Hélas pour moi


by Tuna

Hélas pour moi (1993), or "Oh, Woe is Me," is Jean-Luc Godard's retelling of the Greek myth in which Zeus impersonates a human man, Amphitryon, in order to have sex with his wife Alcmene and experience human love. In this version, the wife is played by the lovely Laurence Masliah.

In our Final Jeopardy question, the part of God/Zeus in a French movie is played by ...


(I'll give you time to lock in your guesses while the Final Jeopardy music plays.)


Gerald Depardieu.

(Did any of you have any doubt at all? If you got that question wrong, you lose all your money, no matter how much you wagered.)

A publisher travels to a small Swiss village to see if a story he has heard is true. What we see slowly revealed is the result of his investigation. Plot developments are sporadic at best, and must compete with placards, non-sequiturs and aphorisms for viewer attention. Hubby leaves for an overnight business trip to buy a hotel, and then seemingly returns home for some fast sex. Can't fool us, however, because we know which Greek myth inspired this, so we know that the man who returns home is not the husband at all, but God using one of his customary ploys to get laid. Or maybe not. Or maybe it is God but he is unsuccessful. Whether or not he succeeded is not really clear, but I suppose Jean-Luc would say it doesn't really matter.

Especially given that nothing else is clear either.

Except that this is not my kind of film.

I found it beautifully rendered and utterly indigestible, but I thought in fairness I should present the other side of the debate, so here is a counterpoint which I cobbled together from on-line reviews and comments.

"It is a contemporary existential allegory and elegiac in style." It "is not meant to be viewed lightly - it's not a typical American movie. It is not really an enjoyable film, but more a disturbing, thought-provoking one."

It "is confounding, challenging and nearly impossible to penetrate. But because the film puts such demands on our attention, this obscurity becomes its own reward. Godard stopped making sense years ago; now he appears to be engaged in the discovery of meaning that lies beyond words, beyond stories. Luckily, he has not moved beyond the cinema. No one else makes films so alive with ideas or executed with as much daring, beauty or humor."

"All this is kind of dense going in the movie, although it is punctuated by moments of typical Godardian humor, like when a bicycle is dropped from the sky to see what will happen to it or when the commentary states that The Communist Manifesto and Alice in Wonderland were both written in the same year."

"The bifurcated juxtapositions further reinforce the idea of the importance of contextual fidelity (the ritual) rather than simply achieving a textual fidelity that can prove to be false (a surrogate)." "Godard's film is very much a private cinema. Its light is postmodernist. A very wonderful film, a wonderful sacred work."

So, there you have it. Is it an incomprehensible film beautifully shot or a "very wonderful film, a wonderful sacred work?" I can safely say, with tongue only partially in cheek, that this is exactly what someone would choose to see a Godard film for.

Oh, Woe is Me

Finally available with excellent English subtitles and a very nice (full screen) transfer. Only available in the USA from rldvds.com. Click on the image above for details. 


2.5 Austin Chronicle (of 4 stars)






6.1 IMDB summary (of 10)








Laurence Masliah shows breasts, and is seen in a transparent nightie. There is also a headless shot of someone's bush -- presumably hers. Definitely not Depardieu's.

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Our Grade:

If you are not familiar with our grading system, you need to read the explanation, because the grading is not linear. For example, by our definition, a C is solid and a C+ is a VERY good movie. There are very few Bs and As. Based on our descriptive system, this film is a:


The grade is mandated by the fact that Godard lovers seem to love this film. Others are advised to stay away.