Died at the age of 91, the Franco-Swiss filmmaker loved football with a lucid and painful passion, to the point of quoting some great or dark hours in his films.
In the beginning, there are two children playing, exchanging a ball with their feet, alternating roles: you’re the attacker, I’m the defender, then we reverse. They play in the ruins, planes pass overhead and the sound of a mortar follows that of shoes hitting leather. The game, football, is threatened by the madness of men, war, the subject of the short film commissioned in the fall of 1990 by Unicef from Jean-Luc Godard and his wife, director Anne-Marie Miéville: The Childhood of art.
Died, of his own will, on September 13 at the age of 91, the Franco-Swiss filmmaker loved football, and more generally sport, with a painful passion and aware of his defects and his warlike, media, mercantile ( « If we had known that all of this would end with Barthez kissing a McDonald’s » , he let go in the fall of 1998). He too, before being goalkeeper of the Nyon junior team, was this little boy who played in the ruins. No real ruins, but those of Europe where he grew up in the early 1930s. In a dialogue with the documentary filmmaker Marcel Ophüls – the author of Sorrow and Pity -, he compares their two destinies, one which “crossed the Atlantic chased” because a Jew, the other who, during that time, “played football at Place Perdtemps, in Nyon” , without knowing anything about the ongoing extermination. He who, when the German general Rommel was defeated at El-Alamein, “been very affected, a bit as if [son] favorite football team had lost a game” .
A passion for Hungary
The war like a football match, the football match like war. Jean-Luc Godard was particularly passionate about one of the teams that best embodies, at the XXe century, the beauty of football and the tragedy of history: Hungary dispersed by the Soviet invasion of 1956. The one that humiliated in two stages, in 1953-1954, the arrogant Imperial England, 6-3 at Wembley, 7-1 in Budapest: “Like football, cinema across the Channel today is as much an enigma as a legend” written shortly after the man who hated English football as much as English cinema and who will never forget Puskás, « the galloping major », Kocsis, « golden head », Czibor, « the crazy winger », or the » deputy » Bozsik.
Describing his passion for sport in 2001 to The TeamGodard remembers Puskás, in a documentary, doing his shopping while juggling a ball, from the newsagent’s stall to the butcher’s shop – everyday art, a bit like Jean-Claude Brialy, in A woman is a woman (1964), engages in a ballet with a broom to the sound of a Clásico commented for the radio by the critic Jean Domarchi: “Di Stéfano controls the ball. Oh, he flies on the right wing in a style that absolutely recalls the Matthews of the great days, it’s fantastic, it’s Shakespeare! Oh, the divine Alfredo is the Julius Caesar of football. He now centers for Del Sol. Del Sol to Puskás, Puskás to Del Sol, Del Sol to Di Stéfano, Di Stéfano to Del Sol… Oh, oh, I’m crying because Real Madrid are big today! » Godard asserts that “If communism ever existed, it was the Budapest Honved team that best embodied it” a formula that he would reuse a few years later in his film Our music (2004).
Who embodied him best, but failed to make him win: in 1954, the year Godard shot his first short film in Switzerland, the documentary Concrete operation, a revengeful FRG came back two goals behind Hungary to win their first World Cup a few kilometers away. The romantics, it is well known, do not know how to concrete. Twenty years later, the Netherlands of Cruyff and Neeskens, emanation of another socialist football, of Ajax which constitutes for Godard the only worthy descendant of Hungary (« Everyone was attacking and defending, it was like free jazz »), lost to the same team. They too squandered their initial advantage, a penalty awarded in the first minute. We see Hoeness’ croque-en-jambe on Cruyff, with contemporary French commentary, in Number two (1975), a film shot on video by Godard in Grenoble. We can see it, but it only takes up a tiny part of the screen: a child tries to watch the match on a small television whose sound crackles, while his grandfather « little asshole » to put him on the third channel so that he can watch a Russian movie, and is snatched by the father: « Don’t bother, just buy yourself a job! » »
Disdain for the way football is filmed
Televised football, football tamed in the great domestic cacophony. A great contemptuous of television, Godard obviously has nothing but contempt for the way it films football, suddenly overcut, overzoomed, overinterpreted. Of which it is in fact a lying spectacle, worthy of those bad films whose promotional team praises the quality, as if it affirmed to chain goals after having « took 12-0 against anyone » . He dreamed of a channel that would only broadcast penalty shootouts, this western football duel. Or sometimes imagined filming sport, but over the long term, starting from below, for example by following the Coupe de France, or Roland-Garros from the qualifications.
Number two marks a rawer and more experimental tone in his work, which will be confirmed in the following decade. In 1979, in the magnificent Save who can (life)Godard films the young Cécile Tanner (daughter of the great Swiss filmmaker Alain Tanner, who died two days before JLG) playing football while Jacques Dutronc, her fictional father, questions his coach in a scabrous way about his relationship with his own daughter: “Have you ever wanted to caress her or fuck her? » In 1987, take care of your right briefly reconstructs the bloody picture of Heysel, which occurred two years earlier, in a stadium surrounded by barbed wire which also evokes the Vél d’Hiv and where a voice shouts the name of Platini in a loop against a background of whistles.
take care of your right
Football is down. In 2010, in socialism movie, Godard is again briefly interested in him to better see him fall, this time in style. In a flow of images (paintings, news, old film extracts) typical of his last period, the filmmaker flashes a few shots of Andrés Iniesta sagging after being the victim of a fault. The image, however, is taken from a triumph, perhaps the pinnacle of Guardiola’s team, Rome’s final against Manchester United in 2009 (2-0). But something has already broken. When the film comes out, the same team has just broken their teeth on Mourinho’s Inter and his left-back Eto’o: « Barcelona can’t play two games in a row at their level. […] Why can’t they? When we can’t do it, we play fewer games. then complains Godard in Les Inrockuptibles. It’s fragile, beauty, it’s ephemeral, grace. Football, when it is beautifully and innocently played, is the childhood of art, but this childhood often ends quickly: such was the lucid and melancholy lesson of coach Godard.
By Jean-Marie Pottier