Is an indistinct photograph a picture of a person at all? Is it even always an advantage to replace an indistinct picture by a sharp one? Isn’t the indistinct one often exactly what we need?

– Ludwig Wittgenstein1

In the spring of 1960 Jean-Luc Godard entered the historical record as a feature filmmaker with the release of À bout de souffle (Breathless), and he did so articulating strongly and clearly a desire to work like a painter.2 The traditional historical narrative of post-war French cinema usually emphasises the alliance forged between filmmakers and writers, as young filmmakers, adopting the heady rhetoric of Alexandre Astruc, attempted to wield their cameras like pens.3 A little more than a decade later, however, Godard proposed a different model, where the camera-pen becomes a camera-paintbrush.4 Shortly after Godard asserted his painterly ambitions, the German painter, Gerhard Richter, made a comparable and complementary rhetorical move, declaring, “I paint with a camera.”5

Godard and Richter’s respective pictorial strategies developed out of the memory of the post-war situation. This essay focuses specifically but not exclusively on two early Godard films (Le Petit Soldat, 1960, and Les Carabiniers, 1962) and the early paintings of Gerhard Richter from 1962-66. My reading of these cultural texts is in accord with Henry Rousso’s provocative study, The Vichy Syndrome. Rousso deals only briefly with film, and with painting not at all. The following essay seeks to expand on his historical analysis of memory at work. Although Rousso’s work is specifically focused on France, I nevertheless take his inquiry to be true to the issue of coming-to-terms-with-the-past, central in post-war European consciousness.6

Adopting a psychoanalytic model to discuss the evolution of memory in France’s dealing with its Vichy past, Rousso’s paradigm outlines, in four stages, the unfolding of memory in the aftermath of a trauma. Phase 1 (1944-1954) is characterised as a period of unfinished mourning. Phase 2 (1954-1971), of most concern in the present inquiry, is described as a period of repressions, when amnesia itself became institutionalised.7 In phase 3 (1971-74), the broken mirror phase, Rousso finds the active beginnings of remembering whose work is continued and obsessively built on in phase 4 (1974-present).8 Although Rousso characterises phase 2 as a period of repression, he also earmarks the period 1958-62 – shortly after de Gaulle’s return to power – as a time of reawakening. François Truffaut’s inability to evoke the Occupation in Les Quatre Cents Coups (The 400 Blows, 1958) – because to do so, as he later observed, would have been “incompatible” with the notion of a Nouvelle Vague film9 – conforms to Rousso’s second phase of institutionalised repression. It may be, as Freud suggests, that repression, too, signals remembering, remembering because of its compulsion of being unable to forget.10 In the early work of Gerhard Richter and these two early films by Godard, what we have, however, is a more active attempt at remembering. If it seems odd to be addressing a German painter in the context of Rousso’s framework, it is worth noting that the first painting culture assimilated by Richter (born in Dresden in 1932) after emigrating to the West in 1961, was that of the French-inspired l’Art Informel.11 

A proper consideration of Godard and Richter’s intervention must begin with Rousso’s first phase. Again, while this French historian describes the period of 1944-1954 as a period of unfinished mourning, he also identifies the brief period from the Liberation to the end of 1946 “as exceptional in every respect, ”12 because of the number of films that appeared on the topic of the war. This brief period is an important precedent for the reawakening that occurred in the late 1950s. In 1945, Gaston Diehl’s long-awaited issue of the journal Confluences, titled Les Problèmes de la peinture appeared. Diehl’s edited volume contains André Bazin‘s first significant essay on the cinema, “Ontologie de l’image photographique.” Bazin’s contribution is noteworthy in this collection because it is one of the few essays therein not devoted principally to painting, and because its fundamental thrust is at odds with Diehl’s editorial mission. While Diehl and his other contributors analyse “les problèmes de la peinture” in an effort to resuscitate painting amidst a ravaged Europe, Bazin in championing cinema attempts to deal painting the ultimate coup de grâce. Painting, Bazin notes, has been killed first by photography, and then by cinema. He argues that photography surpassed and rendered obsolete painting’s mimetic capabilities at the moment of photography’s birth. Bazin’s first major essay is consonant with his subsequent work on Italian neorealism, which the young critic deemed singularly well equipped to deal with the new European reality.

Les Prolems De La Peinture

French students of the cinema come to know this essay most likely through the Editions du Cerf 1958 publication of Bazin’s Qu’est-ce que le cinema?.13 Anglo-American students, on the other hand, are introduced to it most likely through volume I (the pink volume) of Hugh Gray’s 1967 translation, or more recently in Timothy Barnard’s authoritative 2009 edition. But to know this essay in only these versions is to know it (to use Bazin’s language) mummified, and sufficiently de-contextualised so that it becomes what Bazin himself most abhorred, i.e., a museum object. To fully appreciate its radicality, we need to encounter it physically in Diehl’s anthology. An inspection of the book’s cover reveals painting’s state of emergency during the Occupation.  (Originally scheduled to have been published in 1944, the volume was delayed, due to the shortages occasioned by the war). The interiors of all the letters of the title, Les Problèmes de la peinture, are ablaze with tongues of fire, a visual analogue of a Godardian aphorism: “Art is like fire. It is born from what it burns.”14 Bazin, instead of attempting to put out the conflagration, succeeds in fuelling it. But if Bazin’s essay deals a mortal blow to painting, the book’s cover offers a covert counter-attack. Hidden above the title in the black background are three words written mirror-reversed, offered up, perhaps, as a clandestine, apotropaic talisman to ward off both the danger without for painting, i.e., the lingering reality of the Second World War, and the danger within for painting, i.e., photography and cinema. Those three words, “ GALERIE RENE DROUIN,” salute the art dealer René Drouin.15  It was Drouin who introduced the Paris art world to post-war abstraction, initiating the movement of L’Art informel. At Drouin’s gallery on the Place Vendôme, French painting began to rise from the ashes of the war. In the autumn of 1945 Drouin exhibited the work of the German born, Wols, and Fautrier’s series, Les Otages.16 The work of these two artists conforms to Rousso’s characterisation of the period 1944-46 as exceptional.17 Although neither exhibit was a popular success, both received critical acclaim, and Fautrier and Wols were important transitional figures in the development of a new style of pictorial abstraction, called Informel or Tachisme.

Fautrier’s work greatly impressed the young Richter upon his emigration to the West in 1961. What impressed him, Richter has said, was Fautrier’s messiness, and his highly built-up impasto.18 Richter was presumably also taken with Fautrier’s emotional intensity, a quality particularly present in his Otages series. If Fautrier was extremely important for young German artists in the late 1950s and early 1960s, his presence is also to be found in the work of Claude Chabrol. Thus, while Chabrol’s second film, Les Cousins, pays homage to Fautrier,19 Godard’s art history seems to stop with his younger Informel colleague, Nicolas de Staël.

The original horizon of expectation of Bazin’s essay is indexed not only by the book’s design and cheap paper, but also by Bazin’s very language. Written towards the end of the Occupation, Bazin declares the cinema to be painting’s “liberation and accomplishment.”20 Bazin’s language clearly indicates the time of its writing.21 Even his hierarchy of arts seems to reflect when it was written. For Bazin, the (American) novel is a vastly superior companion to painting for the impressionable and younger art of cinema. He deemed Rossellini’s cinema to be “ the cinematographic equivalent of the American novel.”22 For German Expressionist film, a cinema rooted in a certain pictorialism, Bazin reserved his most dismissive remarks.23  In many ways, Godard’s early emulation of painters redresses Bazin’s claim for cinema’s superiority over the older art of painting whose binary attitude may have been unconsciously formed by the black or white ideology (either one was a Resistant or a collabo) dominant in the immediate post-war period.

