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.)
(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,
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
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.