Jean-Luc Godard's HELAS POUR MOI (released in France in 1993 and in the US in 1994), is one of the director's most challenging ventures to date. Although this story of a married couple's search for faith is arguably overloaded with Godardian erudition--its literary, cinematic, and
political references overwhelm the narrative--it succeeds as an intellectual provocation, even if it is far from "entertaining" in any traditional sense.
Publisher Max Mercure (Jean-Louis Loca) visits a rural town in present-day Switzerland to investigate a strange story he has heard about the Donnadieus, a local couple. From the townspeople, he learns that Rachel Donnadieu (Laurence Masliah), a schoolteacher, experienced a spiritual crisis when
she made love to a man who looked exactly like her husband, Simon (Gerard Depardieu), who was away on a business trip. While Simon himself tried to understand his wife's attraction to this mysterious double, the townspeople, including Rachel's students and a doctor, gossiped about the bizarre
affair, which finally ended when Simon's alter-ego--who, it is hinted, may have been a god, or even God--left town. Rachel and Simon then tried to come to grips with these events, which changed their lives. Mercure departs with some new insights, but no real certainty about the "truth" of the
Since his "comeback" film of 1979, EVERY MAN FOR HIMSELF, Jean-Luc Godard has been creating a more humanist and less overtly political vision than he displayed in some earlier, more celebrated works in the late 1960s and early '70s (e.g., LA CHINOISE, 1967, TOUT VA BIEN, 1972). By tapping into
historical allegories, Godard has pursued a sort of spiritual quest, while still employing many of the same reflexive and avant-garde techniques that made him famous (and infamous) as a French New Wave director in the 1960s. HAIL MARY (1985), for example, uses Christian iconography in a
particularly sensitive way to explore the issues of faith and truth in modern society.
HELAS POUR MOI (translated on screen as "Woe Is Me," which ruins a French pun on words for "alas" and "Hellas") is loosely based on the Greek myth of Amphitryon, whom Zeus impersonated in order to seduce his wife, Alcmene. Godard's narrative is peppered with explicit and often seemingly
irrelevant references to the ancient legend, the war between Bosnian Muslims and Serbs, the writings of the poet Giacomo Leopardi, the themes and techniques of directors Alfred Hitchcock and Jean-Marie Straub, and the musical styles of nearly every composer from Beethoven to Honegger. The film
also displays Godard's often witty, sometimes frustrating manipulation of the mise-en-scene, including a virtual catalogue of all his famous reflexive devices--jump cuts, intertitles, a constant play with diegetic and non-diegetic sound, harsh overlighting, and an unfocused camera (Caroline
Champtier's cinematography, especially of the Swiss lake setting, is often quite beautiful).
Perhaps the biggest surprise of the film is Gerard Depardieu's restrained performance: as both Simon and his divine impersonator, he conveys a depth of feeling uncharacteristic of his recent acting projects. Laurence Masliah is also touching as Rachel. The last scene played by these two is oddly
but extraordinarily moving--Rachel and her lover say goodbye while he literally walks on water.
Fans of Godard's more traditionally entertaining films (e.g., BREATHLESS, 1959, WEEKEND, 1967) may balk at his quiet, intellectual, sometimes inscrutable approach (the running time admittedly feels much longer than 84 minutes), but there are rewards in HELAS POUR MOI, particularly as a piece
that is greater than the sum of its many interesting parts. (Explicit sex, adult situations, profanity.)
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- Released: 1993
- Rating: NR
- Review: Jean-Luc Godard's HELAS POUR MOI (released in France in 1993 and in the US in 1994), is one of the director's most challenging ventures to date. Although this story of a married couple's search for faith is arguably overloaded with Godardian erudition--its… (more)