Jean-Luc Godard, “Je Vous Salue, Sarajevo” (1993)
Here is a two minute movie by Jean Luc Godard called “Je Vous Salue, Sarajevo.” It consists of a single photograph, shattered into fragments, which the Swiss-French maestro summons in a gathering dread.
How can he make this picture visible? How can he show this moment, return us to this moment, rescue it from the too many others which bury its difficulty, its outrage and injustice? Godard hurls it against his plasma screen and breaks it into bits, and then offers it up to us piece by piece. Each frame is a kind of footfall for the eye, this operation might be named: how to make an approach. The unbearable war, the unspeakable act, the impossible gesture. One step at a time.
A friend told me last night that she once marched with the others against the bathhouse raids, worked at the women’s shelter, warmed herself with the necessary certainties of the young as she kicked against the machine, shook her fist against the big picture.
She’s a mother now, and has offered more recently to look after a friend’s daughter once a week. It is not the march on the capital, it is not tearing the system down one brick at a time, but still she is standing on the front line of her life. And while she used to embrace the war, the us and themness of the struggle, today she works for peace.
No, her babysitting efforts will not feed another child from Gaza, but even so, she is opening her arms to the here and now of her neighborhood. She is working for peace with her partner, her own children, and the children who have come to take the place of the life she used to have.
The adventure of peace has begun again at home, where no one will notice except the lives she is busy changing with every breath, one kindness at a time.
Here is how Mary Gaitskill puts it, running the same lines through her Veronica hair as if they belong there. I am in the midst of her language thickets now, wishing I could understand how she manages to lay it down so cleanly.
“The place Joanne is building inside has rooms for all of this… In these rooms, each thing that looks crazy or stupid will be like a drawing you give your mother, regarded with complete acceptance and put on the wall. Not because it is good but because it is trying to understand something. In these rooms, there will be understanding. In these rooms, each madness and stupidity will be unfolded from its knot and smoothed with loving hands until the true thing inside it lies revealed.”
– Mike Hoolboom
The voice-over text of Je Vous Salue, Saravejo, cribbed and rehatched and breathed out of the old man’s mouth, goes like this:
“In a sense, fear is the daughter of God, redeemed on Good Friday night. She’s not beautiful, mocked, cursed and disowned by all. But don’t get it wrong: she watches over all mortal agony, she intercedes for mankind.
For there’s a rule and an exception. Culture is the rule, and art is the exception. Everybody speaks the rule: cigarette, computer, t-shirt, television, tourism, war.
Nobody speaks the exception. It isn’t spoken, it’s written: Flaubert, Dostoyevsky. It’s composed: Gershwin, Mozart. It’s painted: Cezanne, Vermeer. It’s filmed: Antonioni, Vigo. Or it’s lived, and then it’s the art of living: Srebenica, Mostar, Sarajevo.
The rule is to want the death of the exception. So the rule for Cultural Europe is to organize the death of the art of living, which still flourishes.
When it’s time to close the book, I’ll have no regrets.
I’ve seen so many people live so badly, and so many die so well.”