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Jean-Luc Godard
Switzerland / France, 1990

Looking back on 2013, I'd be hard-pressed to come up with a top ten list of new films worthy of the name. For one thing, I've seen too many films – examples: The Place Beyond The Pines, Spring Breakers, The Bling Ring – which, barely a month passed, are practically forgotten. There are the new additions which fail to bring me to revise my earlier assessment of a director, be they Post Tenebras Lux (Reygadas' standard mix of brilliant ideas and utter meretriciousness) or the Paradise trilogy (the usual whiff of the exploitation of his subjects that Seidl brings with him). There are the films brought down to a lesser (Barbara) or greater extent (Bastards—what a disappointment) by narrative missteps. And then there's my bÍte noire of the year: The Great Beauty. Right from The Consequences of Love British critics in particular have enthused over Paolo Sorrentino's work, something I've never been able to understand—how can you be taken in by this cinema of empty gesture? But it seems that The Great Beauty is garnering even wider acclaim as one of the best films of the year. All you need to do is throw everything you've got at the screen, charge about with advertising-inspired sweeping camera movements from any old direction, devoid of any intrinsic meaning, and it's labelled "wit and panache" (Sight and Sound editor Nick James). No: it's a witless, hypocritical monstrosity, a product of the very excesses it proposes to critique, and its first five minutes count as my most irritating, nigh-on-unbearable film experience of 2013.

So what I have to offer in return is what was my most invigorating, inspiring, uplifting film experience of the year: my first viewing of Godard's 1990 Nouvelle Vague. Forget the standard film-buff complaint that the sixties films were better: no, the stream of astounding work since the "return to cinema" marked by Sauve qui peut (la vie) – work that marks Godard as (at 83!) the greatest working director today – has clear links with the best of his films of the sixties (e.g. 2 or 3 Things ...) while developing on them in new directions, above all in the positioning of his cinema as part of a centuries-old European cultural context and in an attention to an increasingly lyrical depiction of the natural world. Yes, the films can be confusing, even frustrating - try working out the details of Nouvelle Vague's narrative of drifter Alain Delon being given a home by industrialist Domiziana Giordano - but what's wrong with being asked to work a little for your pleasure? And there's utter pleasure to be had in the mesh of sounds, images, allusions, and quotations that make up the film—a pleasure that reminds you, especially in a less than stellar year, of how great cinema can be.


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