Of all the phases of Godard’s now seven-decade career in the cinema, it is his period of avowedly militantly filmmaking from 1968 to 1972, made when he explicitly identified as a Maoist and subsumed his auteurist trademark under the rubric of the “Groupe Dziga Vertov”, which still, even today, undoubtedly elicits the most hostility from spectators, including many of those who otherwise consider themselves fans of Godard’s work. And of all the films made during this prolific period – eleven feature-length projects from Le Gai Savoir to Letter Jane – it is unquestionably Luttes en Italie (Struggles in Italy), filmed in late 1969 but not screened publicly until early 1971, that remains the least seen, the least known, and least commented on, with apparently the fewest redeeming features to it. Absent even the potentially alluring elements of other GDV films, the star presence of Vent d’est (1969) and Tout va bien (1972), the political actuality of British Sounds (1969) and Pravda (1969), the acerbic humour of Vladimir et Rosa (1971), Luttes en Italie has the reputation of being the most arid, tedious and lifeless film of an era in Godard’s work that was on the whole arid, tedious and lifeless.

This view, it should be clear, does Luttes en Italie a tremendous disservice. In fact, of all the films made by the GDV, it comes closest to their stated goal of developing a dialectical materialist practice of cinema, renewing and reworking the experiments of the Soviet silent cinema in the context of contemporary conditions. This is above all achieved on the level of the film’s montage, which offers a particularly supple and complex use of film editing to approximate (but, in the end, not fully achieve) conceptual modes of thinking such as to be found in Marxist theory. Within the confines of its nugatory budget and the rigours of the film’s premise, a fictionalised adaptation of the French neo-Marxist philosopher Louis Althusser’s recent article “Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses: Notes towards an Investigation”, Luttes en Italie even offers rarefied moments of aesthetic fulfilment. Of all the GDV’s films, it came closest to realising Godard/Gorin’s mantra that “it is not enough to make political films, one must make films politically.” It is precisely a political film whose absence they bemoaned, one where “the subject of the film is being transformed into the flesh and blood of the film.”1 

Along with Vent d’est and Pravda, both completed months earlier in 1969, Luttes constitutes a putative “Marxist-Leninist trilogy”. All three films possess an internal, ternary structure that seeks to embody a dialectical worldview. They attempt to mirror the passage, outlined by Mao in On Practice, from “perceptual knowledge” to “conceptual knowledge”, that is to say, from a superficial, empirical view of the world, in which “things are as they appear”, to a more profound understanding based on scientific analysis and investigation of the motion and evolution of worldly phenomena.2 A further Maoist premise, the triptych “practice-critique-transformed practice”, further informs the three films.3 In each one, the first part shows a spontaneous, theoretically unexamined view of the corresponding reality: whether Czech political life in the wake of the Soviet invasion in Pravda, the filming of a gauchiste Western in Vent d’Est, or the ideological underpinnings of a militant young Italian woman’s life in Luttes. This first part is then subjected to a piercing critique in the films’ second parts, often using the same images, but reorganised or recontextualised, before the third part offers the “transformed practice”, in attempting to reframe the profilmic matter into a construction of images worthy of Marxist-Leninist theory.

It is in this third part that the films differ markedly. Part III in Pravda contents itself with a mere covering over of “false images” with “just sounds” (voiceover readings of Marxist texts), but this was almost immediately appraised by Godard and Gorin themselves as an excessively dogmatic approach. In Vent d’Est, meanwhile, the first glimmers of a dialectical construction of the image can be detected in a concluding sequence which otherwise is notable for a facile version of political ultra-leftism, an instructional segment on how to construct a bomb from household implements. In Luttes, on the other hand, dialectical transformation is inscribed both into the narrative of a young Italian student militant, Paola Taviani, who comes to discover the ideological underpinnings of her daily practices, as well as into the film’s montage system itself. 

In an interview at the time, Godard specified the formal programme of the GDV: 

But we are not looking for new forms, we are looking for new relationships. This consists first of all in destroying the old relationships, even if only on the formal level, then in taking into account that if we have destroyed them on the formal level, it is the case that these forms arose in certain social conditions of existence and collective work which imply struggles between opposites, and which are, therefore, political work.4, p. 347.] 

The concept of a filmic practice striving for “new relationships”, rather than “new forms” in and of themselves, places the emphasis of a film’s formal work on its system of montage, following Vertovian practice, and is demonstrated within Luttes by the fact that, between the different parts of the film, the “profilmic material” is for the most part the same: what changes is the manner in which the material is organised, the manner in which the image is “built”. In the same interview, Godard would later explain that, in his view: 

There are two kinds of militant films: what we call “blackboard films” and the “Internationale” films, the latter of which is equivalent to singing the “Internationale” at a demo, while the former demonstrates and permits someone to apply in reality what he has just seen, or to go off and re-write it on another blackboard so that other people can apply it too.5 

With its use of dialectical montage to “build” an image, Luttes is the closest the GDV came to constructing a “blackboard film”, and for this reason it is the most accomplished film to come out of Godard’s political radicalisation and his collaboration with Gorin. It is thus, if not a model of Marxist filmmaking,6 then at least a valuable experiment from which future generations hoping to answer the question of the political efficacy of works of art can glean precious lessons.

