PRÉNOM CARMEN | 1983 | France | Directed by – Jean-Luc Godard / Written by – Anne-Marie Miéville / Produced by – Alaine Sarde / Cinematography – Raoul Coutard, Jean-Bernard Menoud / Starring – Maruschka Demeters, Jacques Bonaffé / Running time: 85 mins.
“Sometime in the seventies, Godard became bored with making cinema, and started making activist manifestos. After this somewhat cleansing process, he returned to narrative, and seemed to have picked up where he left off, less keen to entertain, and more keen to keep making statements. First Name: Carmen, was one of the first works of this second coming of his.
It is a fascinating exercise, one that inspires debate on its many themes but also inspires arguments for or against the survival of cinema. Despite being very, very loosely based on Bizet’s opera and being written by his long time collaborator Anne Marie Miéville, First Name: Carmen is a mixture of familiar narrative elements of Godard’s cinema, to the point where it revisits and references titles such as Breathless and Crazy Pete directly. It is perhaps for this reason that he opted to have such a prominent on screen role in it, as a neurotic and hypochondriac film director, a heightened reality, more than parody, version of himself. But even he is just a pawn in the game of his need, who asks for his help to complete her film, but is really looking to deceive him into helping her fulfill her elaborate bank robbing scheme, which takes a turn for the unexpected after she falls in love with a young inept cop, who betrays his vows to show her his immediate devotion for her, joining her terrorist gang.
Despite the familiarity of the story, there is a greater ambition behind First Name: Carmen, that is evident in the film’s playful impulsiveness, supported by a lack of rhetoric, which reveals that Godard couldn’t care less about playing by the rules. This is shown by the rude and abrupt editing style, complete with repeated sequences, nonsensical soliloquy and others such non embellished ways. It is also noted by the literal deconstruction of the film that happens in its cathartic ending, in which the strongly allegorical up to that point classical music string quartet plays an active part in the film’s sublime, chaotic conclusion.
First Name: Carmen is challenging and enigmatic, but it is not without sophistication. The film is erotically charged by the beautiful sequences in which Godard films the beautiful and youthful naked bodies of its protagonists, Maruschka Demeters and Jacques Bonnaffé, and some of the most exciting sex scenes ever brought to the big screen. The lengthy core sequence in which they converse about the nature of their fleeting, passionate romance, is full of meaning and interpretation, on both a psysical and representational level. Visually speaking, it is a praise worthy exploration of nakedness, undertaken with a sense of maturity and childlike playfulness.
This is Godard at his most incendiary; inspiring and inspired. Rebellious, evocative and even rewardingly humorous, First Name: Carmen is not at all one of his most famous works, but it is certainly one of his all time best.” – 5/5