9 June 2008 | ThreeSadTigers
The decline and fall of western civilisation, parts 1 to 4
The title is a slightly ironic one; implying the importance of Godard as the film's personal narrator and ably illustrating that the "two or three things he knows about her" are referring not only to the film and the central character, but to Paris itself. It's one of the filmmaker's most difficult and disorientating films, existing within the same creative mindset as Week End (1967) and La Chinoise (1967), but failing to meet that particular level of subversive brilliance. Many of Godard's most obvious hallmarks are still in place, from the notion of society as prostitution, the rise of American consumerism, the state of France in the midst of political upheaval, relationships between men and women, the nature of cinema as a platform for discussion, satire, imagination and ideas, and the appropriation of a larger than life visual design taking in elements of pop art, surrealism, Buñuel and Brecht. However, unlike the similarly minded films aforementioned, 2 or 3 Things I Know About Her (1967) doesn't quite come together as a consistent and cohesive whole, instead seeming somewhat sluggish and anchored to a character that is neither interesting nor particularly well performed.
That said; I feel people shouldn't be so quick to dismiss the film, as it features several scenes of bold technical invention, a sharp and biting wit and a real sense of both visual and thematic imagination. It is also a fairly worthy time capsule to the spirit and scope of Paris at this particular time, expressing many of the political fears and social concerns central to most free-thinking Parisians circa 1967. Whereas the two other Politically minded films that Godard produced in 1967 would broaden the thematic scope to create a much more pointed attack on armchair terrorists and bourgeois revolutionaries, "2 or 3 Things" works on a much smaller scale; choosing suburban Paris with its high-rise apartment buildings, shops and service stations as a backdrop that is continually dwarfed by the wheels of industry and industrial repair. At one point Godard says in voice over that "the landscape is like a face", all the while showing how it is continually destroyed, changed and re-developed in a series of repetitive visual metaphors open to a variety of thematic interpretations. Many viewers take these sequences at face value and choose to view the film as a simple, heavy-handed essay on the decline of industry and the rise of Capitalism and subsequently write the film off. However, even though the film takes a great deal of work and may indeed seem boring and heavy-handed, there are deeper themes and ideas that make this a slightly more rewarding work in the long run.
Once again, Godard anchors his ideas to the theme of prostitution; recalling elements of Vivre sa Vie (1962) whilst simultaneously foreshadowing certain issues later expressed in Sauve qui peut (la vie) (1980). Like the latter film, Godard implies that with an increasing focus on consumerism and the pursuit of material gain, society is prostituting itself. This is further elaborated upon by Godard's continual focus on product logos and brand names that are inter cut and often re-framed in order to create humorous puns that are probably lost on anyone not entirely familiar with the French language, as well as a final shot that renders the cityscape of suburban Paris as the ultimate consumer paradise. The idea of prostitution also extends to the main character, who here, prostitutes herself in order to break up the monotony of her everyday life, whilst also featuring as a somewhat controversial comment on acting itself (something that is further implied in the opening scene).
Like many of Godard's films, "2 or 3 Things" uses a great deal of humour to give the satire a more pointed attack. Much of this humour tends to go over the heads of most viewers, largely as a result of having to read the subtitles or simply missing out on much of Godard's clever use of wordplay and usually ironic puns. Scenes, such as the young boy relating his dream about the unification of North and South Vietnam, or the scene in which Juliet and her friend enact a bizarre, tongue-in-cheek sex game with a foreign war correspondent (who films them with a super 8 camera and looks a little like Godard himself), all the while cutting back and forth to shots of construction and cars entering a service station, being an incredibly bold and rebellious critique in itself. Other sections of the film seem more poetic; almost as if Godard is putting his thoughts on film as he goes along and creating something that is, on the one hand, entirely personal, whilst simultaneously being an obvious piece of satirical agitprop. The two strands don't always sit well together, and too often Godard's ideas seem strained and unformed; especially in comparison with those two other films from 1967, previously mentioned.
Obviously many viewers have had problems with the film, and really, your enjoyment of it will depend greatly on how much you trust Godard's instincts as both a satirist and filmmaker, and how willing you are to enter into a dialog with him on a subject that is now resigned to an incredibly brief footnote in 20th century history. For me, the film is undoubtedly one of his more difficult projects and not one that I would place higher than the likes of Le Mepris (1963), Pierrot le fou (1965) or Helas pour moi (1993), etc. However, the scope of Godard's ideas and his way of presenting them visually are close to genius, whilst the occasional moment of imaginative wit, visual poetry or the sheer verve of Godard's film-making abilities make the slow pace and poor performance from Marina Vlady all the more bearable. 2 or 3 Things I Know About Her is worth seeing in the context of both Week End and La Chinoise and is certainly worth experiencing as a double bill with the similarly themed Sauve qui peut (la vie).