Luttes en Italie


As well as containing an ambitious formal programme, the GDV’s aspirations with Luttes are evinced by the fact that, on the level of content, the film constituted an attempt to transpose a dense theoretical text by Louis Althusser onto the screen.7 Attempts to expand the realm of filmic adaptation from its traditional confinement in literary and theatrical texts to works of philosophy or theory – and to do so in a way in which the thought processes involved are reinscribed within the film’s “language” itself – are rare and have usually ended in failure, a failure which is to a large extent inherent to the non-linguistic nature of filmic signification. Famously, Eisenstein was unable to bring his project to film Marx’s Capital to fruition, while David Faroult also notes that “Feyder had abandoned the project of L’esprit des Lois, Astruc was unable to persevere with the hypothesis of scenarising Le Contrat social, and even the audacious Abel Gance relinquished the idea of adapting Montaigne’s Essais.”8 Precedent was therefore unfavourable to the success of the GDV’s project, but, while its prowess in effectively translating Althusserian theory into film form is equivocal, the fact that the project did not end in failure and abandonment gives Luttes a singular status, not just in Godard’s œuvre, but in the history of the cinema more broadly. In Faroult’s words, Luttes offers the example that: “It is possible to make a theoretical film, to keep one’s distance from narrative, to not reduce militant cinema to social reportage. […] Luttes en Italie announces a whole potential continent, it illustrates the practical demonstration of the possibility of a Marxist cinema.”9 

While the history of its production process is perhaps less eventful than the more tumultuous shoots of Pravda and Vent d’Est – not least because, unlike the “salvage operations” at work in those films, Luttes was conceived and completed entirely within the framework of the GDV – some background to the film can be highly illuminating in attempting to analyse it. The film can be traced back to a script Gorin wrote in 1968 at Godard’s behest, before collaboration between the two became solidified. Called Un Film français, it was to form a 2-hour segment of an envisioned 24-hour-long work entitled Communications. The broader project was swiftly abandoned, but the script informed much of the montage work behind Pravda and Vent d’Est. When Gorin was given access to a manuscript form of Althusser’s text more than a year before it was to be published – in abbreviated form – in the journal La Pensée, the opportunity arose to use the conceptual framework of the earlier script in order to adapt the piece. Entire responsibility for the script can therefore be ascribed to Gorin alone, whose grasp of Althusserian Marxism, thanks to his immersion in the Maoist milieu of the Union de jeunesse communiste marxiste-léniniste (many of whose members studied at the École normale supérieure, where Althusser had a teaching position), was still far more developed than Godard’s. Jean-Paul Fargier – then editor of Cinéthique, a journal that enjoyed the close confidence of Godard/Gorin – has reminisced about viewing the script on which Gorin was working: 

In a café one day, Gorin showed his hand. Shielding them as if had four aces in poker, he showed us the crumpled up pages, underlined in red, black and green, of an unpublished text by Althusser, which would later appear under the famous title “Ideological State Apparatuses”. We had the right to read the text, in the cafe, but not to take it with us.10

A notice appearing in Le Monde in April 1971 would even lead one to assign singular directorial authorship to Gorin, in stating: 

Mr. Jean-Luc Godard requests us to specify that the films presented in Brussels are not by him alone, but that they have been announced as being ‘by the Groupe Dziga Vertov’; that British Sounds and Pravda were filmed under his responsibility, while Jean-Pierre Gorin participated in the making of Vent d’Est and assumed sole responsibility for Luttes en Italie.11 

Faroult convincingly contends, however, that this was a case of “bending the stick in the other direction,”12 in an attempt to persuade a sceptical media that the GDV was a genuine collaborative effort, and not simply a front for Godard himself.13 While the conception and theoretical analysis contained in the film are largely the work of Gorin, the mise-en-scène and editing processes were undertaken in tandem.

Funding for the film came from a familiar source: European state television, as Italy’s RAI financed the film, and, predictably, refused to broadcast it.14 Once again, screenings were limited to underground projections to militant groups, who generally responded unfavourably to the work, despite its directly addressing questions and contradictions surrounding life as a political activist. The film was unable even to be exploited on the US college circuit, as funds were unavailable for an English version to be made.15 To this day, only an Italian version of the film and a version with a simultaneous French translation exist. Nonetheless, Luttes can be seen as a model for low-budget filmmaking. With a duration of 58 minutes, the film probably uses only 20-25 minutes of original footage, most of which was filmed in Godard’s own Paris apartment.16 Inventive use of sound and camera angles is deployed to suggest most of the characters and situations in the film, rather than show them directly, and the amateurish quality of the backdrops and intertitles is boldly asserted, rather than sheepishly evaded. In making, with the most restrained of means, a film of such monumental importance to the possibilities of cinematic practice, the GDV exemplified the clarion call of May 68: “be realistic, demand the impossible”.17

Luttes en Italie


But before talking about the film itself, it is necessary to give an in-depth explanation of the text used as its departure point. In fact we should talk about texts, in the plural, as the Althusser treatise in question exists in three forms. The article in its most well-known format was a condensed version of roughly 40 pages published for relatively wide dissemination in the journal La Pensée in June 1970, under the title “Ideologie et Appareils idéologiques d’État”.18 Althusser gives this text as having been composed in January-April 1969, with a short addendum written in April 1970. This is the only version of the text published at the time, and the only version which has been translated into English, as well as numerous other languages.19

There exist, however, two other, much more extensive, manuscript versions of the text, which are presently held at the IMEC archives in Paris. The first, dated March-April 1969, runs to a length of 150 pages, and is the text which Gorin used to write the scenario for Luttes in July-October 1969.20 The second manuscript comprises an unfinished set of corrections, rewritings and augmentations of the first, increasing the length of the text by about a third, and was posthumously published in 1995 under the title Sur la reproduction.21 The relationship between the three texts is complex: while the second manuscript is the most expansive and the nearest to completion, none can be said to be an authoritative version, and while Althusser’s central theses remain unchanged between the three variants, each contains sections absent in the others.22 In discussing the text, and its relationship to Luttes, I will therefore work with all three versions, while bearing in mind the fact that Gorin himself had access to the first manuscript. It should also be recalled that the text, even in the form in which it was published in 1995, was only the first volume of a projected two-volume ensemble, in which the second tome would, “look at the class struggle in the capitalist social formations.”23 But the theses contained within the text such as it appeared were revolutionary enough to have an inestimable effect on French Marxist and post-structuralist theory. In establishing a view of the role and function of ideology in human society radically different from both his own previous views, as clearly articulated in Lire le Capital and Pour Marx, as well as from the established Marxist conception of ideology, Althusser refounded thinking on the issue so fundamentally that the reverberations can still be felt today.24

