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In the Presence of Jean-Luc Godard (part 1)

In mid June, while browsing through the website of the Cinéma des Cinéastes (located near Place de Clichy in Paris), my heart positively stops when I read the following sentence: “Film Premiere of Jean-Luc Godard’s Film Socialisme – with debate with JLG afterwards.” Needless to say, Mr. Godard belongs, along with Federico Fellini and Ingmar Bergman, to My Holy Trinity of Film Directors. I could not have missed this event for the world.

I immediately call the movie theater and I am told that tickets will go on sale the following Wednesday, two days before the event. Since I am already in the area for a production meeting, on the Monday of the same week I stop by the ticket office of Cinéma des Cinéastes and ask the ticket seller at what time they will open on Wednesday. His answer – that of a true Parisian – consists of a shoulder shrug, followed by a surly expression and the words, uttered in the most insouciant way: “I don’t know.” Me: “What do you mean you don’t know?” Ticket seller: “I’m not really sure.” Me: “Well, approximately at what time do you open?” Ticket seller: “Maybe 10:00 – 10:30?”

Wednesday morning. I get out of the metro at Place de Clichy at 9:05. The cinema is just around the corner. In my head, I go through plans B, C, and D – should the line be too long and the tickets sold out. I think of the mob of people seen on TV when the first Apple Store opened in Paris – a line literally snaking all around the Louvre museum. The same scene was repeated for the launch of the iPhone and – more recently – the iPad. Parisians can be a patient bunch when it comes to endurance in lines. So, just before I round the corner, I catch myself joining my hands in prayer and looking up at the sky, going “Pleeeaaaaaseeee” for a nanosecond. Moments later, I have the entrance of the movie theater in clear sight: the street is completely empty. I’m the first one to snatch tickets for the event. I’m overjoyed to have tickets and a little disheartened at the same time, thinking that French people may queue up for hours to be the first to possess an electronic gadget and have little regard for their greatest living director. Un peu triste, quand même.

Friday evening. I attend the screening with my friend Pippa. A sign at the door announces that the event is sold out (feeling a little cheered up – yay for culture!) Once inside, the event organizer announces that we will immediately see the film and that Mr. Godard will hold a debate afterward.

The film. I can say, without the shred of a doubt that Film Socialisme is The Worst Film I Have Ever Seen In My Entire Life. Painfully so. There is no story, no real protagonist, a cast of amateurs acting in a wooden way, incomprehensible dialogue, awful cinematography, terrible sound design (I’m convinced the sound was recorded with the HD camcorder’s own microphone)… Une catastrophe. I look at my watch at least a hundred times, wishing for it to be over, so that I can see JLG. It’s interminable. A couple of people walk out; others start talking amongst themselves. I see the unmistakable glow of cell phone screens gleaming around the auditorium. And during all this, I start thinking that Mr. Godard may be playing a cruel joke on us. Think: video installation experiment more than a film – let’s see through how much torture I can put an audience. Let’s test the suckers.

I’m besides myself when the film ends. I take my camera out of my bag and wait expectantly. The auditorium’s main doors swing open and theater employees rush in carrying white plastic chairs, which they place just before the front row. About a dozen people walk in and take their seats in the white chairs. And then I see her – how could I possibly miss her, with her unmistakable crown of white and purple hair? Madame Agnès Varda herself is in the room. I turn to Pippa and go, “That’s Agnès Vardaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa!!!” Jean-Luc Godard enters soon thereafter and takes a seat on stage. I cannot believe I’m in the presence of France’s two greatest living directors – the mother AND father of the Nouvelle Vague. Pure bliss.

The first thing Jean-Luc Godard does is light up a cigar. The nervous-looking event organizer jumps on stage and announces that – because of strict non-smoking enforcement in all of France – Mr. Godard will be the only one allowed to smoke. Because he’s Jean-Luc Godard. The room breaks up in collective laughter. There is another equally amusing announcement: Mr. Godard will be on stage for as long as people wish. For as long as there will be questions for him. No limits.

To be continued in part 2…