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As the 1960s went on, Jean-Luc Godard was increasingly alarmed by the rise of consumerism in France. He first confronted this issue with his 1964 film Une femme mariée where the characters mindlessly repeated advertising slogans in their dialogue and the eponymous protagonist, keen on women's magazines and the latest fashion, was completely unaware of Auschwitz or other tragedies. A couple of years later, Godard read a magazine article about a housewife in one of the big new highrises outside Paris who, while her husband was at work, prostituted herself to afford all the nice things that he couldn't buy her. This led him to take up the housewife theme again, but the resulting film, 2 OU 3 CHOSES QUE JE SAIS D'ELLE (Two or Three Things I Know About Her) is a considerable departure from past work and marks Godard's adoption of a more overtly political cinema.
Marina Vlady, not even 28 years old then but already seen as a venerable old actress, plays Juliette Jeanson. Married to Robert (Roger Montsoret), an auto mechanic, she begins her day by seeing him off to work, her young son off to school, and then dropping her infant daughter off at a day care. The film tracks her visiting boutiques and the hairdresser, with her means of affording all this only alluded to at first. Godard gradually reveals the element of prostitution in all this, suggesting that many of the young women Juliette encounters over the course of a day are doing the same. The only encounters with johns are depicted in a banal fashion, everyone involved clearly bored. These scenes of housewife life are separated by shots of construction workers across Paris erecting a new and considerably more impersonal city.
In 2 OU 3 CHOSES, Godard heavily uses a technique that he had experimented with in his earlier two films: a headphone is worn by a female actress (whose voluminous hairdo hides it from the camera), and then Godard would ask her questions or have her repeat to the camera lines that he fed her without prior preparation. Thus much of the film consists of the protagonist or other characters delivering what seem to be disjointed monologues. The technique tends to dehumanize the characters, just as Godard feels that consumerism makes everyone a zombie. But it also makes them blatant mouthpieces for Godard's own thoughts, which can start to feel rather tiresome. (If you've wondered where the dividing line is between "New Wave" Godard and "political" Godard falls, it's here.)
Indeed, Godard goes heavily didactic here. Over much of the film he gives a voiceover in a barely-intelligible whisper, presenting his own fears and hopes. Over one of the film's most famous shots, the swirls in a hot cup of coffee, Godard even says something which doesn't even seem to be related to the film at all, but which involved his disappointment at being jilted by Vlady romantically at this time. But in his voiceovers and in the dialogue of his characters, Godard also takes on the war then raging in Vietnam to such a degree that the original housewife prostitution plot is pushed aside (or at least made only a tiny part of a vast geo-social-cultural-political point the director is making), and Godard's disappointment with the United States is presented in a bitter fashion.
Thus 2 OU 3 CHOSES is, in my opinion, a not completely successful experiment, where Godard wanted to include the whole world but was unable to make the elements cohere. Still, it is worth watching for cinephiles. While, as I said, Godard had dealt with the "housewife and consumerism" theme in an earlier film, this is much more effective due to its use of color. After all, commercial brands were deft users of color to attract the eye of shoppers, and a mere black-and-white shoot would miss out on this explosion of hues. (At one point Godard says in voiceover, "If you can't afford LSD, buy a colour television.") The final voiceover and camera shot is particularly majestic in this regard. Elsewhere in the film, as we move through blocks of flats, shops, or city streets, Raoul Coutard's cinematography is mindblowing, with long takes of powerful impact.
Criterion's edition is so far only on DVD, which is a shame since the visual splendour of the film calls for the higher definition of Blu-Ray. There are a few interesting extras. Godard's films of this era abound in references to literature, philosophy and politics, and Criterion gives a 9-minute walkthrough for all these allusions. Archival material consists of television interviews from the time of the film's release, one of Vlady where she explains Godard's demands on set, and the other where Godard spars with a government economist. There is a 15-minute interview with Antoine Bourseiller, a man of the theatre and close friend of Godard in the 1960s, who contributed to several of Godard's works in this era (it is Bourseiller's children that act in this particular film). Though his admiration for Godard remains undimmed, Bourseillier poiginantly recounts how Godard cut off all contact with his former bourgeois acquaintances at this time as his political despair grew. Finally, the audio commentary is by scholar Adrian Martin, though I found this to be very disjointed, as if Martin hadn't prepared notes beforehand but just spoke off the top of his head.