As the title to the posthumous collection attests, Althusser takes as his departure the reproduction of labour in class societies, which he views as “the No. 1 question, the crucial question for the Marxist theory of the mode of production.”25 As Marx established in Volume I of Capital

The value of labour-power is determined, as in the case of every other commodity, by the labour-time necessary for the production, and consequently also the reproduction, of this special article. […] Given the existence of the  individual, the production of labour-power consists in his reproduction of himself or his maintenance. […] If the owner of labour-power works today, tomorrow he must again be able to repeat the same process in the same conditions as regards health and strength.26 

The cost of the reproduction of labour-power, however, can not simply be reduced to a biological, natural minimum, below which the workers and their offspring will perish. For a start, “the number and extent of his so-called necessary requirements, as also the manner in which they are satisfied, are themselves products of history, and depend […] on the habits and expectations with which the class of free labourers has been formed.”27 Furthermore, potential workers must be educated in the skills of their trade: 

A special education or training is needed, and this in turn costs an equivalent in commodities of a greater or less amount. The costs of education vary according to the degree of complexity of the labour-power required. These expenses […] form a part of the total value spent in producing it.28

Althusser accepted these conclusions without reservations, but added a further condition necessary for the reproduction of the relations of production: namely, a certain expenditure is necessary to politically prevent the labouring classes from disrupting the continuation of existing relations of production, or in Althusser’s words: 

The reproduction of labour-power demands […] a reproduction of its submission to the codes of conduct of the established order, that is to say, a reproduction of its submission to the dominant ideology for the workers, and a reproduction of its capacity to capably handle the dominant ideology for the agents of exploitation and repression.29 

This expenditure, for the most part, occurs “outside of production,”30 it is not extracted from individual members of the ruling class, but from the class-state governing the society as a whole. Orthodox Marxism had long realised the importance to the reproduction of the relations of production of institutions of physical oppression – the military, the police force, the penal system – which Althusser was to label the “Repressive State Apparatus” (RSA). Althusser views this theory as “touch[ing] the essential” but that, in the end, it “remains descriptive” and constitutes the “first phase” of a complete theory of the state, “a transitory phase, necessary to the development of [this] theory.”31 

To the RSA, Althusser adds the existence of “Ideological State Apparatuses” (ISAs), which, particularly in advanced capitalist countries such as France, gain more and more importance in the function of reproducing the relations of production, and lists several of them by name:

  1. the Educational Apparatus,
  2. the Family Apparatus,
  3. the Religious Apparatus,
  4. the political Apparatus,
  5. the trade union Apparatus,
  6. the Information Apparatus,
  7. the Cultural Apparatus.32

Luttes en Italie

While these apparatuses can often correspond to certain “institutions” (school, the church, etc.), Althusser is explicit that “an institution is not an [ISA]. An [ISA] is constituted as a complex system incorporating and combining several institutions and organisations, and their practices.”33 Furthermore, he proffers an overarching definition of an ISA as being: 

A system of defined institutions, organisations and corresponding practices. In the institutions, organisations and practices of this system, State Ideology is realised in whole or in part (in general a typical combination of certain elements). The ideology realised in an ISA assures its systemic unity, on the basis of an “anchoring” in material functions, proper to each ISA, which are not reducible to this ideology, but serve it as a “support”.34

While both the RSA and ISAs operate through a combination of violence and ideology, they are differentiated as to which is used in an overwhelming and determinant manner. Furthermore, the ISAs are distinct from the RSA in that, rather than functioning as a unified, centralised system, they are “multiple, distinct, relatively autonomous and susceptible to offering an objective field to contradictions expressing, under forms which are limited, but in certain cases extreme, the aftershocks of the struggle between the capitalist and proletarian classes.”35 Being “infinitely more vulnerable” than the “hard nucleus” of the RSA,36 they constitute, “not only the stake, but also the site of class struggle.”37 As such, Althusser’s text had evident political implications, and intervened against an economistic interpretation of Marxism, by emphasising the bidirectional dynamic between the economic base and the juridico-political and ideological superstructures, while affirming that the economic base was still determinant “in the last instance”.38 But the theoretical implications for the concept of ideology in general, as opposed to ideologies in particular, were perhaps even more profound, and were mostly outlined in the manuscript’s last chapter “On Ideology”. Following on from his earlier criticisms of the residual Hegelianism in Marx’s pre-Capital works,39 Althusser characterises The German Ideology as containing “a mechanist-positivist conception of Ideology, therefore a conception of ideology which is still not Marxist.”40 For Althusser, while ideologies in particular are historically grounded, ideology in general has no history; taking his lead from Freud’s proposition that “the unconsciousness is eternal”, Althusser proclaims that ideology, too, is eternal.41

It is at this point that Althusser distances himself from a simplistic view of ideology as being a distorted view of the world which can somehow be rectified through the conquest by science of new “continents” of human knowledge, and of which a future communist society will be completely disembarrassed.42 In demonstrating “through what mechanism ideology makes individuals act ‘all by themselves’, without any need for putting an individual policeman up the backside of every one of them,”43 Althusser launches two original theses relating to ideology. In the first, ideology is characterised as representing, “the imaginary relation of individuals to their real conditions of existence.”44 In the second, ideology is affirmed to have “not an ideal [idéale, idéelle] or a spiritual existence, but a material existence.”45 Ideology, though an imaginary relation, is not conceived as consisting of “ideas”, but of “material practices governed by material rituals, themselves defined by the material ideological apparatus.”46 Ideas as such disappear from Althusser’s conception of ideology, leaving behind the “central, decisive term upon which everything depends: the notion of subject.”47 Two conjoined theses are then stated: “1. There is no practice, of any kind, other than through and under an ideology; 2. There is no ideology other than through the subject and for subjects.”48

