[Cross-posted from Kamera, written in early 2000s…]
A collagistic semi-Brechtian rumination on Paris as consumer society, 2 or 3 things… takes as its thread 24 hours in the life of Juliette Janson (Marina Vlady), a housewife in the Sarcelles housing project, who prostitutes herself in order to buy consumer goods. Fragmentary, appropriating, disruptive, Cahiers du Cinema’s 9th best film of 1967 (alongside not only two other Godard films that year, but also, astonishingly, Bunuel’s Belle de Jour) comes in what Laura Mulvey characterises as Godard’s “Debord phase”, centering on the female body through the depiction of women in advertising.
Above all else, 2 or 3 things… is Godard’s attempt to claim filmed space and behaviour back from the seductive movements of formally subversive but ideologically bourgeois advertising by replacing the resolute materialism of that ideology with a growing conviction in his own radicalism in both form and content. He displaces conventions – of language, of form, of framing – into a choppy structure more akin to that of televisual time than that of filmic time. He achieves, albeit at the cost of the majority of his audience, what Antonioni should perhaps have been doing with Zabriskie Point. When Juliette addresses the camera directly, not only is Godard wheeling his Trojan horse into the convention of advertising language, with its direct-to-camera consumerist epiphanies, but he is also using her to defetishize the consumer product of cinema, by drawing attention to his disruption of convention.
The film is shot through with a pop cubism, with shards of text slicing into the increasing complexity of Juliette’s day: advertising hoardings, book covers (Godard, as ever, jackdaw-like in his collecting, even names two of his characters Bouvard and Pecuchet after the grotesque anti-bourgeois novel of the famous ‘Bourgeoisophobe’ Flaubert), consumer products, all functioning as intertitles, of sorts. Godard’s contention that much of the language and individuality of cinema had been lost with the increasing hegemony of Hollywood (or, as he called it, the Big Garage) lies at the heart of this ostensibly scattergun approach. Approaching technique without prejudice, he was, in his early period, reclaiming the gamut of techniques, whether from silent cinema, talkies, pot boilers, B movies, Dreyer, whoever, wherever, and melding them into what has been described as a rhizome, Deleuze and Guattari’s notion of a non-hierarchical network.
Once again during his astonishingly provocative and fertile career, Godard manages to elicit numinously exact performances from his principals, against a backdrop of soon-to-be failed housing projects. His creative engagement at this time was driving him ever further into ever more desperate and black connections, his early period of films ending the same year with the controversial Weekend. The roots of his more political work, the next phase of his career, are clearly visible in the films of 1967, especially 2 or 3 things…, but, to paraphrase Heraclitus, you never meet the same Godard twice, especially in the films of his early period.