83 minutes

A rare misfire in Jean-Luc Godard's admittedly idiossyncratic career, Hélas pour moi was the iconoclastic director's second 1990s feature, and his second in the post-Histoire(s) du Cinéma “essay-film” phase, as well as his second meeting with a bona fide film star – after Alain Delon in 1990's Nouvelle Vague, here it's Gérard Depardieu, playing the double role of smalltown investor Simon Donnadieu and God, come to Earth to understand love in the shape of Simon's wife Rachel (Laurence Masliah).
     Sumptuously photographed by Caroline Champetier on Swiss lakeside locations, Hélas pour moi is an intermediate step in mr. Godard's progressive deconstruction of his cinema from formalist exercises into dense, layered feature film essayism. But it's an embryonic, half-baked step, feeding gleefully on its own tentativeness, with overlapping dialogue and recurrent title cards playing into the idea of a metaphysical detective mystery unfolding before our eyes from many different viewpoints, as the enigmatic Abraham Klimt (Bernard Verley) asks around town for the “lost pages” of the time when, supposedly while away on a business trip, Simon returned just to kiss Rachel.
     Yes, it sounds like Rashomon rewritten by Barthes, and that's probably why it doesn't work as well as later filmic essays such as the masterful Notre musique, and why the director moved away from narrative frameworks into pure essayism. Still, Hélas pour moi isn't a waste: mr. Godard is still capable of coming up with transcendent moments of cinema and with his trademark sly wit (on the poster, he underlines the names as GODard and DeparDIEU, in keeping with the film's underlying theme), but this is a laboured, uncertain concept that gets mired in the multiple levels the director can usually navigate more successfully.

Starring Gérard Depardieu, Laurence Masliah, Bernard Verley, Aude Amiot.
     Directed, written and edited by Jean-Luc Godard; produced by Alain Sarde, Ruth Waldburger; director of photography (colour, processing by Schwarz Film and LTC), Caroline Champetier; art director, Anne-Marie Faux; costume designer, Valérie de Buck. 
     A Les Films Alain Sarde/Vega Film/Périphéria co-production, in co-production with TSR, with the participation of the Swiss Federation Interior Department, Cofimage 4, Investimage 4 and Canal Plus. (Original French distributor, Pan-Européenne. World sales, Studiocanal.)
     Screened: DVD, Lisbon, June 17th 2011. 


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