Two voices. One French, one American. A political tract concerning the issues of Communism in the workplace and ideals of freedom and equality, post-May, 1968, is recited back and forth over an obscured image of bodies slumbering in what appears to be a garden. The image is pastoral and idyllic in presentation, suggesting an almost abstract quality devoid of time and place. After a series of static images that simply observe these scenarios – largely with no real movement within the frame – we see a small group of actors preparing themselves for a film. As we continue, these actors, who speak Italian and are dressed in period costume, wander through this idyllic location as the narration goes on to discuss a cinema of revolution and the history of politics in cinema dating as far back as Sergei Eisenstein. Through this, the filmmakers are able to reflect on the notions of politics and history in both a cultural and cinematic sense; creating in the process a film that collapses elements of genuine historical fact, and superimposes them over the struggles and issues of the present day.
Two voices. Both French. The film here is one of a handful of collaborative efforts between the filmmakers Jean-Luc Godard and Jean-Pierre Gorin, who under the creative banner of The Group Dziga Vertov, would produce a number of essay-based films that looked specifically at contemporary political issues from a Marxist/Leninist perspective. Unlike Godard’s more socially aware films, pre-1967, The Dziga Vertov Group would reject conventional filmmaking practices altogether; focusing instead on a deconstructive approach that relied heavily upon the use found sounds and images that were cut together with the appropriate use of voice over and ironic screen-titles that not only offer some kind of background to the events unfolding, but also worked against the audience, distracting and disarming the viewer from what was happening on screen. This makes the viewing process even more difficult, with the already weighty bombardment of spoken information and the miscommunication of the two voices already alienating those of us unfamiliar with Communist manifestos or the working conditions in Europe in 1969.
Despite the general ideology of the Dziga Vertov Group, which was to reject the claim of authorship that Godard and his generation of critics had previously helped to define, the images of Le vent d’est (The East Wind/The Wind from the East, 1970) are typical of the man who gave us La chinoise (1967), and later Le gai savoir (The Joy of Learning, 1969), with the pastoral settings suggesting elements of the final act of Week End (1967), while the continual punctuation of high-rise apartment buildings and the wheels of industry that feature in the second half of the film call to mind a similar devise used in the earlier 2 or 3 Things I Know About Her (2 ou 3 choses que je sais d’elle, 1967). However, whereas those films had used clever visual metaphors and deconstructive film techniques to tell stories as a means of conveying socio-political satire, they did so with a vague semblance of narrative.
Here, the film is mostly a continual stream of thought over some beautifully composed images. Naturally, there are numerous other devises used that are typical of Godard’s work, both before and after his period with “The Group”, such as the use of repeated images (or motifs), looped dialog (so that the same words or phrases are repeated a number of times throughout), inter-titles (here, illegibly scrawled in marker pen), the presentation of the camera as part of the proceedings (the “general assembly”, as Godard puts it) and the natural facade of cinema as presented by print damage, spliced frames and deliberate mistakes (again, the deconstructive notion of cinema as truth).
Without question, the images of the film are simply astounding, and are easily amongst the most beautiful and provocative scenarios that Godard has ever created; with the single image of these ancient, anachronistic figures, Bergman-like in their presentation of white gowns against green hills, wandering through these glorious fields being a particularly astounding sight, eventually giving way to the more aggressive, deconstructive images of mass graves, construction and the general process of film production itself, pushing us back towards the direction of Week End. However, despite the brilliance of Godard’s filmmaking and the range of his ideas, Le vent d’est – like many of these Dziga Vertov Group films – is incredibly difficult to recommend to a potential audience, despite the obvious quality of its production. The continual bombardment of voice-over narration – delivered in a flat, rapid fire Parisian (American?) accent from an unaccredited voice actress – reminds us that this is a visual essay, presented in the form of a radical, experimental film. As a result, most viewers will find the film a complete chore; more so than any other Godard film, all of which require a certain level of cooperation from the audience, but tend to reward our efforts with an element of human concern.
Even when presented in such a way as to be completely obvious to the point of almost agitprop sloganeering, Le vent d’est nonetheless retains some level of ambiguity; drawing parallels between the two winds – the east and the west – and the voices on the soundtrack, with Godard and Gorin again using the film to investigate the present day struggle by way of the past (a past as represented by the cinema itself). The film isn’t to be approached in the conventional sense, but rather digested in two or three single sittings, with any real attempt to interpret the film, or pick up on every single topical reference, really requiring a lot more energy and perception as illustrated in this post. Arguable, the film is dated in the political sense – having now become a period piece that looks at a specific era in twentieth-century existence – however, it is also a truly uncompromising work from a collective of filmmakers attempting to communicate something radical through the medium of film. Even if you disregard the experience, you have to marvel at the presentation of Godard’s images, and the conviction of his ideals. (lightsinthedusk.blogspot.com)