Godard’s suburban years
in Screening the Paris suburbs
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Far from a simple backdrop, the lived environment was for Jean-Luc Godard capable of eliciting specific modes of cinematographic thought; choice of locations could impact the shape and feel of a film more than its screenplay. Prevalent in his works of the 1960s are suburban landscapes and locales, from the villas, cafés and roadways frequented by the characters of Bande à part (1964) to the high-rises of La Courneuve shown in the essay in phenomenology 2 ou 3 choses que je sais d’elle (1967). Without positing an equivalence between suburban heterogeneity and Godard’s jarring late-modern aesthetic, the author argues for the generative, transgressive capacity of a capitalist space in the throes of transformation and shot through with fragments of history. Shooting near Joinville-le-Pont and Vincennes in Bande à part, Godard pays homage to those pioneers who came before him, like Mack Sennett or Louis Feuillade. In other contexts, like the science-fiction sendup Alphaville (1965), he finds signs of the future in the present, showing Lemmy Caution moving through sleek, well-lit neighbourhoods of high-rises. The spatio-temporal rupture characteristic of Godard’s approach to suburban space resurfaces to surprising effect in Holy Motors (Leos Carax, 2012).

Screening the Paris suburbs

From the silent era to the 1990s

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