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  Letter to Jane Mansplaining, French New Wave Style
Year: 1972
Director: Jean-Luc Godard, Jean-Pierre Gorin
Stars: Jean-Luc Godard, Jean-Pierre Gorin
Genre: DocumentaryBuy from Amazon
Rating:  4 (from 1 vote)
Review: In the early nineteen-seventies, film star Jane Fonda was very busy with her acting, but she had also had a conscience awakening and become an activist, most prominently against the Vietnam War, even to the extent of travelling there and discussing the matter with the Vietnamese Communists. Her work, also, became more political, nowhere more so than in her film collaboration with the renowned French New Wave director Jean-Luc Godard, for whom she made a Marxist statement called Tout va bien alongside a major French star, Yves Montand, who was also becoming more engaged with current affairs. But Godard and his colleague Jean-Pierre Gorin quickly became dissatisfied with the effect Fonda had had on their work.

To that end, they found a photograph of her in a French magazine and decided it was indicative of their problems with how the media tended to rope in celebrity to the world of political ideals, and proceeded, over the course of just under an hour, to deconstruct that image, repeatedly placing it before the viewer as the documentary took the form of a series of stills. This, they said, was intended as a detour from Tout va bien, but one which had a very serious question to ask: how does cinema serve the intellectual matters pressing on society across the globe? Does it help or hinder the activism that Godard, Gorin and indeed Fonda were trying to promote? But it did not look as if that was the whole picture.

Well, it wasn't - literally, since the directors only used a small portion of the image as it appeared on the page, but more than that, the impression was of two humourless, politically engaged artists suddenly embarrassed that they had put Barbarella in the middle of their oh-so-serious polemic. They may dress this up with contemplations on how the inclusion of celebrity may alter the tone of the piece, but again, this came across as their snobbery prompting a remorseful "Quelle horreur!" because they might have brought in Hollywood movie fans who liked the glitter of Tinseltown more than they did the dry discussion of leftist issues. It did not appear to cross their minds that Fonda may have changed the opinions of many who would never have considered the war was a mistake.

In fact, Godard and Gorin were hating on Jane in much the same way she was a despised figure for the American right, labelled Hanoi Jane for the news footage of her apparently siding with the Viet Cong. Except they were coming at her from a different angle, but to compare her to John Wayne, whose Vietnam War supporting movie The Green Berets had been the object of utter derision by many, as if her attempts to bring about peace by highlighting the injustices of the conflict were merely equivalent to Bob Hope entertaining the troops on a tour of the hotspots, seemed intellectually dishonest (and they were, as they kept telling us, dedicated intellectuals). Let us not forget Montand made a bit of fluff with Marilyn Monroe. Eventually they pore over the portion of photograph so intensely that their incessant queries lose all meaning, and if you haven't zoned out before the end, it's doubtful you will see anything but rampant sexism parading as overbearing superiority of intelligence.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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