The problems thus facing painting in the post-war period were serious indeed. They would be, if not solved, at least addressed by both Richter and Godard fifteen to twenty years later. What is particularly fascinating is how filmmaker and artist acknowledge painting’s potency by exploring the photographic image. Did either of them know at the time Robert Capa’s legendary photos of the D-Day invasion and developed out of focus in a laboratory error? Or, Chris Marker’s first film essay from 1947, “La Fin du monde vu par l’ange Gabriel” (The End of the World as Seen by the Angel Gabriel)? Marker filmed this short in Berlin with a camera that Bazin had lent him. Marker only realised afterward that a mistake in the camera settings resulted in the image track being out-of-focus. 

Slightly Out of Focus

After emigrating in 1961 to the West, Richter enrolled in the Dusseldorf Art Academy. Joseph Beuys was already a rising star at the Academy, but Richter studied instead with the German Informel painter, Karl Otto Götz. (Curiously, in one of his earliest articles for La Gazette du cinéma, Godard under his pseudonym Hans Lucas mentions in passing Götz whose paintings are included in Roger Livet’s fiction short “L’Histoire d’Agnès”). Richter’s extant oeuvre begins in 1962 with a painting entitled, Table, based on a photograph of a table from the Italian design magazine domus. The influence of Götz and the French Informel tradition is revealed in the tangle of lines cancelling the solidity of the object below. This early painting neatly summarises the tension in Richter’s work as a whole between abstraction and representation. Despite those tangled lines, figuration (albeit blurred) dominated Richter’s early work between 1962 and 1966. The re-emergence of the figure – banned in post-war painting – has everything to do with an attempt at remembering.24

In their memory work, Godard and Richter clearly follow a neorealist aesthetic. By a neorealist aesthetic, I mean a desire to make art more proximate with life. This trend is found not only in Italian cinema of the day, but in American art of the period, too. Thus, Robert Rauschenberg famously declared his desire to work in the gap between art and life,25 nd in 1955 infamously offered up his own bed nailed to a stretcher. For additional artistic effect, he added splotches and drips of paint. In the 1950s and 1960s, the world of everyday objects and people entered into American proto-Pop and Pop art. But Americans, unlike their European counterparts, remain unburdened by the historical trauma of the Second World War. On this point, American and European artists fundamentally diverge in the post-war period.

As a case in point, Richter and Godard lean towards a neorealist aesthetic which reveals itself in a variety of ways, but especially in their relation to the photographic image. Richter, in particular, declared that his intentions were emphatically photographic:

I want to make a photo. I would like to surpass the idea of photography understood as a piece of sensitive paper, so I make photographs by other means, and not paintings imitating photography.26

Richter’s penchant for the banality of a certain kind of photographic image, i.e. anonymous family snapshots and banal photo-journalism is probably explained by his early training in a photographer’s studio and by his desire to escape the profound solipsism of Informel painting. He pursued banal photography for its seeming lack of personal style and its greater objectivity. His book of published writings, The Daily Practice of Painting, reveals the Bazinian-like resonance of his thoughts on photography. In an interview, the painter posits that “Photographs are almost Nature. And they drop onto our doormats, almost as uncontrived as reality, but smaller.”27 In his 1945 essay, “The Ontology of the Photographic Image,” Bazin wrote:

All art is founded upon human agency, but in photography alone can we celebrate its absence. Photography has an effect upon us of a natural phenomenon, like a flower or a snowflake whose beauty is inseparable from its earthly origin.28

Likewise, Godard in defending his characters in Les Carabiniers would describe them as living “in a state of nature.” He would also describe the film as in the neorealist tradition of early Rossellini.29

Godard’s rapport with photography, though more immediately understandable than Richter’s, has been equally and radically fundamental. With the collaboration of Raoul Coutard, Godard reinvented the photographic basis of film in his early work, unbelievably shooting part of Breathless on Ilford HPS stock for still photographs.30 From the outset of his career, Godard broke with conventions to reinvent cinematic language, which although it was only 65 years old when he released his first film had already solidified into standardised rules. Breathless, earned immediate notoriety for its home-movie quality and above all for its numerous jump cuts, intimating the sped-up quality of modern life.

While the narrative of Godard’s second feature emphasises immediate, topical events, the Algerian War in the shadow of the Second World War, its meta-narrative highlights photography and photographic activity. The film’s protagonist, Bruno Forestier, like the Jean Seberg character in Godard’s short film Le Grand Escroc (1964), is a professional photo-journalist.

Le Petit Soldat

Le Grand Escroc

A friend of Bruno’s sets up a shoot for him: he is to take photos of a young Danish actress trying to break into film. Greeting Bruno at her apartment, Veronika registers surprise that he has brought no additional paraphernalia. No doubt she has in mind the elaborate set-up in the apartment of the Swedish model where Michel and Patricia hide out in Breathless. But by 1960 the Cinema of Quality tradition of photography could hide the truth no longer. It is precisely such a tradition of good-looking photography that Bruno, Coutard, and Godard hope to break from. Bruno tells Veronika that he does not need extra equipment because he is using Agfa-Rekord, a highly sensitive film stock capturing whatever is in front of it. Like Richter, who abhors art photography, Godard was interested in a simpler kind of photography. 

In Godard’s instructing his technicians to “keep it simple,”31 and in Richter’s use of family snapshots and newspaper photography, there is an attempt to return to ground zero, of coming closer to a reality obscured by the traditions of the Cinema of Quality in filmmaking and Informel in painting. Richter’s interest in newspaper photography also reminds us of the many newspapers that appear in Godard’s first two features. In this way, they both advanced Bazin’s critical work on neorealism, while also holding painting in greater esteem than the French critic ever had.

Le Petit Soldat

There can be no doubt that for Godard and Richter returning to ground zero meant rejecting the traditions of their respected fields. Both reinvigorated their arts not only by borrowing from a neighbouring art (Godard from painting and photography; Richter from photography and cinema),32  but also by emphasising the amateur status of those pilferings. Thus, Richter would scandalously declare amateur photographs to be more beautiful than a Cézanne.33 For Richter such a pronouncement was:

primarily a method, and its main target was the Academy, the stifling prototypes that I had before me, and from which I wanted to free myself. Photography had to be more relevant to me than art history: it was an image of my, our, present day reality. And I did not take it as a substitute reality, but as a crutch to help me to get to reality.34

Godard’s allegiance to painting was certainly clear in Le Petit Soldat where Bruno Forestier, a hit man for the French right, wants to abandon his covert activities to open an art gallery. Even Bruno’s internal monologues are frequently preoccupied with painters and painting. In voice-over the protagonist tells us that the night sky reminds him of the Paul Klee painting, Where Did You Come From? Where Are You? Where Are You Going? (Bruno in fact has mixed up his painters as this title is by Paul Gauguin. But Paul Klee will return in the film when Veronika shows Bruno a Paul Klee reproduction in a book titled Actor). He also wonders if Veronika’s eyes are Velázquez-grey or Renoir-grey. On another occasion, Bruno absconds from his murderous duties by going off to purchase a Modigliani painting. Although less pronounced in Les Carabiniers, this commitment to painting is still present in a shot-reverse-shot between Ulysse and a Duccio reproduction of a Madonna and child, and a subsequent shot-reverse-shot between Michel-Ange and a reproduction of a late Rembrandt self-portrait.

