From the start, Jean-Luc Godard's films have crackled with a love for cinema itself. Watching selections from his justly revered first decade of work, it's hard to conceive of a director more alive to the possibilities of what movies can do, even when they seem like calculated insults directed at what a movie usually does do. World-weary and beautifully shot, Godard's new In Praise Of Love could be described as the sort of work a cinema-lover makes when his love grows more possessive as it grows less vigorous. But, as usual, his work participates in its own critical analysis. In Praise Of Love's futility comes hard-wired into an examination of what it means to make art when the possibility of art has come to seem futile. For Godard, it's a film of firsts, or at least firsts-in-a-while: It's his first film at least partially shot in Paris since 1966's Masculin/Féminin, and the first to receive so wide a release in nearly two decades. His intervening years have been taken up in part by the multimedia work Histoire(s) Du Cinéma, from which he's returned with his pessimism intact. For In Praise Of Love's characters, youth fades, art fades, memories fade, and history fades, leaving it open to co-option by outside forces. For Godard, no such forces are more dreadful than filmmakers from America, a country that sups vampirically on the history of other nations because it has none of its own. For those who buy into that, he has some thoughts on Schindler's List he'd also love to share. Often difficult to follow, In Praise Of Love is seldom more cohesive than in such moments of direct criticism, but also seldom less effective. Vagaries power its lyricism, as Bruno Putzulu tries to put together a film, or perhaps an opera, that deals in part with the French Resistance and in part with love at three different ages. Adulthood gives him the most trouble, in more senses than one. His attempts to cast an elusive woman (Cecile Camp, in the part of "She," another Godard woman reduced to base elements) give rise to thoughts on the past and future that keep cycling around to the equally elusive present. In the company of so much mournfulness, even the beautifully composed shots of present-day Paris start to look like light from a faded star. The film's cumulative effect is one of washed-out melancholy, but its immediate effect tends toward repetitive tedium, and its thoughts on art and time alternate between resonance and aimlessness so often that it becomes hard to tell one from the other. Nevertheless, its gloomy speculations on the ephemeral nature of art are paradoxically not easily forgotten, and Godard's daring again pays off, or at least comes close enough to get credit for trying. When he flashes back to a few years past, he does so in the form of garishly vivid digital video. The past looks like the future, and Godard again sounds like the cranky, frustrated, uniquely alluring voice of cinematic discontent.
More from The A.V. Club