Luttes en Italie

This leads the theorist to the central proposition of his work: “Ideology interpellates individuals as subjects.”49 Subjects are always ideological, and individuals are “always-already” subjects, which, as such, “practice without interruption the rituals of ideological recognition.”50 While Althusser gives, as an act of interpellation, the famous example of the policeman “hailing” someone on the street in shouting, “Hey! You there!”, this metaphor is somewhat misleading: “In reality things occur without any succession. The existence of ideology and the interpellation of individuals into subjects is one and the same thing.”51 The interpellation of individuals into subjects is “prenatal”: effectively, subjects can never escape ideology, and thus: 

Those who are within ideology, you and I, believe themselves by definition to be outside of ideology: one of the effects of ideology is the practical denegation of the ideological character of ideology by ideology: ideology never says, ‘I am ideological’, it is necessary to be outside of ideology, that is to say in scientific knowledge, to be able to say: I am within ideology (in very exceptional cases), or (what is generally the case): I was within ideology. […] Ideology has no outside (for itself), but at the same time it is nothing but outside (for science, and reality).52

The science/ideology cleavage of Althusser’s earlier thought is thus not entirely abandoned. Science (which he often uses as a synonym for Marxist theory) still occupies a sphere outside of ideology, but it is a sphere that can never be entirely attained by humans, who, as subjects, always exist at least somewhat within ideology. This even applies, despite Althusser’s political sympathies, to Marxist militants: 

The revolutionary Marxist-Leninist political ideology presents this particularity, without any historical precedent, of being an ideology strongly ‘worked’, and therefore transformed, by a science, the Marxist science of History, the history of social formations, class struggle and revolution, which ‘deforms’ the specular structure of ideology without suppressing it entirely.53


As an adaptation of a dense theoretical text, it may be surprising that Luttes, after the near-absence of narrative in British Sounds and Pravda, and Vent d’Est’s détournement of classical forms of narrative within genre cinema, has a distinct narrative strand, as it focuses on the day-to-day life of Paola Taviani, a fictional militant in the really-existing Italian Maoist organisation Lotta Continua, whose break with capitalist ideology is – following the Althusserian theses – far from complete.54

Luttes en Italie

The film’s opening shot shows Paola, fist held aloft, her alabaster skin combining with a red scarf and green sweater to form the Italian tricolore, addressing the camera: “In the history of human knowledge, there have been two conceptions of the laws of development of the world: one metaphysical, the other dialectical. There are therefore two conceptions of the world, idealism and Marxism. I am a Marxist and I am part of the revolutionary movement.”55 From that point, Part I shows the various aspects of her quotidian existence, which are divided into the following rubrics: activism, the university, society, the family, health, accommodation, the character, sexuality, identity. As Faroult notes, these “regions” do not correspond to the ISAs enumerated by Althusser, “but, from the start, one can note that the very act of dividing into rubrics underlines the (partly illusory) separation of activities in bourgeois social life.”56 Each of these regions is signified – along with their announcement by a male voice-over – by one or several shots showing Paola engaged in related activities. For example, “Activism” is represented by four shots: of Paola writing the text for a leaflet on the war in Palestine, of Paola on the telephone, speaking to a contact about the need to disrupt a meeting by the PCI on Lenin in order to oppose Soviet revisionism, of Paola in her bedroom, producing leaflets on an amateur printing press, and finally, of Paola reading newspapers, alternating between the bourgeois Il Messagero, the “revisionist” L’Unità and the Marxist-Leninist Pekino Informazione, with each offering differing prognostications as to the future intensity of the class struggle. “Sexuality”, meanwhile, is represented with a single shot: while Paola talks to her boyfriend off-screen, the camera shows only a glass door left ajar, which a hand eventually comes to close. Finally, the “Identity” segment re-stages Althusser’s “interpellation” scene: Paola, selling Lotta Continua’s newspaper on a street corner, is accosted by a police officer who demands to see her papers, a diktat to which she reluctantly accedes. Similarly, acts such as attending a university exam or buying a train ticket require Paola’s “interpellation as a subject”.

This subjugation to the requirements of the Repressive State Apparatus is mirrored by Paola’s submission to various Ideological State Apparatuses. While in her militant activity she claims to sharply oppose bourgeois ideology, in other practices in her life she regurgitates it: tutoring a working-class pupil, she simply repeats the lessons she had learnt at university, and when her pupil questions her as to the validity of these lessons, she is unable to respond. Similarly, within her family environment, Paola deals with her mother’s nerves caused by her constant squabbling with her father by suggesting she visit a psychoanalyst, and when her brother complains of her spending too much time in the bathroom applying her makeup, her response is that he should go to work and buy himself a new apartment.57

Luttes en Italie

All of the shots contained in this section have a striking quality to them: instead of the film’s montage system assembling the shots into a “realistic” representation, with spatial and temporal continuity, they have a function similar to that of Brecht’s Gestus, with single actions metonymically standing in for complex concepts: the family, for instance, is represented by a bowl of soup being poured at a dinner table. Moreover, the profilmic material itself is shown in a fragmentary, broken-up manner, with the camera positioned such as to only show the essential of the action taking place, while the viewer is invariably deprived of a view of the character’s faces or any of the surrounding scene. Not only is there a highly Bressonian quality to many of these shots, there are striking parallels with images in Bresson’s Une femme douce, made earlier that year, almost as if Godard/Gorin were directly citing the the film.58 The shots are most notable, however, for the fact that they are also interrupted by lengthy periods of black leader, which serve to separate the different “regions” of Paola’s life, as well as different shots within a single region, and, occasionally, even single shots are broken up in this manner.59 

