14 June 2008 | ThreeSadTigers
Quietly moving, brimming with rage
"In a sense, fear is the daughter of God, redeemed on Good Friday. She is not beautiful, mocked, cursed or disowned by all. But don't be mistaken, she watches over all mortal agony, she intercedes for mankind; for there is a rule and an exception. Culture is the rule, and art is the exception. Everybody speaks the rule; cigarette, computer, t-shirt, television, tourism, war. Nobody speaks the exception. It isn't spoken, it is written; Flaubert, Dostoyevsky. It is composed; Gershwin, Mozart. It is painted; Cézanne, Vermeer. It is filmed; Antonioni, Vigo. Or it is lived, then it is the art of living; Srebrenica, Mostar, Sarajevo. The rule is to want the death of the exception. So the rule for cultural Europe is to organise the death of the art of living, which still flourishes" Jean Luc Godard, "Je Vous Salue, Sarajevo" (1993).
The film in question is a short, two-minute rumination on the once volatile situation during the period of the Bosnian War, presented in the form of a photo-montage with accompanying text. In the film, Godard takes a single photograph and shows us a series of close-up segments that conspire to abstract the overall meaning of the picture, turning the individual elements into mere symbols that are there to be deciphered. The ultimate point that the director is trying to make is heartfelt and honest, though he is intelligent enough not to preach to his audience; instead, allowing room for further thought and deeper interpretation. By taking the original image, zooming in on it and showing it to the viewer piece by piece, Godard allows each symbol to take on various roles and characteristics; from the gun, which becomes a symbol of violence, protection and power, to the cigarette, with all its quietly mocking reminders of society in even the most barbaric and brutal of contexts.
The use of narration expresses Godard's genuine sadness at the state of the world in the latter half of the twentieth-century, contrasting the ideas of art and atrocity as the presentation of the image becomes known. The film also touches on the importance of art and how it is needed as an egalitarian comment on society. With this in mind, the final image becomes a work of art itself; which - simply as a result of being - expresses something that otherwise would never have been said. As the film progresses, more and more of the image is presented to the audience until the final shot, in which the full scenario of the picture and its depiction of militant abuse, becomes clear. Here, Godard brings his narration to a close and forces the viewer for the first time to look at and contemplate the image that he has previously dissected so skilfully, so that we can take into account the crux of his argument and see the ultimate depiction of what Elvis Costello once referred to as "the sad burlesque".
Even at this incredibly brief running time, Je Vous Salue, Sarajevo is a bold, heartfelt and moving critique from Godard - the most talented and revolutionary filmmaker of the twentieth century - with the implication of the title combined with his heartrending and reasoned narration seeming to underline the entirely personal nature of the film. "I Salute Thee, Sarajevo!" / "Hail, Sarajevo!" is the message that Godard relates as he offers this quiet and dignified polemic about political censorship, freedom of speech, art and atrocity, life and death and the state of the world in the year nineteen-ninety-three. As the poignant music of Arvo Pärt swells on the soundtrack, Godard makes his intentions clear with a final, heartfelt lament; "when it's time to close the book, I have no regrets. I've seen so many people live so badly, and so many die so well".