Le Petit Soldat

Le Petit Soldat

Les Carabiniers

Les Carabiniers

But for all their self-declared interest in painting, these two early films also make apparent the filmmaker’s ambition to re-create the photographic basis of cinematic grammar. Perhaps, then, it’s no accident that Lachenal, the FLN supporter killed by Bruno before the narrative of Le Petit Soldat begins, is an art historian. Like Richter, Godard may also have needed some distance from stifling cultural prototypes. As Bazin wrote in a review of Bicycle Thief: “ A neorealist film can have many faults, but it must not be academic.”35 In the place of an academic fini, Godard and Richter substituted amateur techniques. Thus, Richter copied amateur photographs or anonymous photo-journalism. Occasionally Richter may have worked from a blurred original, but more often he seems to have blurred his photographic models, simulating the mistakes often made by non-professionals. The lowly status of his photographic originals is also emphasised by his occasional use of a white border often around his model. Bazin made an important distinction between the canvas of painting and the screen of cinema, by noting that the former, by virtue of its frame, was inward-looking (centripetal) while the latter, without frame, was outward-looking (centrifugal), ready to merge into the outside world. Bazin was probably unaware that some painters were then radically dispensing with such old-fashioned criteria that served to isolate paintings in museums. Rauschenberg, as previously noted, openly challenged this distinction by dispensing with a frame when he offered us his bed. Richter – with his paintings often imitating the white margin to be found in cheap snapshots – likewise dispensed with frames. To paraphrase Bazin, Richter’s early photo-paintings are thus liberated from the confines of their frames.36

Godard similarly mimed amateur techniques. In Breathless he attempted to imitate the look of photography in Life magazine. In Les Carabiniers such a desire is expressed by his mimetic recreation of certain stylistic features from the early years of cinema, evident for instance in the minimal camera movement, in the use of inter-titles to advance the action, and in the obvious imitation of the look of film stars from the 1920s.

Godard and Richter explored a neorealist aesthetic through their use of colour as well. Occasionally Richter’s early photo-paintings toyed with colour as in his 1964 Woman with Umbrella, in imitation of cheap Kodachrome. More frequently, though, Richter’s palette in this early phase is limited to a grisaille, in imitation of his photographic model and paralleling another Godardian thought that “in the European, Western world black is the colour of mourning.”37 In his Histoire(s) du cinéma, Godard theorises the emergence and dominance of black and white photography over colour photography in the early years of the medium, while Richter twenty-five years earlier intuitively forced painting into a photographic grisaille.

Richter’s Mother and Daughter (1965)

The choice of subject matter also played a part in their neorealist aesthetic. Thus, while Richter occasionally followed the Pop attraction for famous persons, as in for instance his painting of Brigitte Bardot (Mother and Daughter, 1965) and Jackie Kennedy (Woman with Umbrella, 1964). Richter countered that attraction by suppressing the identities in his accompanying titles.38 More often, however, he matched the technical banality of the photographic model with the anonymity of the persons or objects depicted, as in for instance his representation of an anonymous group of pedestrians and an anonymous Secretary, or anonymous Family portraits; or his depiction of such mundane objects as chairs, a lamp, or a roll of toilet paper: objects as “perfect, anonymous, and objective as” as the worker’s bicycle in Bicycle Thief.39 In this way Richter meets Bazin’s definition of neorealist cinema: quotidian events in the lives of anonymous persons.40 Similarly, Bazin’s description of neorealist cinema as a ”a cinema without actors” seems expressed both in Godard’s infamous dismissal of actors in Le Petit Soldat and in his use of an unknown cast in Les Carabiniers.41

Gerhard Richter (German; b. 1932), Onkel Rudi, 2000
Cibachrome photograph
Edition: 66/80
37 11/16 x 22 15/16 in. (95.8 x 58.3 cm)
Williams College Museum of Art, Williamstown, MA: Museum purchase, Karl E. Weston Memorial Fund, in honor of Charles W. Haxthausen, Faison-Pierson-Stoddard Professor of Art History and Director of the Graduate Program in Art History (1993-2007) (M.2007.10)
© Gerhard Richter 2021 (13122021) Onkel Rudi

Not surprisingly, their neorealist approach affected their attitudes towards history. With Le Petit Soldat, Godard responded to critics who maintained that the New Wave represented only young people getting in and out of bed. Richter also tried to tackle contemporary history head-on in his 1962 portrait of Hitler, just as Godard attempts to address the Algerian War in Le Petit Soldat. In general, however, Richter felt this direct attempt unsuccessful, and he destroyed it. While Richter turned aside from such overt representations, attempts at remembering are nevertheless effected in certain early works relating to his own family history. Thus, Uncle Rudi (1965) depicts the artist’s uncle in the uniform of the German Wehrmacht. Uncle Rudi is particularly significant because, as Benjamin Buchloh reminds us, it is one of the earliest representations of the recent Nazi past in German art.42 Aunt Marianne (1965), depicts the artist as a baby with his aunt, who developed schizophrenia and “fell victim to the Nazi euthanasia program.”43

Richter’s Aunt Marianne (1965)

But perhaps the most striking stylistic feature in these two early Godard films and in Richter’s early photo-paintings is the blurring of the image. In Le Petit Soldat a blurring of the image occurs in Godard’s hyperbolic use of the whip-pan. The film opens at dawn on a skyline with the tops of houses and trees lining it.  Holding momentarily after the initial title credit, the camera slowly pans to the right for several seconds, revealing more countryside, until suddenly at what prompting we are not sure, the camera’s speed picks up, making a mad dash still in the same direction until it stops on a car. The driver of the car lights a cigarette while waiting to be permitted to cross the Swiss border. Driving off into an inky darkness. we hear him say in the accompanying voice-over narration:  “For me, the time for action is over – I have aged. The time for reflection begins.”44  The panning shot, here, literally jump-starts the narrator’s recollections.45 Il faut bien dire ici que notre vieux cinéaste retrouve ses jeunes jambes et bat tous les jeunes sur leur terrain, panoramiquant à toute volée, reculant ou avançant itou. Et ce qu’il y a d’étonnamment beau dans ces mouvements d’appareil qui s’emballent comme des moteurs, où les flous sont masqués par la vitesse d’exécution, c’est qu’ils donnent l’impression d’être faits à la main, alors qu’ils le sont à la grue, un peu comme si le crayonnage virevoltant d’un Fragonard était le fait d’une machinierie compliquée.”
In a rare Cahiers footnote, Godard explains Sirk’s achievement for those who have never operated a moving camera: “Quand la caméra panoramique, le paysage devient forcément flou. L’intelligence de Sirk, pour masquer ce flou, est de toujours faire courir des gens en-deça et en-delà des personnages qu’il suit, de supprimer les défauts de la vitesse en allant encore plus vite.” Admiring Chabrol and Sirk’s use of panning shots, Godard will try them out exactly one year later while shooting Le Petit Soldat in the spring of 1960. But where Sirk attempts to camouflage the blurring, Godard  instead emphasises the blur in the many whip-pans of Le Petit Soldat. While Sirk as a Hollywood director aims at a certain formal perfection, Godard in contrast highlights imperfection.]

Le Petit Soldat

Le Petit Soldat

Le Petit Soldat

Le Petit Soldat

Le Petit Soldat

The panning shot is to be found in Breathless, too. But the difference between the panning shots in the two films is the speed with which they are executed in the latter. Their alacrity in the second film makes them appropriately called “whip-pans.” It is possible to trace Godard’s use of the whip pan in his film criticism, his laboratory for his film practice avant la lettre. A more pressing concern than the etiology of Godard’s whip-pan is the fact that it slightly precedes as well as parallels Richter’s similar emphasis on rapid motion and the resulting blurring of his photographic models. (Godard shot Le Petit Soldat in the spring of 1960 shortly after the release of Breathless that March.)

