Détective (Jean-Luc Godard / France-Switzerland, 1985):

The joke is that this is a "commercial assignment" set up so Jean-Luc Godard could direct Hail Mary, contracted by a producer who may have been unfamiliar with Contempt. The Hotel Concorde Saint-Lazare is all Godard has to work with, though that's no limitation -- the verandas, corridors, the staircases and the lobby's looming chandeliers are enough to create an opaque world, a view of the Parisian streets outside the window is revealed as a recorded image and promptly freeze-framed. The anti-narrative is divided into separate rooms, where dwell a dissolving married couple (Claude Brasseur, Nathalie Baye), a boxing promoter (Johnny Hallyday) and a fervid prizefighter (Stéphane Ferrara), and an uncle-nephew sleuthing duo (Laurent Terzieff, Jean-Pierre Léaud). A prehistoric jest (the "9" of a room number mistakenly read as "6") lead to a murder two years before but history keeps repeating itself, "it's one long stammer"; the investigation pushes on as Baye ricochets between Brasseur and Hallyday, Ferrara practices his jab first on tennis balls and then on his moll's naked breasts, a stylishly decrepit gangland don (Alain Cuny) runs his fingers through the mane of a little girl reading Time ("the hair of a future witch"). A very rich comedy about the age of video, along the lines of De Palma's Body Double: Film is an endangered species, theaters are lined with porn and the ghosts of cinema past (Cocteau, Stroheim) appear on TV as distant mementos. All Godard can do is stand his ground with a sublime mise-en-scène, where the cosmos-in-a-coffee-cup bit from 2 or 3 Things I Know About Her is transposed to a billiards table and acute bedroom compositions (cf. Eric Fischl) are matched by an astonishingly multilayered soundtrack -- puns, pensées, music (the lounge pianist is scolded: "Classique, s'il vous plaît!"). The folly of the intransigent artiste ("The situation is tough. I'm not," Léaud deadpans), Godard ponders its courage and buffoonery and dedicates it to fellow searchers (Cassavetes, Ulmer, Eastwood). With Aurelle Doazan, Xavier Saint-Macary, Emmanuelle Seigner, and Julie Delpy.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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