Anne-Marie Miéville’s name is so closely linked to that of Jean-Luc Godard that many are unaware of her except as a character in the Godard myth or as an appendage to the Godard system. But Miéville has directed four features and three shorts — all of which will be shown at the Harvard Film Archive in the coming week — that establish her as a major artist in her own right.
The importance of Miéville’s role in Godard’s work since the mid ’70s has often been obscured. Ici et ailleurs (1974) and Comment ça va (1976), which she co-directed, are typically discussed as artistic breakthroughs for Godard when they ought to be seen as dialogues between two collaborators. Miéville has also written, co-written, or edited several films directed by Godard, including Numéro deux (1975), Sauve qui peut (la vie) ("Every Man for Himself," 1979), Prénom Carmen ("First Name: Carmen," 1983), and Je vous salue, Marie ("Hail Mary," 1985).
A poet of childhood and the transitory, Miéville is also an accomplished painter of domestic spaces. In a scene in the beautiful short "Le livre de Marie" ("The Book of Mary," 1984; May 24 at 7 p.m. and May 31 at 9:30 p.m.), the only Miéville film to have been widely seen in the United States, little Marie (Rebecca Hampton) does an improvised dance to a Mahler record in the apartment of her estranged parents. The warmth of the lighting stamps the apartment as a space where people live, grow, and change — where, as Marie’s mother (Aurore Clément) tells her in a characteristic moment of tenderness, "things become other than they were." The shots of Marie dancing rhyme with the opening of the film, a montage of shots of sky, water, trees, and fruit over which we hear a man and a woman discuss whether or not to break up. We join the couple in person only after these introductory images have established — through the calm insistence of their compositions and the ripeness of their colors — that this film of rupture and disorder will be fundamentally concerned with solidity, strength, and endurance.
In her two latest features, Miéville achieves a unique combination of lightness and profundity. The melancholy Nous sommes tous encore ici ("We’re All Still Here," 1997; May 28 at 7 p.m. and May 30 at 7 p.m.) is in three parts. The first is a dramatization of passages from Plato’s Gorgias about the themes of pleasure, pain, and "the superior man," staged in well-lit contemporary rooms, with Aurore Clément (in the Socrates role) and Bernadette Lafont. Next, Godard does an on-stage recitation based on Hannah Arendt’s The Origins of Totalitarianism. The third part explores the relationship of a man and a woman (Godard and Clément) who have evidently been together a long time, who know each other too well and also don’t yet know each other. It’s a real dialogue film — one in which talking is a search for an elusive truth and not merely a means of giving information (as in a "plot" film) or creating a psychological portrait.
Après la réconciliation ("After the Reconciliation," 2000; on the same program with "Le livre de Marie") is an intellectual film about sentiment that’s distinguished by a total lack of complacency or coyness. It’s in two parts. The first, done on video, involves a rapid, impressionistic, textural study of a group of children. The second, longer part is on film and consists mainly of an extended scripted dialogue involving four people: an unnamed woman (Miéville); Robert (Godard), with whom she has a long-standing relationship; her woman friend, Cathos (Claude Perron), who capriciously sets out to seduce Robert; and another man, Arthur (Jacques Spiesser), with whom Miéville’s character may or may not be starting an affair. The great theme of the film is speech: the ability of people to be heard by others and to listen to others; the power and magic of the spoken word. The ambiguity of the relationships among the four characters allows Miéville to deal with these subjects in a rigorous manner while maintaining the brisk theatricality and the light tone of a sophisticated sex comedy. Godard’s relaxed and charming performance is one of the revelations of the film. He even cries on camera — a scene that his biographers and exegetes will be replaying for years to come, and that testifies to the freedom, warmth, and honesty of Miéville’s cinema.