Two or Three Things I Know About Her (1967): Godard’s

Things I Know About Her (French: Deux ou Trois choses que je sais d’elle)

In the 1960s, New Wave director Jean-Luc Godard experienced a high level of creativity and productivity.  In 1967 alone, he made three vastly different films, but each stylistically innovative: Two or Three Things I Know About Her, Weekend, and La Chinoise.

With Two or Three Things I Know About Her, an essay-like chronicle of  contemporary life, Godard said he wanted “to include everything: sports, politics, even groceries.”

As in other films, Godard narrates the film in a low-key whispered voice-over his fears and anxieties to the audience about the contemporary world, including the then ongoing Vietnam War.

The film often cuts to various still shots of bright consumer products and signs. One of the recurrent images is that of an ongoing construction site in Paris in what becomes a critique of suburbanism.

The film does not follow a conventional narrative, but it rather unfolds as a chronicle of one day (24 hours) in life of Juliette Jeanson (Marina Vlady), a middle-class married mother, who also works as a prostitute.

Juliette begins her typical day with dropping off her child to a man who has a flourishing business doing childcare for call girls. Her dull, uneventful daily chores of shopping, housework, visiting the beauty salon, and son, is interspersed with assignations with various clients.

All of the film’s sexual interplay is deliberately depicted as banal instead of erotic, business-like devoid of any emotions or feelings.

An older American wearing a shirt with his country’s flag, demands that his women wear airline shopping bags over their heads (Pan Am).

Occasionally, Juliette (and the other characters) address directly the camera (that is, the audience), with random monologues about what they think about gender and sexuality (the meaning of being a woman).

During production, Vlady and the other actors wore earpieces through which Godard would ask surprise, off-the-wall questions, which required that they react quickly and spontaneously. Caught off-guard, as they never knew when Godard would interrupt, made them more attentive and alert.

Due to circumstances, Godard shot Two or Three Things I Know About Her in the morning and another film, Made in USA (his last with Anna Karina) in the afternoon simultaneously for one straight month.

The film was first inspired by an article, written by Catherine Vimenet in Le Nouvel Observateur, about prostitution in the suburbs.

The film’s most famous shot is that of a lengthy close-up of a cup of coffee. The movie’s last image shows ads for Ajax, Lava, tooth paste, and so on. Godard stated that, “basically what I am doing is making the spectator share the arbitrary nature of my choices, and the quest for general rules which might justify a particular choice.”

He added “I watch myself filming, and you can hear me thinking aloud. In other words, it isn’t a film, it’s an attempt at a film and presented as such.”

Juliette lives in one of numerous high-rise buildings in the suburbs of Paris, which is dominated by such structures.  While meant to provide housing to families working in Paris during the prosperous post-war years, Godard sees the banlieues as the infrastructure for promoting a value system based on consumerism, a term he equates with prostitution. A consumerist society, he explains, demands work force living in regimented time and space, and forced to work jobs they don’t like, sort of prostitution of the mind.”

Godard perceives commercial advertisers as pimps who enslave the women to the point where they give their bodies without compunction, because they’ve been convinced that what they can buy has more potential to bring happiness than does the actual process of loving and sexual enjoyment.

Like many of Godard’s features, this film demonstrates his growing disenchantment with American culture, in contrast with his earlier French New Wave films like Breathless (1960), which made references to American cinema (film noir) and actors (Bogart).

 

Cast
Marina Vlady as Juliette Jeanson
Roger Montsoret as Robert Jeanson
Anny Duperey as Marianne
Raoul Lévy as John Bogus, the American
Jean Narboni as Roger
Juliet Berto as Girl talking to Robert
Christophe Bourseiller as Christophe Jeanson
Marie Bourseiller as Solange Jeanson

End Note
I am grateful to TCM, which showed a double feature of Godard, Two or Three Things I Know About Her and Masculin/Feminin, in December 2019.