My Life as a Godard Movie by Joanna Walsh is an intriguing, sensual little book – Laura Waddell
I was pleased to see a new book by Joanna Walsh appear on my doorstep.
In My Life as a Godard Movie, the literary non-fiction writer takes on the subject of ‘looking’.
Written earlier in the pandemic, when most of us were reduced to daydreaming of the trips that had become impossible, borders impassable, Walsh travels imaginatively via the filmmaker’s creative vision. “Before, I wanted to go to Paris because it was impossible for me. Now that Paris is impossible for anyone outside Paris, I will act as though Godard’s Paris is completely possible.”
But it soon becomes clear this is no mere fawning tribute to the French New Wave filmmaker. At its core, My Life as a Godard Movie is a critical analysis of the female gaze, here looking at a male filmmaker as he looks at women through the camera lens.
Walsh analyses his direction of “muses”, such as actors Anna Karina, Jean Seburg and Brigitte Bardot, paying particular attention to depictions of beauty. She considers how visuals of ideal womanhood jar and jam with her life, but also what she enjoys and desires of this dreamy celluloid world.
The wistfulness of lockdown is present throughout, channelled organically into yearning for the city as seen in cinema.
“I wish I were [Godard actress] Chantal Goya, not because she was beautiful but because, replaying the film, she is still sitting in the cafe where they serve ‘confusingly banal’ pancakes; because I can revisit her thereness in Paris as – not having filmed my life – I cannot revisit my own.”
Walsh is drawn to Godard’s use of primary colours and considers their appeal. “There have been essays about falling in love with a colour; how about falling in hate?” she asks, later describing the 70s, the decade of her childhood, as “a world of secondary colours – teal, orange and brown”.
But what I enjoy most in this fragmentary, pondering narrative are the sharp lines of feminist analysis which anchor the book’s theme. Walsh observes, “Beauty is not how any girl looks, but how she’s looked at. If the camera looks at her with love, then she is beautiful. Is beauty discovered or created by it?”
My Life as a Godard Movie is an intriguing, sensual little book about looking and being looked at.
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