Part II begins with a return to Paola’s monologue from the opening shot of the film. Addressing the camera once again, she offers an explanation of the preceding sequence: “Who is this? It’s me. But at the same time it’s not me who you’ve really seen, but only pieces of me. It wasn’t reality but a reflection.” This notion of our perception of reality as being distorted in the same manner as a reflection is literalised with a new montage sequence which shows activities from Part I repeated, but rendered in two ways: “reality” is shown “undistorted”, while “reflection” shows the same action, but viewed through a mirror, at an oblique angle to the camera. Paola continues: “Your life is cut up into rubrics […] which constitute an ensemble… And you discover that this ensemble is imaginary. So you ask yourself about the function of this imaginary. This imaginary, your real conditions of existence; their relations, what does this mean?”

Luttes en Italie

At this point, Paola makes a self-criticism of her opening statement. In saying that there exist metaphysical and dialectical conceptions of the world, she forgot to add that they are “opposed to each other”. Her conclusion is that, in neglecting the fact that idealism and materialism are in struggle with one another, she failed to properly oppose idealism, and therefore, while calling herself Marxist, she remained idealist in deed. What is now required is for her to “know how they are opposed to each other, […] how they function.” Shots from Part I are then repeated, complete with periods of black leader, but now the black leader is named by the voice-over, which inquires: “Who produced this black? What is this black standing in place of? What relationship is there between your reflection and this black?”

The conclusion reached is that “the first part [of the film] was an organised ensemble whose centre was the rubric Society. […] And it’s from this point that the relation of the images of you and the black images is organised. This relation has a name: ideology.” In a whirling montage sequence reorganising shots from the Society rubric – which was represented by Paola’s purchase of a sweater in a fashion store (or, in Marxist terminology, commodity exchange) – ideology is defined as “the necessarily imaginary relation of you to your real conditions of existence” whose function is the “daily, uninterrupted reproduction of relations of production in consciousness. That is, to govern, organise, your practical behaviour in capitalist society.”60

Luttes en Italie

Following a failed attempt to recruit the shopgirl she had met, and on the basis of one of the fundamental theses of Marxist theory – “it is not the consciousness of men that determines their existence, but their social existence that determines their ideas” – Paola resolves to change her daily practices in order to shed her bourgeois idealist heritage. After a fruitless attempt to change the nature of her relationship by making love to her boyfriend in the afternoon, she concludes that this was only possible due to their class situation of relative privilege, and resolves instead to implant herself in a factory in order to link herself with the working-class and thereby “produce a politically just line”. This was a common practice among Maoist circles at the time,61 and yet the voiceover warns that, rather than a step forward, this “industrial turn” could end up being nothing but a “leap into the void”. Indeed Paola’s experience in the factory is disastrous: the workers are unresponsive to her distribution of revolutionary literature, and she is reprimanded by the factory foreman for not being able to keep up with the requisite production quotas. There follows an extremely confused attempt to justify to her boyfriend the idea of having a baby in order to struggle against the bourgeois ideology of the family – which concludes with the hilarious line “When I say, ‘I love you’, I’m saying, ‘Make a concrete analysis of a concrete situation in order to transform our concrete situation’.”62 Part II ends with a repetition of the scene showing Paola giving a lesson to a student she is tutoring. Whereas in Part I she had simply regurgitated the bourgeois ideology diffused by the Educational State Apparatus (her university professor) to an uncomprehending pupil, she now recognises that: “I am discovering my own situation. […] Discovering that the social existence of men determines their thoughts means discovering the contradictions of my social existence.”

Luttes en Italie

In the film’s montage system, Part I therefore represented unreflected practice – our daily activities and practices are shown “as they appear”, independent of one another, separated, atomised (in this case by periods of black leader). Part II represented theory: the black leader is questioned, interrogated, revealed to be an ideological covering of that which really unites the shots/practices. Part III, then, completing the Maoist triptych, represents transformed practice, a practice changed by the intervention of theory, represented by an attempt at dialectical montage to demonstrate the social underpinnings of Paola’s daily life. The black leader intervening between shots is now replaced by what the voiceover calls “images of relations of production” – in reality, shots of factories from the outside and the inside, with workers operating tools or commuting to or from their homes. It is therefore signified that relations of production are what really unites quotidian practice into a Marxist totality, or, in other words, “Relations of production determine society as a capitalist society.”

Paola now recognises that, “What I say now is quite different to what I said and did in the first part.” Specifically, she manages to draw three main conclusions from the experience. Firstly, that the ideological reflection of reality is not necessarily bourgeois, but is the mechanism of all ideology. The problem is not one of reflection, but whether a reflection seeks to negate the objective contradictions of existing reality (the bourgeois ideology which wants the world to remain as it is), or whether it expresses them, transforms them in struggle (revolutionary ideology). Secondly, Paola recognises that ideology expresses itself within material ideological apparatuses, which organise material practices according to practical ritual. This only works because we accept the dominance of these apparatuses; we obey the voice that interpellates us as subjects. Paola must therefore contest this voice, contest bourgeois ideology. Her final conclusion is that the determining region of bourgeois ideology is the juridico-political state apparatus, and correct revolutionary activity revolves around the destruction of the state juridico-political ideology. To transform herself, Paola must aggravate the contradictions between her militant practice and the juridico-political state apparatus, by allowing the class struggle to enter into her life as a whole.