Between 1962 and 1966 Richter painted approximately 130 paintings, most based on anonymous family snapshots and newspaper photo-journalism. One art historian has aptly described the look of the objects in Richter’s early photo-paintings as if they were seen through a “vaseline-smeared lens.”46

Le Petit Soldat

Le Petit Soldat

In Les Carabiniers the photographic image is also blurred, but in a different way from the whip-pans of Le Petit Soldat. When we first meet the four characters forming two couples (Ulysse and Cleopatra; Michel-Ange and Venus) they are living in a grey no man’s land. In his parody of war Godard offers us two male protagonists, Ulysse and Michel-ange, loutish brutes who are sent off to war by the king. Godard intersperses Les Carabiniers with documentary footage. He went to great trouble to match the appearance of his own footage with that of the documentary newsreels. The principal stylistic feature of Les Carabiniers is its antiquated-looking cinematography whose faux vintage is suggested by the grayness and fuzziness of its images. Absent here are the strong blacks and whites of Le Petit Soldat, made possible by Agfa-Rekord. Here Godard achieves a blurring of the image not by camera movement, but by manipulating the film stock. The washed-out look of the images in Les Carabiniers was achieved by the use of Kodak XXX, and by apparently shooting the film originally in 16mm and then blowing it up to 35mm.47 In a 1948 essay on neorealism, Bazin described the greyness of documentaries as imitating newsreels.48 Here again Godard’s aims closely parallel those of Richter, who has admitted a special relationship with the colour grey.49

Godard and Richter’s blurring of the image is not an empty stylistic affect, but itself an attempt to remember. The blurring signifies the limits of cognitive recall so soon after the war. Those innumerable whip pans in Le Petit Soldat suggest the confused mental state of Bruno Forestier during his active period. Son of a friend of Drieu La Rochelle and a hired killer working for the Secret Army Organisation (the OAS), he has fallen in love with a woman working for the opposite side, the Algerian National Liberation Front (the FLN). In his review of the film for L’Humanité, Armand Monjo emphasises the hero’s confused state. Monjo describes Bruno as  “an adventurer who clouds the issues” and the film as “visual impressionism.”50 L’Humanité 30 January 1963, p. 2.] Monjo may deem Le Petit Soldat a failure, but his ekphrasis gives precise verbal expression to the film’s stylistic blurring.51 

Although engaged in a non-temporal art, Richter, too, frequently imitates the dissolution of objects, achieved in a pan shot or by camera shake. If Richter was unable to hold his gaze for an extended period of time on the Nazi past, no matter: his blurring is itself an attempt to remember, an anamnesis. As Wittgenstein suggests: “Isn’t the indistinct exactly what we need?” Godard’s use of the whip-pan and Richter’s photo-paintings expressly embody this philosophical thought. Wittgenstein’s query: 

Is an indistinct photograph a picture of a person at all? Is it even always an advantage to replace an indistinct picture by a sharp one? Isn’t the indistinct one often exactly what we need?

is consonant with Bazin’s ideas on newsreel footage and Italian neorealism.52 The blurring thus employed by Godard and Richter suggests not aesthetic ineptitude, but rather anamnesis. Gertrud Koch has put it well: “If reality cannot be understood, then the most adequate picture of it would be that with the fewest semantic promises.”53

Godard’s reduction of semantic promises was not particularly appreciated by the critics of the day. After being censored, and then suppressed for two-and-a-half years, Le Petit Soldat finally opened in Paris in January of 1963. In May of that same year, Godard released another film maudit, Les Carabiniers. Like its predecessor, Les Carabiniers was much maligned. Critics lambasted Godard’s new style, generally regarded as wilfully and woefully badly executed. Writing for L’Express  Michel Cournot declared it a litany of maladies: “A film badly made, badly written, badly performed, badly edited, badly lit: bad on all levels.”54,”L’Express (13 June 1963), p. 30.  Godard  includes an excerpt from this review in his article “Feu sur Les Carabiniers.” See next note.] Robert Benayoun writing for France-Observateur declared: “Godard sets up house by adopting an over-exposed photography.”55 Michel Aubriant at Paris-Presse likewise complained about the film’s photography: “It assumes the right to systematically use a poorly executed photography.”56 The Anglo-American critics were often equally dissatisfied with the film. The reviewer for The Nation, for instance, disliked the filmmaker’s pretence of being an amateur.57 The critic for the New York Times alone seemed to grasp Godard’s achievement, observing that Les Carabiniers addressed “the quality of modern life and the meaning of photography.”58 With rare perspicacity, Renata Adler cogently articulates the film’s real thrust. Understanding Godard’s preoccupation with the photographic basis of film is crucial to understanding more fully the pictorial rhetoric of this filmmaker who articulated, as early as 1960 ,a desire to work like a painter.

For the artists themselves, blurred images emphasise the faith that photographs inspire in us. “Photographs,” Richter has said, “get believed even when they are technically faulty.” Here again, Richter sounds like a Bazinian disciple. In 1945 Bazin wrote:

The most faithful drawing can give us more information about the model, but it will never, no matter what our critical faculties tell us possess the irrational power of photography, in which we believe without reservation. [. . .] Only the photographic lens gives us an image of the object that is capable of relieving, out of the depths of our unconscious, our need to substitute for the object something more than an approximation. That something is the object itself, but liberated from its temporal contingencies. The image may be out of focus, distorted, devoid of colour and without documentary value; nevertheless, it has been created out of the ontology of the model. It is the model.59

In refuting a critic deriding a continuity error in Les Carabiniers, Godard responded that the continuity error during the scene with the young female partisan is acceptable even though it refutes the dominant practice in editing. (The same blonde actress, Odile Geoffroy, appears twice first wearing a skirt then pants and is shot in two separate instances).60

Les Carabiniers

Les Carabiniers

Les Carabiniers

Implicit in Godard’s rebuttal is Bazin or Richter’s argument: that such an error, which Godard calls “superb” and “moving”, is credible even though (or precisely because) it is technically faulty.61

Godard and Richter’s memory work is revealed perhaps most clearly in their death drives. It is that preoccupation with mortality that distinguishes this generation of Europeans – Trümmerkinder (“children of the rubble”) – from their American counterparts. In a 1958 article for Arts, Louis Sapan traced the disaffection in Françoise Sagan’s Bonjour Tristesse… to the Occupation and the aftermath of the Second World War:

Reading her novel, I discovered abruptly the generation after mine. […] Thanks to Françoise Sagan’s novel, I discovered the sad heritage we have left to our children. Nothing remains of the values, established by a bourgeois century. What remains is only tomorrow’s idea of an absurd atomic death.62

Certain art historians have noted a death theme in Richter’s early iconography, which includes fighter jets and pyramids, and Richter – himself an advocate of psychoanalysis – agrees with such a reading.63 The same could be said of Godard whose film JLG/JLG makes explicit his generational link to the war. That awareness is certainly present already in Breathless, where the male protagonist Michel Poiccard, has, despite his youth, a pronounced and intractable death wish. “Do you sometimes think about death? he asks his girlfriend. “Me, I never stop thinking about it.”64 It is Godard’s death drive that may even explain his early fascination with Nicolas de Staël, the Informel painter who dramatically committed suicide in 1955.65 In Les Carabiniers, Godard repeatedly shows bomber jets in action and Michel-Ange announces that the great pyramids will be tombs for their own bodies while Richter depicts again and again Egyptian pyramids and bomber jets in his early work. In his 1964 film, where the husband of the married woman is a pilot, Godard makes explicit the connection between aircraft, “squadrons of death,”66 and the war’s memory.67

Les Carabiniers

Les Carabiniers

Les Carabiniers

Richter’s first attempts at photo-painting, dating from 1962-63, reveal a desire to break with the dominant tenets of Informel painting, just as Godard and the other New Wave filmmakers longed to overturn the in-favor academic style of the Cinema of Quality filmmakers. Both styles signify what Henri Rousso has characterised as the “discretion of the Fourth Republic.”68 Although expressive in its initial phase in the work of Fautrier and Wols of the trauma of the Second World War, L’Art Informel fifteen years later had largely lost its initial urgency, devolving into decorative abstractions in the work of artists like Georges Mathieu in France or K.O. Götz in Germany. Both the formless abstractions of L’Art Informel and the glacial perfection of Cinema of Quality filmmaking could be construed as a kind of cover-up job for the Second World War.69

Godard’s attempts at remembering are signalled by his various encounters with the French censors. Just as the censors would notoriously camouflage the képi of a French soldier in Resnais’s Nuit et brouillard, so too the censors would delete various specific markers in Godard’s first two films. Thus, in Breathless a scene where Michel and Patricia are seen in a long shot with de Gaulle and Eisenhower was cut from the film.70 1959, the year Godard shot this film, was the year that de Gaulle delivered a famous speech about French unity at Vichy.71 Rousso’s conception of institutionalised repression in the second phase of remembering has everything to do with this speech. Various deletions were similarly made in Le Petit Soldat.

