High 'Praise' for Godard's latest film

'In Praise of Love' probes the shortfalls of mass-market entertainment with wit, beauty, and insight

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There are many remarkable things about "In Praise of Love," the new movie by Jean-Luc Godard, but the most remarkable of all is that it is about to open in American theaters everywhere.

While Godard has been a central figure in world cinema for more than 40 years, he has always been a rule-breaking maverick known more for influencing other filmmakers than for winning at the box office.

His latest work is such a creative and intellectual triumph, however, that not even the movie world's chronic commercialism could relegate it entirely to short-lived glimpses on the festival circuit. A courageous company called Manhattan Pictures is convinced that significant numbers of viewers enjoy rising to an artistic challenge now and then. If that proposition is correct, everyone who cares about movies will benefit.

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The main character of "In Praise of Love" is a director named Bruno, who has embarked on an ambitious project.

He wants to make a film about four stages of love – acquaintanceship, growing passion, quarreling and separation, reconciliation and stability – from the perspectives of young, middle-aged, and elderly couples. For a leading role, he considers casting an enigmatic woman he knows from bygone years – until a sad event interferes with his plan.

That's the first hour of Godard's film. The last portion, shot in breathtakingly colored video, takes place two years earlier. The grandparents of the elusive woman, once resistance fighters against the Nazis, are mulling an American movie studio's offer for the rights to their life story. This gives Godard an opening for pointed satire of Spielberg-style filmmaking and Hollywood's colonization of world culture.

"In Praise of Love" was originally called "Éloge de l'amour," which might be translated as "elegy to love." It's a sad movie, and a profoundly intelligent one, raising provocative questions about the meanings of memory and history.

Godard has long believed that cinema – including Hollywood cinema, much of which he loves – went straight from infancy to senility during the World War II era, when the budding medium failed to confront the Holocaust and its horrors.

Today, he feels the art of film might be reborn from its own ashes if moviegoers could learn to appreciate the glories of its early promise, recognize how dulled our senses have become from daily saturation in TV dross, and resist the seductiveness of pictures that reduce humanity's haunting past to the level of mass-market entertainment.

None of this is conveyed glibly or simplistically. "In Praise of Love" is as densely layered and intricately structured as the subjects Godard wishes to explore. It's also witty, contemplative, and sublimely beautiful. As one of the French New Wave directors of the '60s, Godard helped revolutionize world film, and he remains one of cinema's most vibrant creators.

"In Praise of Love" should not be missed by anyone curious about the living past and potentially promising future of the art he is devoted to.

• Not rated; contains adult themes.

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