In comparison to its counterparts in Pravda and Vent d’Est, Part III is relatively more successful in “mim[ing] a transformation, a passage from the empirical to the theoretical,”63 and avoids the dogmatic counterposition of just sounds and false images in the first film, as well as the spontaneist political violence of the second. In terms of the goals set by the GDV, however, the film is nevertheless a failure. On the level of the film’s formal schema, the GDV are once again faced with the problem of the filmic image’s inability to constitute a language with the level of sophistication requisite to convey theoretical concepts. The viewer of Luttes is only able to divine that the footage of industrial plants and proletarians working on lathes has the function of replacing Part I’s black leader, and is intended to constitute “images of relations of production”, because an audially dominant voiceover insists on this equation. In fact, as the Groupe Lou Sin pointed out, “a shot showing a factory or a worker at his machine is otherwise closer to an image of productive forces.”64 Furthermore, as they point out, “The example handily illustrates both the affirmative power given to the verbal discourse and the correlative dispossession of the assertive power of the image in the GDV’s films.”65 Much as Christian Metz maintained that a shot of a bench was not equivalent to the word “bench”, but rather to the sentence “here is a bench,”66 an image of a factory is simply that: an image of a factory. It can only be reduced to a preordained functional role of representing an “image of relations of production” through the domination of an extrafilmic element: in this case, text, in the form of a voiceover. Here Godard clearly disregards the quote by Brecht that, “A simple ‘reproduction of reality’ says [nothing] at all about this reality. A photograph of the Krupp factories or AEG teaches us practically nothing about these institutions.”67 

Luttes en Italie

Furthermore, Leblanc’s analysis of Luttes in VH 101 convincingly locates a second weakness in the film: while Paola is designated as a member of a Maoist organisation, she is at no time shown engaging in political work with her comrades.68 She is never shown involved in strikes, mass movements or political meetings, and as such, rather than drawing lessons from political reality, her theoretical evolution in the film comes from purely voluntarist and subjectivist sources, as is attested by her declaration that, “All this [ideological domination] functions only because I recognise myself as a subject of this ideological apparatus, because I admit that I am a part of the ideological apparatus.” As Leblanc argues, however:

It is not enough to understand the mechanism through which bourgeois ideology interpellates you as a subject, in order to engage in the struggle against the repressive and ideological apparatuses of the class in power. The destruction of the repressive and ideological apparatuses of the bourgeoisie does not depend upon the changing of the ideas of some people with regards to the functioning of ideology. It depends on an organised class struggle directed against them.69

The film’s coda, indeed, suggests that even at the point of completion, Godard/Gorin themselves were not entirely satisfied with their work. The sequence, lasting roughly four minutes, shows the actress Christina Tullio Altan, standing in front of a blackboard and once again directly addressing the camera. This time, however, she is no longer in the guise of the character Paola Taviani, but is speaking as herself, “an actress appearing on Italian television,” which itself is a state apparatus designed to diffuse the ideology of “Agnelli, Costa and Pirelli”. 

Luttes en Italie

In a manner redolent of both Mao (“Fight, fail, fight again, fail again, that is the logic of the people”) and Samuel Beckett (“Try again. Fail again. Fail better”), Altan ends her monologue by confessing: 

I said: the social existence of men determines their thoughts. That is a just idea. But just ideas can remain abstract. For this just idea to become a material force, I know that one more step forward needs to be taken. I have indicated the direction in the third part of the film. But it is a difficult path. And what I said is at best a sign of work, of struggle, of work, of struggle, of work, of struggle, of work, of struggle…


