punch-drunk by the end – should they even watch it in its entirety.
For me, it’s piqued my curiosity; I’m sure I’ll watch more Godard.
Date of viewing: June 16, 2017