The largely negative critical response in France to both Le Petit Soldat and Les Carabiniers conforms to Rousso’s notion of this time as a period of institutionalised repression. These Godard films may indeed signify the beginnings of anamnesis, but the critical response to them remains firmly rooted in amnesia. To Armand Monjo’s rebuke of Le Petit Soldat’s Bruno (“an adventurer who clouds the issues”) and to Robert Benayoun’s rebuke of Les Carabiniers for its exposed photography, we return to Wittgenstein: “Isn’t the blurred exactly what we need?” Bazin described Italian neorealist films as “first of all reconstructed newsreels.”72 Similarly, Richter in his writings indicates his admiration for the lowly family snapshot or newspaper photo-journalism for their ability to convey information. By his early thirties, Richter had experienced the violence of a succession of vastly differing artistic styles (Nazi-supported art followed by Socialist Realism). In East Germany, artists such as Renato Guttuso and Picasso, both party members, were championed, but upon emigrating in 1961 Richter quickly learned that Guttuso was unknown in the West, and that Picasso’s fame was being supplanted by an enthusiasm for American Pop art. Although his training first at the art academy in Dresden and later in Dusseldorf attempted to inculcate the antithetical nature of painting and photography,73 Richter indicates that early on he had had enough of “peinture.” He intuitively grasped that by conforming to one style or another, he would be simply adding to the existing babel of stylistic “isms.” A humble form of photography provided him with an “escape hatch.” 74

In 1945 Bazin asserted the appearance of photography and cinema as expressing a triumphant teleology. But for Godard and Richter, both a little more than a decade younger than Bazin, such faith and absolute certainty were no longer either possible nor even desirable. By the mid-1960s painting and cinema were both declared to be moribund activities. Adopting a neorealist aesthetic, these two artists revitalise painting and cinema, and they do so by proposing a more subtle and nuanced understanding of the complex relationship between the two arts.75 In the early 1960s, Godard and Richter were both interested in a naive kind of photography for its ability to record reality. Both experimented with what previously would have been considered technically poorly made photographs. In their emphasis on blurred and over-exposed shots, they both earn the sobriquet one critic gave Richter: “the master of the blur.”76 That Godard was successful in remembering is indexed by the difficulties he had with censors and critics on Le Petit Soldat and with critics on Les Carabiniers. Richter, on the other hand, seems to have run less interference with the reception of his early photo-paintings. There are several reasons why this might be so. First of all, Richter was certainly under considerably less critical scrutiny than Godard. The immediate succès de scandale of Breathless launched Godard and won him immediate entre already in the 1961 edition of Who’s Who in France.77 Secondly, when Richter was critically considered, it was usually as a peripheral member of the international Pop art movement.78 Finally, and perhaps most significantly, that Richter encountered little opposition with these early pictures may be because of a critical misprision, as he himself has observed, “people take them [the pictures] for something they aren’t.”79

Richter’s Student Nurse (1966)

In 1966, Richter temporarily terminated his initial cycle of photo-paintings after painting the Eight Student Nurses, the victims of a Chicago mass murderer. Having reached an impasse with the photo-paintings, he made a new start, turning to abstraction and painting colour charts. One year before, Godard would self-consciously terminate his own preference for the blurred and out-of-focus in Pierrot le fou. Its opening quotes the art historian Elie Faure on Velazquez. When asked in an interview why he had prefaced the film with this citation, Godard responded: “This is the theme. Its definition. Velázquez at the end of his life no longer painted precise forms, he painted what lay between the precise forms.”80

Godard himself once referred to Breathless as a fascist film. It could be argued that such early Godard films as Breathless, Le Petit Soldat, Pierrot le fou (1965), Made in USA (1965), La Chinoise (1967), and WeekEnd (1967) present case studies of terrorism. With his 1988 cycle on the Baader-Meinhof terrorists, Richter would close that chapter in post-war European history.81 The Baader-Meinhof series revives Richter’s long dormant style of blurred photo-painting. This return to his earlier pictorial style seems hardly surprising, for as Godard has observed: “black is the colour of mourning” in the Western world.82 

An earlier version of this essay was published in French as “Retour sur ‘L’Ontologie de l’image photographique,’ ou les maîtres du flou: les œuvres de jeunesse de Jean-Luc Godard et Gerhard Richter,” Godard et le métier d’artiste, Actes de Cerisy-la-Salle (Paris: L’Harmattan, 2001), 169–186. Unless otherwise note, translations are by the author. 

The title of this current version quotes Robert Capa’s autobiography:  Slightly Out of Focus (New York: Henry Holt and Co., 1947. 

The author would like to warmly thank Catherine Belloy of the Marian Goodman Gallery, Konstanze Eli of the Atelier Richter, and Rachel Tassone, Williams College Museum of Art.