  1. Jean-Pierre Gorin, interviewed in Christian Braad Thomsen, “Filmmaking and History: Interview with Jean-Pierre Gorin”, Jump Cut 3 (September-October 1974): 19. It is likely that the interview dates from Godard and Gorin’s trip to the US in late 1972.
  2. See Mao Tse-Tung, “On Practice” (1937), in Slavoj Žižek, Mao: On Practice and Contradiction, ed. by, no translator given (London: Verso, 2007), pp. 52-66.
  3. Minutes from a June 6, 1970 meeting of the GDV confirm that this was a conscious reference point for the GDV: “Jean-Luc, at the end of the meeting, proposed that we reflect on a film in three parts: practice, theory, transformed practice, or, to speak like Brecht: difficulties, thought, action.” Cited in David Faroult, “Une commande multiple: le scénario de Vladimir et Rosa, du Groupe Dziga Vertov”, in Nicole Brenez et al. (eds.) Jean-Luc Godard: Documents (Paris: Éditions du Centre Pompidou, 2006), p. 155. All translations are my own unless otherwise stated.
  4. Jean-Luc Godard, interviewed in Marcel Martin, “Le groupe ‘Dziga Vertov’” (1970), in Alain Bergala (ed.), Godard par Godard v. I: 1950-1984 (Paris: Éditions des Cahiers du cinéma, 1998, 2nd ed.) [Hereafter G par G I
  5. Ibid., p. 348.
  6. Godard, indeed, was openly scathing towards the idea that the GDV films could constitute a model of filmmaking: “People think we are aiming at a model, and this model you can print and then sell as a revolutionary model. That is shit. That is what Picasso has done and it is still bourgeois.” Jean-Luc Godard, cited in Kent E. Carroll, “Film and Revolution: Interview with the Dziga-Vertov Group” (1970), in Royal S. Brown (ed.), Focus on Godard (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Spectrum, 1972), p. 54.
  7. This endeavour thus represented a distinct shift in attitude towards Althusser from the strident disapprobation of the philosopher in Vent d’Est, where he was attacked as a revisionist whou sought ot obfuscate Marx’s teachings. Although he did not formally break with the PCF until 1978. Althusser himself, at this time, was making a concerted effort to move closer to the movement of young Maoists in France.
  8. David Faroult, “La théorie saisie par le cinéma: Louis Althusser et Luttes en Italie du Groupe Dziga Vertov”, in Jean-Marc Lachaud (ed.), Art et politique (Paris: L’Harmattan, 2006), p. 69. After early responses to Luttes en Italie by Cahiers du cinéma and Cinéthique, Faroult is unquestionably the most lucid commentator on the film in the more recent reception of Godard’s militant period. Here I should also signal his recent monograph Godard : Inventions du cinéma politique, 1966-1973 (Paris: Amsterdam, 2018).
  9. Faroult, “La théorie saisie par le cinéma”, p. 77.
  10. Jean-Paul Fargier, “Ici et là-bas : entretien avec Jean-Pierre Gorin”, in Cahiers du cinéma 388 (October 1986): 37.
  11. Anon., “Notice”, Le Monde, April 8, 1971.
  12. David Faroult, Avant-garde cinématographique et avant-garde politique: Cinéthique et le Groupe Dziga Vertov (unpublished doctoral thesis, Université de Paris-III, submitted 2002), pp. 98-99.
  13. The GDV were beset by the consistent refusal to recognise Gorin as a member of the group on an equal footing with Godard, a phenomenon which reached a high point with the press reception to Tout va bien, most of which viewed the film solely through a Godardian prism. Gorin was to bitterly comment on this that: “Now I know what it’s like to be a woman. I am the Yoko Ono of the cinema.” Jean-Pierre Gorin, interviewed in James Conway, “Jean-Luc Godard wants to live for the revolution…”, New York Times Magazine, December 24, 1972.
  14. In this case the hypocrisy and political censorship was particularly flagrant: no subterfuge was involved in the film’s commission, and the end product broke no specific broadcasting standards in the manner of British Sounds. Godard acerbically relates his contact with the “director of Italian TV, who said to us, with regards to Luttes en Italie: ‘As a human being, I admire your film a lot, but as director of RAI, I refuse it!’” Jean-Luc Godard, interviewed in Marlène Belilos, Michel Boujut, Jean-Claude Deschamps and Pierre-Henri Zoller, “Pourquoi tout va bien ?” (1972), in G par G I, p. 374.
  15. Asked about the prospects of an English-language version of the film, Godard’s response was: “We don’t have the money. We’ll do it in France, for our own purposes, and for the first time we’ll do it in Super-8. We think the best way of projecting it is to project it to a very small group, a family, things like that. This is a militant work because it deals with personal problems and the relationship of personal problems to political or general problems.” Jean-Luc Godard, interviewed in Michael Goodwin, Tom Luddy and Naomi Wise, “The Dziga Vertov Film Group in America”, Take One 2:10 (October 1971): 15.
  16. The few external shots that are shown were filmed in a fugitive manner in Milan and the French industrial town Roubaix. See Antoine de Baecque, Godard: la biographie (Paris: Éditions Grasset, 2010), p. 465.
  17. Emblematic of this is their “casting” of Paola’s boyfriend, who periodically appears in the film. Gorin recalls that: “There was a pizzaiolo downstairs. (…) We were ordering a lot of pizza because we called him up every time we needed a shot of him.” Jean-Pierre Gorin, cited in Richard Brody, Everything is Cinema: the Working Life of Jean-Luc Godard (New York: Metropolitan Books, 2008), p. 350.
  18. See Louis Althusser, “Ideologie et Appareils idéologiques d’État”, La Pensée 151 (June 1970): 3-38.
  19. The English translation has been printed on numerous occasions, most recently in 2008. See: Louis Althusser, “Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses”, trans. by Ben Brewster (1971), in Louis Althusser, On Ideology (London: Verso, 2008), pp. 1-60.
  20. See Faroult, “La théorie saisie par le cinéma”, p. 80; Louis Althusser, “Idéologie et Appareils idéologiques d’État” (1969), unpublished manuscript held in the IMEC archive.
  21. Louis Althusser, Sur la reproduction, ed. by Jacques Bidet (Paris: Presses universitaires de France, 1995). This edition also reprints the version of the text published in La Pensée (pp. 269-314).
  22. See Jacques Bidet, “Note éditoriale”, in ibid., pp. 15-18.
  23. Ibid., p. 20. More details are given as to the composition of this projected second volume on p. 242. It is to be lamented that the project of writing this second volume was abandoned, and this lack coloured some of the political weaknesses of the subsequent film.
  24. Recent years have seen a distinct resuscitation of the fortunes of some of Althusser’s followers, with the work of Jacques Rancière, Étienne Balibar and, above all, Alain Badiou receiving unprecedented exposure.
  25. Althusser, Sur la reproduction, p. 79.
  26. Karl Marx, Capital: A Critique of Political Economy vol. I, trans. Ben Fowkes (London: Penguin, 1976, pp. 274-275.
  27. Ibid., p. 275.
