Palestinian revolutionaries are caught on film discussing the uncertainties of resisting Israeli forces in an upcoming battle for Jean- Luc Godard and Jean-Pierre Gorin’s documentary Jusqu’à la Victoire (Until Victory). However neither Godard or Gorin knew what the revolutionaries were actually saying as the filmmakers didn’t know the language. At the end of the day, their words didn’t matter; it was the image they really wanted.
Much of the images Godard wanted for Jusqu’à la Victoire, which had been commissioned by Al Fatah, had already been written done before he even landed in the Middle East. Both he and Gorin had the project already outlined, with story boards, abstract scenarios, and various texts to use throughout the film (ranging from Palestinian poetry to political slogans) already written down in a spiral notebook. Godard’s commitment to his notes often created difficulties during the shoot, from his unwillingness to film spontaneous moments to constant misunderstandings when trying to get Palestinian soldiers to perform some of his texts and scenarios for the camera. But the filmmakers had an agenda and weren’t all that interested in straying from their original plan. Sadly none of this would matter as the Palestinian revolutionaries’ uncertainties became a reality in the form of the Black September massacres. With the film 2/3 complete, the political climate in the Middle East had become more heated than either director could have imagined. Most of the Palestinians Godard and Gorin had filmed and spoken to three months prior were killed. The grim reality helped put an end to Jusqu’à la Victoire and profoundly change Godard’s outlook during his brief revolutionary period of filmmaking. All of this would be evident four years later, when he completed his essay film, Ici et Ailleurs (Here and Elsewhere).
Godard would resurrect much of the unused documentary footage, however he made sure this project would be nothing like Jusqu’à la Victoire. Godard was left feeling very uncomfortable with the footage of Jusqu’à la Victoire especially after having it accurately translated. After finally discovering what the Palestinian revolutionaries were really saying, Godard was motivated to make something new with the leftover footage. Working this time with Anne-Marie Miéville, on what would be their first major collaboration through their newly formed production company Sonimage, they set out to create a film about “filming history” rather than just a film about Palestine. The idea was to take a more critical look at the way the political issues were being covered by not only the media, but also by Godard in his last few films. What remained of Jusqu’à la Victoire served as a key point of reference in Ici et Ailleurs, constantly reminding the viewer, and probably Godard himself, of the how the issues can easily be missed. Rather than using the footage shown in the Ici et Ailleurs to serve as an honest documentation of what went on while Godard and Gorin were in Palestine, Godard and Miéville chose to acknowledge and expose the manipulations and reconstructions behind the images. By the last act of the film, the viewers are finally introduced to the Palestinian revolutionaries from the image above with a dialogue between Godard and Miéville playing over them. Miéville translates their conversation while an Godard’s noticeably shaken and saddened voice can only express the disappointment of the reality behind it:
“I remember when we shot this. It was three months before the September massacres. It was in June 1970, and in three months, the whole little group will be dead. What’s tragic, in fact, is that…here, they’re talking about their own death. But nobody said that.”
“No, because it was up to you to say it. And the tragic thing is, you didn’t”
If Jusqu’à la Victoire was, above all else, a failure to capture reality, Ici et Ailleurs is Godard’s attempt to find reality from that failure. Here may be the most honest and straightforward representation of this. Throughout much of Ici et Ailleurs, Godard speaks about the trouble of an image‘s sound being “too loud” that it “drowns reality.” In other words, any semblance of truth the image may have carried was lost in the overall political or ideological framework of the film. This of course speaks not only for Jusqu’à la Victoire, but any of the abstract agit-prop films made by the Dziga Vertov Group. As this particular footage, all off which appears to be one long uninterrupted static take, plays, it is absent of any conclusion drawn from the filmmakers. Instead, they engage in finding a proper conclusion. Godard can only reflect on the tragic circumstances that fill the four year gap between Jusqu’à la Victoire and Ici et Ailleurs, and consequently the lives of those Palestinian revolutionaries. However for Miéville, it’s the course of action not taken. By this point of the film it’s clear her voice has established itself as the more dominant of the two, making it all the more important for her response to Godard is as scathing as it is. If documenting history is given as much weight as the history itself, it makes sense that the auteur is held responsible when ignoring the reality behind the images that are filmed. The result is a truly profound moment because Godard accepts that responsibility.