  1. Ludwig Wittgenstein, “no. 71” in Philosophische Untersuchungen/Philosophical Investigations, trans. G.E.M. Anscombe, 2nd ed. (New York: Macmillan, 1958), 34-34e; quoted in Susanne Ehrenfried, Ohne Eigenschaften: Das Portrait bei Gerhard Richter (Vienna: Springer, 1997).
  2. Jean-Luc Godard, “Ich arbeite wie ein Maler: Siegfried Kühn interviewte das eigenwilligste französische Regietalent in Paris,” Westdeutsches Tageblatt (Dortmund), September 8, 1960.
  3. Alexandre Astruc, “Naissance d’une nouvelle avant-garde: la caméra stylo,“ L’Ecran français, no. 144 (30 March 1948). Reprinted and trans. In The New Wave, ed. Peter Graham (Garden City, New York: 1968).
  4. The literature on Godard notes, and early on, his interest in pictorial form. A 1960 review Breathless from Time magazine, for instance, called the film a “cubistic thriller.” See: “Cubistic Crime,” Time, 17 February 1966, p. 62. The Godard literature soon followed with references to a more contemporary art movement, i.e. pop art. See: Frank Whitford, “Pop in the Cinema,” Studio International (London) 173, no. 885 (January 1967): 54. But if art historical allusions soon enough became commonplace in writing on Godard, his desire to work like a painter on the other hand seemed largely to go unremarked.
  5. Gerhard Richter, “Notes, 1964-1965,” in The Daily Practice of Painting: Writings 1962-1993, ed. Hans-Ulrich Obrist, trans. from the German by David Britt (Cambridge, Mass.: The MIT Press; London: Anthony d’Offay Gallery, 1993), p. 35. Richter’s book of writings has not been translated into French.
  6. It is outside of the scope of the present inquiry to review the vast literature on the topic of coming to terms with the past (Vergangenheitsbewältigung) for the German situation.
  7. Henry Rousso, The Vichy Syndrome: History and Memory in France since 1944, trans. Arthur Goldhammer (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1991). In JLG/JLG: autoportrait de décembre Godard seems to refer to Rousso’s most recent study, co-authored with journalist Eric Conan:  Vichy: Un passé qui ne passe pas (Paris: Fayard, 1994). During the tennis scene at the end of JLG/JLG   we see a  notebook display the title, “notre avant guerre,” a reference to a book by the collaborationist Robert Brasillach, executed in January 1945.  Shortly thereafter we see more writing in a notebook:  “le passé n’est jamais mort/il n’est même pas passé,” surely a reference to the Rousso and Conan study. See Jean-Luc Godard, JLG/JLG: Phrases   (Paris: P.O.L. 1996), p. 77.  Rousso and Conan borrow their title from the German historian, Ernst Nolte, “Die Vergangenheit die nicht vergehen will,” Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, 6 June 1986.
  8. Godard’s belief that images are more powerful than words represents an important shift away from the position of Bazin and Astruc. This belief also explains his emphasis on the importance of pictorial images and gives insight into his oft-stated admiration for George Stevens’s A Place in the Sun (1951). Godard suggests that Stevens, at best a mediocre director, achieves an extraordinary representation of happiness with Elizabeth Taylor, and that that achievement has everything to do with Stevens’s first-hand memory of the opening of the concentration camps. See Godard’s use of a clip from A Place in the Sun  in his Histoire(s) du cinéma 1a, as well as discussion of this topic in his interview with Gavin Smith, Film Comment 32, no. 2 (March-April 1996): 38. More recently, Godard repeats this interpretation in a radio interview with Noël Simsolo (1 April 1998).
  9. François Truffaut, “Pourquoi et comment Le Dernier Métro?,” interview in L’Avant-Scène cinéma (March 1983); quoted in Lynn A. Higgins, New Novel, New Wave, New Politics: Fiction and the Representation of History in Postwar France (Lincoln and London: University of Nebraska Press, 1996), p. 156.
  10. Benjamin H.D. Buchloh begins his article, “A Note on Gerhard Richter’s October 18, 1977,” with the following epigraph by Jürgen Habermas:  “Even amnesia suffers from the compulsion of being unable to forget; that is what we call repression” (Habermas, “Keine Normalisierung der Vergangenheit”). Buchloh, October, no. 48 (spring 1989): 89.
  11. Sigmund Freud, “Remembering, Repeating and Working-Through,” in The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, trans. James Strachey, vol. 12 (London: Hogarth Press and the Institute of Psycho-Analysis, 1958), 147-56. My reading here is also informed by Benjamin H.D. Buchloh’s critical work on Richter, in particular his: “Divided Memory and Post-Traditional Identity: Gerhard Richter’s Work of Mourning,” October, no. 75 (winter 1996): 61-82.
  12. The Vichy Syndrome, p. 228.
  13. Most likely, Godard also knew this essay in the Eds. du Cerf edition. Godard’s review of Haroun Tazieff’s Le Conquérant Solitaire (appearing in the March 1959 issue of Cahiers du Cinéma, indicates that he was then considering this particular essay by Bazin. Godard writes: “On retombe alors sur l’une des réflexions-clé d’André Bazin dans le premier chapitre de Qu’est-ce que le cinéma? réflexions consacrées à ‘l’Ontologie de l’image photographique,’ (…). Haroun Tazieff ne le sait pas, mais il prouve que Bazin le savait, que ‘la caméra seule possédait un Sésame de cet univers où la suprême beauté s’identifie à la fois à la nature et au hasard.’” Reprinted in Godard par Godard,  p. 174.
  14. “L’Art est comme l’incendie. Il naît de ce qu’il brûle.”Jean-Luc Godard, JLG/JLG: Phrases, p. 49.
  15. Gaston Diehl identifies the book’s cover as the design of the illustrator and tapestry maker, Picart-le-Doux.  “Il n’est pas impossible . . .  qu’il ait voulu rendu un discret hommage à René Drouin dont la galerie tenant la vedette avec ses grandes expositions sur Fautrier, Dubuffet, Magnelli, Kandinsky.” (Letter to the author, dated 8 June 1998).
  16. Fautrier’s “Les Otages” were on view at Drouin’s gallery in November 1945; works by Wols were on exhibit there the next month.
  17. In his chapter entitled “Vectors of Memory,” Rousso charts “certain carriers of memory. A nation’s memory, part of its common heritage, is shaped by signals emanating from many sources” (Rousso, p. 219). Rousso offers four different types of mnemonic carriers (official, organizational, cultural, and scholarly). My comments are meant to amplify Rousso’s on visual culture, which focuses exclusively on film. See his section of this chapter “The Dark Years and the Silver Screen,” pp. 226-240.
  18. Richter, “Interview with Benjamin H.D. Buchloh,” in The Daily Practice of Painting, p. 133.
  19. I refer here to the inclusion of a Fautrier-like canvas in the living room of Paul’s apartment in Les Cousins. In an interview, Chabrol revealed that the idea for this painting was not his, but rather that of his set designers: Jacques Saulnier and Bernard Evein. Chabrol’s frequent screenwriter, Paul Gégauff,  spurred Chabrol’s initial interest in Germany and German culture.  Claude Chabrol, Interview with the author, Paris, 18 March 1999. Fautrier was particularly significant for German artists in the post-war period. The Cologne/New York art dealer, Michael Werner, reports that during a visit to Paris in the late 1950s he and the painter, Georg Baselitz, saw an exhibit of Fautrier’s. Baselitz was already familiar with the artist’s work through reproductions. (Conversation with the author, New York,  March 1998).
  20. Bazin: “délivrance et accomplissement.”André Bazin, “Ontologie de l’image photographique” in Qu’est-ce que le cinéma?, vol. 1, Ontologie et Langage (Paris: Editions du Cerf, 1958), p. 18. In Hugh Gray trans., p. 16.
  21. Dudley Andrew, André Bazin, foreword by François Truffaut (New York: Columbia University Press, 1990), p. 72.
  22. André Bazin, “Le Réalisme cinématographique et l’école italienne de la libération,” in Qu’est-ce que le cinéma?, vol. 4, Une esthétique de la réalité: le néo-réalisme (Paris: Editions du Cerf, 1962), p. 35. Originally published in Esprit (January 1948). In vol. 2 of What is Cinema?, trans. Hugh Gray, (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1971), pp. 16-40.
  23. In his essay “Theater and Cinema: Part Two,” Bazin observes that: “The comparative failure of German expressionism”  is due to its departure “from realistic decor under the influence of the theater and painting,” p. 108. In vol. 1 of What is Cinema? (1968).
  24. The early work of Georg Baselitz and Eugen Schönebeck, where the human figure is allowed back into representation, only to be mutilated or somehow disfigured is relevant in this regard.  See the catalogue from the extensive exhibition of German painting at the Solomon R. Guggenheim, New York: Refigured Painting: The German Image 1960-1988, Thomas Krens, Michael Govan, and Joseph Thompson, editors (Munich: Prestel, 1989).