  28. Ibid., p. 276.
  29. Althusser, Sur la reproduction, p. 78, emphasis in original.
  30. Ibid., p. 77, emphasis in original.
  31. Ibid., p. 102, emphasis in original.
  32. See ibid., p. 107. The idiosyncratic use of capitalisation exists in the original text. Althusser also provisionally included a “Publishing/Broadcasting Apparatus” (as Apparatus #7, with the Cultural Apparatus becoming #8), but gave the reservation that “Apparatuses #7 and #8 could well be but a single apparatus.” Idem. Indeed, in the version of the text published in La Pensée the “Publishing/Broadcasting Apparatus” disappears, but a “Juridical Apparatus” is added, which exists as both of an ISA and part of the RSA. See ibid, p. 282.
  33. Ibid., p. 112.
  34. Ibid., p. 109.
  35. Ibid., p. 170. MacCabe, one of the first followers of Althusser in Britain, would later make the rather asinine criticism that “Althusser’s formulation of the ‘relative autonomy’ of the ideological reveals this contradiction in its very wording. ‘Relative autonomy’ is an oxymoron: either the ideological is autonomous and then the struggles on its terrain are not to be explained or justified in terms of politics, or it is not autonomous and then it is exhaustively explained by a consideration of the reality of political struggle.” Colin MacCabe, Godard: Images, Sounds, Politics (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1980), p. 66. In fact, there is nothing oxymoronic about the concept of “relative autonomy”.
  36. Althusser, Sur la reproduction, pp. 184, 183.
  37. Ibid, p. 284. This phrase occurs in the version of the article published in La Pensée, but not in the expanded manuscript.
  38. See ibid., pp. 81-85.
  39. See Louis Althusser, Pour Marx (Paris: Maspero, 1965).
  40. Althusser, Sur la reproduction, p. 207.
  41. See ibid., pp. 208-210.
  42. He is explicit that “I will show elsewhere that the thesis that I am defending can and should be extended to the ‘societies’ described as being ‘classless’.” Ibid., p. 211. Some remnants, however, of the science/ideology distinction still pervade the text.
  43. Ibid., p. 212.
  44. Ibid., p. 216.
  45. Ibid., p. 218-219. Althusser specifies, however, that this material existence “does not possess the same modality as the material existence of a paving stone or a gun,” and makes recourse to Aristotle’s philosophy of differential materialities to defend his position. Ibid., p. 219.
  46. Ibid., p. 221.
  47. Ibid., p. 222.
  48. Ibid., p. 223.
  49. Ibid.
  50. Ibid., p. 225.
  51. Ibid., p. 227.
  52. Ibid.
  53. Ibid., p. 234.
  54. Though this is perhaps surprising considering the film’s status as an attempt to adapt a philosophical text, it must be admitted that Althusser’s work in many ways lends itself to a fictionalised adaptation. His famous example of the policeman “interpellating” a subject on the street is, even in written form, highly cinematic, and at times the text is even furnished with an autobiographical angle, referring to Althusser’s own political past, and even his childhood: “When religious ideology directly sets out to function by interpellating the little boy Louis as a subject, little Louis is already-subject, not yet religious-subject, but familial-subject.” Ibid., p. 229. MacCabe reports that, upon viewing Luttes on the GDV’s editing table, Althusser wept with emotion. Colin MacCabe, Portrait of the Artist, p. 229.
  55. The first two sentences of this quote paraphrase a well-known passage from Mao. See: Mao Tse-Tung, “On Contradiction” (1937), in Mao, pp. 67-102, p. 68.
  56. Faroult, “La théorie saisie par le cinéma”, p. 73.
  57. Her brother retorts by ironically quoting the Maoist maxim, “A true communist should prioritise the interests of the revolution over his own interests.”
  58. Indeed, Godard, when asked by an American interviewer of any possible remaining importance to Bresson’s work for a revolutionary filmmaker, offered the unenthusiastic but revealing response: “Maybe there are some technical tricks or ways of doing things that can be used, afterwards, in a revolutionary way.” Godard, interviewed in: Goodwin et al., “The Dziga Vertov Film Group in America”, p. 48.
  59. Red leader is often also present in the film, usually accompanied by a voiceover explanation of aspects of Marxist theories, which would thus lead us to deduce that it is used to represent the presence of Marxist ideology in “connecting shots”, in place of the black of bourgeois ideology.
  60. This is the lengthiest direct quote from Althusser’s text, although even here it is changed significantly from the original passage: “The daily, uninterrupted reproduction of the relations of production in the ‘consciousness’, that is, the material behaviour of the agents of the different functions in the capitalist social production.” Althusser, Sur la reproduction, p. 233.
  61. For a first-hand account of this practice of factory implantation, by one of the foremost figures of the French Maoist movement, see: Robert Linhart, L’Établi. (Paris: Éditions de Minuit, 1978).
  62. That the politics of sexual relationships should have such a central position in the film is representative of the political orientation of the small but influential Maoist grouping Vive la révolution, with which Godard and Gorin had engaged in contact at the time. Indeed, Godard was to explicitly state that the basis for Luttes en Italie was “our attempt to organise our personal lives with our wives. We had problems as individuals, but these related to the general problem. So we deliberately chose a subject which was strongly related to our ideology, because even when you speak to a woman you are in love with, or the woman speaks to you, this is ideology.” Godard, interviewed in: Goodwin et al., “The Dziga Vertov Film Group in America”, p. 13.
  63. Groupe Lou Sin, “Le ‘groupe Dziga-Vertov’ (1)”, p. 38.
  64. Groupe Lou Sin, “Le ‘groupe Dziga-Vertov’ (2)”, p. 9. In Marxist theory, “productive forces” is the name given to the activity of productive labour itself, while “relations of production” signifies the form in which this activity takes place (for instance, under capitalism the relations of production are marked by the class relations between bourgeoisie and proletariat).
  65. Ibid.
  66. Cited in Jacques Rivette, Sylvie Pierre and Jean Narboni, “Montage”, Cahiers du cinéma 210 (March 1969): 24.
  67. Bertolt Brecht, “Der Dreigroschenprozeß” (1931), in Werke: Große kommentierte Berliner und Frankfurter Ausgabe v. XXI, ed. Werner Hecht, Jan Knopf, Werner Mittenzwei and Klaus-Detlef Müller (Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp Verlag, 1992), p. 469.
  68. See Gérard Leblanc, “Lutte idéologique et Luttes en Italie”, VH 101 9 (Autumn 1972), pp. 73-99.
  69. Ibid., p. 97.

About The Author

Daniel Fairfax is assistant professor in Film Studies at the Goethe Universität-Frankfurt, and an editor of Senses of Cinema.

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