  25. Rauschenberg: “Painting relates to both art and life. Neither can be made. (I try to act in the gap between the two).” Quoted in: Alan R. Solomon, Robert Rauschenberg, exhibition catalogue (New York: Jewish Museum, 1963); excerpt reprinted in: Pop Art: A Critical History, ed. Steven Henry Madoff (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997), 22. Critic Alain Jouffroy has also observed a similarity between Rauschenberg and Godard. Jouffroy is cited in: René Prédal, “Ecrire et peindre : le god-art et le pop-art,” CinémAction, no. 52 (“Le Cinéma selon Godard), p. 99.
  26. Richter quoted in Benjamin H.D. Buchloh, “Ready-Made, photographie et peinture dans la peinture de Gerhard Richter,” in exhibition catalogue Gerhard Richter (Paris: Centre National d’Art et de Culture Georges Pompidou/Musée national d’art moderne, 1977), 16.
  27. Gerhard Richter, “Conversation with Jan Thorn Prikker concerning the cycle ‘18 October 1977,’ 1989, “in The Daily Practice of Painting, 187. In a 1986 interview with Benjamin H.D. Buchloh, Richter observes that even his colorful abstract paintings, although not directly representing nature, have everything to do with nature, because “They . . . set up associations. They remind you of natural experiences, even rain if you like. The paintings can’t help functioning that way. That’s where they get their effect from, the fact that they incessantly remind you of Nature, and so they’re almost naturalistic anyhow.” The Daily Practice of Painting, p. 165.
  28. André Bazin, What is Cinema? Translated by Timothy Barnard (Montreal: Caboose, 2009), 7. French edition: “Ontologie de l’image photographique,” p. 15.
  29. Jean-Luc Godard “Entretien réalisé par Jean Collet, Jean Delahaye, Jean-André Fieschi, André S. Labarthe, et Bertrand Tavernier,” Cahiers du Cinéma, no. 138 (December 1962). Reprinted in: Jean-Luc Godard  par Jean-Luc Godard, p. 230.
  30. See Coutard’s recollections in his essay, “Light of Day,” in Jean-Luc Godard: A Critical Anthology (New York: Dutton, 1968). Reprinted from Le Nouvel Observateur (22 September 1965).
  31. Godard quoted in Raoul Coutard, “Light of Day, ” Ibid.
  32. In 1966 Richter made a 20-minute, blurred film.
  33. Richter, “Interview with Peter Sager, 1972,” in The Daily Practice of Painting, p. 66.
  34. Ibid.
  35. Bazin: Un film ‘néo-réaliste’ peut avoir tous les défauts, sauf celui d’être académique.” Bazin, “Voleur de Bicyclette,” p. 46.
  36. In the passage here paraphrased, Bazin is describing the salutary effect that films about paintings have on those paintings. The remark is made at the end of his essay on Bresson’s Le Journal d’un curé de campagne. Bazin concludes that Bresson’s achievement in adapting the Bernanos novel is comparable to that of the films of Luciano Emmer and Alain Resnais. Bazin, “The Stylistics of Robert Bresson,” in What is Cinema? vol. 1, p. 142. Bazin’s closing comments in this 1951 essay are remarkably close to those expressed in his essay, “Painting and Cinema.” In the Bazin anthologies, Qu’est-ce que le cinéma, most of the essays include where the essays were first published. The “Painting and Cinema” essay however carries no such note. It seems likely that the “Painting and Cinema” essay was written at roughly the same time as “The Stylistics of Robert Bresson.”
  37. Gavin Smith, “Jean-Luc Godard interviewed by Gavin Smith,” Film Comment 32:2 (March-April 1996): 32. Jürgen Harten is surely right to conclude that Richter’s palette was limited to a grisaille in those early years, because “the mass media and amateur photographers worked mainly in black and white in Germany at that time. Color is used only as an exception, to suggest cheapness or imitate kodacolor.” Jürgen Harten, “The Romantic Intent for Abstraction,” in Gerhard Richter Painting 1962-1985, ed. Jürgen Harten. Published in conjunction with the exhibition in Düsseldorf, Berlin, Bern, and Vienna 1986. With a catalogue rasionné by Dietmar Elger (Köln: Dumont, 1986), p. 23.
  38. As previously noted, the painting of Jackie Kennedy is called: Frau mit Schirm  and the painting of Bardot is entitled Mutter und Tochter. The former is no. 29 and the latter is no. 84 in Jürgen Harten’s 1986 catalogue raisonné of Richter’s paintings.
  39. Bazin: “ aussi parfait, anonyme et objectif que.” Bazin, “Voleur de Bicyclette,” Qu’est-ce le cinéma, vol. 2, p. 55. Originally published in Esprit (November 1949).
  40. “Voleur de Bicyclette,” p. 47.
  41. Bazin: “ cinéma sans acteurs.” “Voleur de Bicyclette,” p. 55.
  42. Benjamin H.D. Buchloh, “Divided Memory and Post-Traditional Identity: Gerhard Richter’s Work of Mourning,” October, no. 75 (Winter 1996): 62-64.
  43. Jürgen Harten, “The Romantic Intent for Abstraction,” p. 21.
  44. Jean-Luc Godard, Le Petit Soldat: screenplay, English trans. Nicholas Graham (London: Lorrimer, 1967).
  45. As always, Godard’s film criticism of the period brings us close to his concerns. In a review of Chabrol’s Les Cousins (1958), Godard lauds his comrade’s use of panning shots: « When I say that Chabrol gives me the impression of having invented the pan—as Alain Resnais invented the track, Griffith the close-up, and Ophuls reframing—I can speak no greater praise.” This review of Les Cousins appeared in Arts on March 17, 1959. (Reprinted in Godard par Godard (New York: Viking, 1972), 129. Shortly thereafter (April 1958), Godard published a review of Douglas Sirk’s Le Temps d’aimer et le temps de mourir in Cahiers du Cinéma (Reprinted in Godard  par Godard, pp. 183-186). A panegyric on Sirk’s mobile camerawork, this review confirms that Godard was carefully thinking about camera movement during this period:
    “L’important, nous prouve Douglas Sirk, c’est de croire à ce que l’on fait en y faisant croire. [. . .
  46. Anna Tilroe, “Gerhard Richter,” in Gerhard Richter 1988/89, exh. cat.  Rotterdam: Museum Boymans-van Beuningen, 1989), p. 21.
  47. In an interview with Cahiers in 1962, Godard indicated that he intended to shoot Les Carabiniers in 16 mm and would later transfer it to 35 mm. “Et je ferai le film en 16 mm. Agrandie en 35 mm, l’image sera un peu délavée, mais je n’y vois pas d’inconvénient. Peut-être même cela vaut-il mieux.” See: Cahiers du Cinéma, no. 138 (December 1962): 32. Reprinted in: Jean-Luc Godard  par Jean-Luc Godard, p. 229.
  48. Bazin: “Le style reportage  s’identifie pour nous avec la grisaille des actualités.” “Le Réalisme cinématographique et l’école italienne de la libération,” p. 29.
  49. Richter’s use of the color gray complements his use of banal photographs–both emphasize a lack of style. In a 1972 interview with Peter Sager, Richter acknowledged that “ I did have a special relationship with gray. Gray, to me, was absence of opinion” (70). In an interview with Rolf Schön also from 1972, Richter asserts the importance of color: “Gray is a colour—and sometimes, to me, the most important of all” (p. 75). All citatations taken from: The Daily Practice of Painting.
  50. Monjo: “un aventurier qui brouille les cartes,” and “impressionnisme visuel.” Armand Monjo, “Un Aventurier qui brouille les cartes: Le Petit Soldat de Jean-Luc Godart,” [sic
  51. Monjo: “un film raté.” Ibid.
  52. The Philosophical Investigations, written between 1929 and 1945, were first published in 1953, and in French translation in 1961 by Gallimard and translated by Pierre Klossowski. Wittgenstein is suggested in Vivre sa vie, particularly in Nana’s dialogue with the philosopher, Brice Parain. It is likely that Godard, an avid reader, was reading the Klossowski translation while making the film. Finally, although Le Petit Soldat antedates the appearance of the Philosphical Investigations in French, Bruno’s remark to Véronika (“When you photograph a face. . . you photograph the soul behind it.”) seems reminiscent of the Austrian philosopher. In the Philosophical Investiagation, Wittgenstein observes: “The human body is the best picture of the human soul.”  (Philosophical Investigations, 178e). It seems unlikely that Richter would have read Bazin in the 1960s. Selections from Bazin’s Qu’est-ce que le cinéma? were published in Germany only in 1975 in the following edition: Was ist Kino? Bausteine zu einer Theorie des Films (Köln: DuMont Schauberg, 1975). Richter’s own subscription to certain ideas of Wittgenstein would seem confirmed in the following note from 1989: “Language can express only what language enables it to express. Language is the only language of consciousness. ‘What one cannot say, one does not know.’” The Daily Practice of Painting, 182. A note from Richter from 1964-65 indicates the inefficacy of language: “Talk about painting: there’s no point. By conveying a thing through the medium of language, you change it.” The Daily Practice of Painting, 39. Finally, an early note by Richter from 1962 confirms the proximity of his outlook to that of Godard: “Painting has nothing to do with thinking, because in painting thinking is painting. Thinking is language—record-keeping—and has to take place before and after.” The Daily Practice of Painting, 13. Godard expresses a very similar sentiment in the Scénario du film Passion: that screenwriting developed out of bookkeeping.
  53. Gertrud Koch, “The Richter-Scale of Blur,” October, no. 62 (Fall 1992): 132-42.
  54. Cournot: “Ce film mal fichu, mal écrit, mal joué, mal monté, mal éclairé, mal tout.”  Michel Cournot, “En vérité, Godard s’est dévoué [review of Les Carabiniers
  55. Benayoun: “Godard s’installe dans ses meubles en adoptant une photo surexposé.”  Robert Benayoun, “Jusqu’à quand, Monsieur Godard,“ France-Observateur, June 6, 1963, p. 21
  56. Aubriant: “Il s’arroge le droit d’ériger en système la photo mal fichue.”Godard, “Feu sur Les Carabiniers,” Cahiers du Cinéma, no. 146 (August 1963); reprinted in Jean-Luc Godard  par Jean-Luc Godard, p. 241.
  57. Robert Hatch, “Films,” The Nation 206, no. 16 (April 15, 1968), 517-18. It is worth noting that Hatch’s 1949 review of Rossellini’s Allemagne an zéro revealed him to be unsympathetic to Italian neorealism. See: Robert Hatch, “The Failure to Cope,” The New Republic 121 (3 October 1949), p. 22.
  58. Renata Adler, “Les Carabiniers,” New York Times  26 April 1968, p. 31.
  59. André Bazin, “Ontology of the Photographic Image, ” Barnard translation, 8. French edition: 16.
  60. There are other continuity “errors” or inconsistencies as well. At the beginning of the film (2:40–2:46) there is a reprise of a CU shot of a gun from Breathless while we briefly hear Belmondo’s voice (“Oh là. Ils recommencent. Zut et merde. Ils sont complètement fou.”) Another mismatch occurs immediately after when we are shown a CU of newspaper dated April 7, 1960, which marks the actual of the film shoot. But immediately after, the voiceover dates the narrative action to May 13, 1958. Godard chose the latter date very precisely: it is the date of the Algiers putsch aka the military  coup d’état of May 13, 1958 in Algiers that return de Gaulle to power and dissolved the Fourth Republic.
  61. Jean-Luc Godard, “Feu sur Les Carabiniers,” p. 3.
  62. Sapan: “J’ai lu son roman …, et ce fut pour moi comme si je découvrais brusquement la génération qui a suivi la mienne. (. . .) A travers l’oeuvre de Françoise Sagan, j’ai découvert le triste héritage que nous avions laissé à nos cadets. Des valeurs établies par un siècle de civilisation bourgeoise, il  ne restait rien (. . .)  il ne restait comme perspective d’avenir qu’une absurde mort atomique.” Louis Sapan, Arts 5 March 1958. Quoted in: Georgia Gloria Gurrieri, “New Waves: Literature and Cinema in Postwar Paris,” (PhD diss., University of Iowa, 1992), p. 116.
  63. Jürgen Harten, “The Motif of Death and the Charm of the Illusionary,” Gerhard Richter Paintings 1962-1985, 18-22. In an interview with the artist, Benjamin H.D. Buchloh disagrees with the interpretation of Harten and Ulrich Loock. Richter, however, lends credence to such a reading. See The Daily Practice of Painting, 143. In the same interview with Buchloh, Richter cites his regard for psychoanalysis: “That’s why I think so highly of psychoanalysis, because it takes away prejudices and turns us into responsible adults, autonomous beings who can act more rightly and more humanely in the absence of authorities, or God, or ideology,” p. 150.
  64. Michel Poiccard:” Est-ce que tu penses à la mort quelquefois? Moi, j’y pense sans arrêt.”
  65. For more on the link with Nicolas de Staël, see Sally Shafto, “Leap into the Void: Godard and the Painter”, Senses of Cinema 39 (May 2006), https://www.sensesofcinema.com/2006/cinema-and-the-pictorial/godard_de_stael/
  66. Jürgen Harten, “The Motif of Death and the Charm of the Illusionary.”
  67. The obvious topic of Une femme mariée, marital infidelity, has been much discussed. Less discussed, but of greater interest in the current context is the film’s concern with memory, specifically that of the Second World War. The married woman meets her husband at the airport where he and Roger Leenhardt have just flown back from Auschwitz.  Charlotte’s amnesia about Auschwitz and her self-stated disinterest in memory (she’s interested only in the present) are contrasted with Leenhardt’s position of engagement. Leenhardt delivers a disquisition wherein he tries to save Charlotte from mindless consumerism. He tries to convince her that a woman of intelligence possesses the best kind of beauty.
  68. Rousso, p. 228.
  69. For further reading on the stylistic origins of the Cinema of Quality in the cinema of the Occupation, see Evelyn Ehrlich, Cinema of Paradox: French Filmmaking under the German Occupation (New York: Columbia University Press, 1985).
  70. Excerpts from De Gaulle’s speech cited in: Ian Buruma, “The Vichy Syndrome,” Tikkun 10:1 (Jan.-Feb. 1995): 48.
  71. See Dudley Andrew’s “Notes on Continuity Script,” in Breathless: Jean-Luc Godard, Director, ed. Dudley Andrew (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1987), p. 152, note 53.
  72. Bazin: “d’abord des reportages reconstitués.” “Le Réalisme cinématographique et l’école italienne de la libération,” p. 15.
  73. I. Michael Danoff, “Heterogeneity: An Introduction to the Work of Gerhard Richter,” Gerhard  Richter Paintings, by Roald Nasgaard, and ed. Terry A. Neff (London: Thames and Hudson, 1988), p. 11.
  74. Richter, The Daily Practice of Painting, p. 130.
  75. Charles W. Haxthausen, Review of Richter’s Atlas at the Dia Center for the Arts, New York,” Burlington Magazine 138:1114 (January 1996): 57.
  76. Laszlo Glozer, “Meister der Unschärfe,” Süddeutsche Zeitung (München), 9 January 1976: 14. To my knowledge, there has been to date only one extensive study of Richter’s early photo-paintings. See: Ingrid Misterek-Plagge, “Kunst mit Fotografie” und die frühen Fotogemälde Gerhard Richters, Form & Interesse Bd. 39 (Münster and Hamburg: Lit Verlag, 1990).
  77. Who’s Who in France: Dictionnaire biographique 1961-62, 5th ed. (Paris: Editions Jacques Lafitte, 1961), 1374. Richter first appears in the German “Who’s Who in 1981 (Wer ist Wer? Das Deutsche Who’s Who, ed. Walter Habel (Lübeck: Schmidt Rømhild, 1981), 939).
  78. See Lucy R. Lippard, “Europe and Canada,” in Pop Art (London: Thames and Hudson, 1966), p. 193. With contributions by Lawrence Alloway, Nancy Mamrer, and Nicolas Calas.
  79. The Daily Practice of Painting, p. 163.
  80. “Let’s Talk about Pierrot,” Godard on Godard, p. 225. Godard: C’est le sujet. Sa définition. Velazquez, à la fin de sa vie, ne peignait plus les choses définies, il peignait ce qu’il y avait entre les choses définies.”  Jean-Luc Godard, “Parlons de Pierrot: nouvel entretien avec Jean-Luc Godard,” Cahiers du Cinéma, no. 171 (October 1965), 25. Reprinted in: Jean-Luc Godard  par Jean-Luc Godard, p. 269. In his January 1958 Cahiers review of Nicolas Ray’s Bitter Victory, Godard  paraphrased Elie Faure on Velazquez: “Et c’est en ce sens que Amère victoire est un film anormal. On ne s’intéresse plus aux objets, mais à ce qu’il y a entre les objets, et qui devient à son tour objet.” Cahiers du Cinéma, no. 79 (January 1958); reprinted in Godard  par Godard, p. 120.
  81. I refer here to the cycle of fifteen paintings that Richter did in 1988. Entitled October 18, 1977,  these paintings recall in part the death of three members of the Baader-Meinhof group on that date in a high-security prison near Stuttgart. Today it is believed that the three—Andreas Baader, Jan-Carl Rapse, and Gudrun Ensslin —committed suicide, but immediately after the event many thought that they had been murdered by the German state. The paintings, on view in Frankfurt until the year 2000, are now in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art, New York.
  82. Gavin Smith, “Jean-Luc Godard interviewed by Gavin Smith,” p. 32.

About The Author

A Research Associate at Williams College, Sally Shafto is a scholar of French and Francophone film. Her most recent publications include editing and translating the Writings of Jean-Marie Straub and Danièle Huillet (New York: Sequence Press, 2016).

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