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Exposé du film annonce du film “Scénario” (Jean-Luc Godard, 2024)

So many last films, each one conceived, shot, and edited as if there might not be another. Trailer of the Film That Will Never Exist: “Phony Wars,” directed by Jean-Luc Godard, premiered at Cannes in 2023. The film had been finished in 2021, but was not released until eight months after Godard’s death in September 2022. “Phony Wars” was not the only film Godard was working on in 2021. According to Mitra Farahani—whose company Écran Noir co-produced Godard’s The Image Book (2018), “Phony Wars, and the new Scénarios (2024)—Godard also had completed Exposé du film annonce du film “Scénario” (2024). Exposé… is 34 minutes long and combines stills and moving images as a kind of proposal for a feature that Godard had planned to make. It premiered at Cannes a few days ago, paired with the 18-minute Scénarios. Farahani described them both to me in an email when I told her that sadly I couldn’t be in Cannes. She wrote:

“At the New York Film Festival in 2023, you saw “Phony Wars. This film was completed in late 2021, during Jean-Luc Godard’s lifetime, but not released until 2023, after his death. It was commissioned by the Yves Saint Laurent Foundation, which had asked Jean-Luc Godard to make a film while he was already in the process of making a feature-length project produced by Écran Noir, entitled Scénario. As a result, the two films progressed in parallel and have some similarities. In October 2021, a few months before finishing “Phony Wars, Jean-Luc Godard detailed in a long shot sequence his ideas for Scénario… or rather, for a film announcing Scénario; his renunciation had begun. He was no longer certain he could complete the feature-film project. This shot sequence shows JLG’s lucidity and precision; he had a clear vision of what was needed to make the film, including what was not already known and would have to be decided in the process itself. After his death, this became Exposé du film annonce du film “Scénario, one of the two films presented at Cannes this year.

But what JLG announces in this sequence from October 2021 was never to be made. Scénario became his last film project; that was a certainty. But he didn’t know whether he’d shoot it or not. The following summer, his body began to tire. He finally made an appointment with death for September 13. A little over a week before, once the date was set, he entered a state of obsessive urgency to finish a two-part film entitled DNA, Fundamentals and MRI, Odyssey. With the help of Jean-Paul Battaggia and Fabrice Aragno [Godard’s longtime assistants], he constructed this last film, to be called Scénarios (plural); gave very precise editing instructions; and, on the eve of his death, staged the final shot of himself to conclude the film. Jean-Luc Godard transformed his project and gave it a new form: Scénario became Scénarios (18 minutes), presented at Cannes this year.

As far as I am concerned, for both the feature-film project Scénario and the forms resulting from this project, Scénarios and Exposé du film annonce du film “Scénario, I was a producer and did not intervene in the creative process. But when I talked with you in 2022, I told you about one of my personal projects, titled Impossible Scenario. A year before Jean-Luc Godard’s death, I sensed that the feature-film project Scénario would not see completion. With Jean-Paul Battaggia, we decided to document the creative process and its impossibility by having Jean-Paul write a diary of Godard’s daily life. Jean-Paul took notes for a year. In them, we read about moments of creative vivacity, old age tiring the body, and time playing against the work. In July 2022, I presented Godard with my film project and its questioning of his late-life work, entitled Impossible Scenario. He marked the title in red felt-tip pen, as if confirming the impossibility. I’m working on this late creation in Jean-Luc Godard’s life, on fragments of his daily life, thinking about this production through the question of the late-life work.”

I first interviewed Farahani in December 2022, when her extraordinary film See You Friday, Robinson (2022) played at the Museum of Modern Art for a week (its only New York release). It is a double portrait of Godard and Ebrahim Golestan, the late Iranian writer and filmmaker. Although Godard completed his part in this film in 2015, it contains a sequence in which he looks straight into the camera and explains what cinema is with an intensity that suggests he is already thinking that these could be his last recorded words. This could be pure projection on my part, because there is also a way of looking at almost every one of Godard’s films as signaling to himself and the viewer that this could be the end of the scenario. The following excerpt is taken from that 2022 conversation.

When did you start making films?

Around 2000. I had been painting, but I found that I was trying to deal with social issues in the painting, and I decided it would be better to do that in documentaries.

When did you start working with Godard? And was it at your first meeting with him that you proposed your idea for See You Friday, Robinson?

I wrote to him just proposing that we have a meeting with Golestan, and I explained some of my intentions in arranging this meeting. He responded, “Why not,” and a week later we met in a café.

Did you show him any of the films you had made?

I gave him Fifi Howls from Happiness.

Fifi is your 2013 documentary about the last two months in the life of Bahman Mohassess, an Iranian painter who receives a commission to make a final work after decades in voluntary exile. It is both a journalistic coup and a moving, intimate portrait. What did Godard say about it?

I never knew if he saw my films or not.

Fifi clearly shows the influence of Godard.

I actually studied Godard way back when. One of my earliest films is about sexuality in Tehran. I didn’t edit it myself, and I was very frustrated with the editor. I was hearing these voices in my head, and it’s only just now that you’re saying this that I realize that these voices saying things to me were influences from Godard.

At that first meeting, when you told Godard your concept for Robinson—that it would be a series of email exchanges between him and Golestan—did you propose this as something that you would direct, or did he think of this project as something that would be entirely his?

I think he certainly knew from the beginning that I wanted to create an archive through making this film—an imaginary archive. But I think that he already had in his mind this idea of making a film about a correspondence between himself and someone he didn’t know, through letters that would be sent every Friday. In a way, this film presented him with the opportunity to do that. And I had the feeling that during this time—both during the time of the correspondence itself and the subsequent years it took to complete the film—that he was really making his own film, because he was not just sending the material specifically to Golestan but he also calculated how this material would come together as a film.

Did you know Golestan before you proposed this film to him?

I knew him more as this cultural monument. He’s extremely well-known for his work with the Persian language.

But then you were involved with restoring the films Golestan made in the ’60s.

I started working on Robinson in 2014 and it was finished in 2022. During that time, I also had a life separate from the film in which I was working with both of these artists. With Golestan, I was involved in the restoration of his film, and with Godard, in the production of his film. I found that by working with both of them, I could bring them together through a much deeper understanding of who they each were as artists. I was not a tourist but someone who really knew their work in-depth.

You were a producer on The Image Book?

The Image Book and Scénarios, his latest film.

What is the date of the last letter exchange in Robinson

The correspondence began in August of 2014, and it ended in March of 2015. During that time, Godard got very sick and was hospitalized—not in the hospital that you see in the film, but in another hospital. It was a very touch-and-go period. When he was released, he needed time to recover. During that period, I went back and I looked for images to put together with voices—really to make a collage out of them, and then to make a photocopy of those collages. When I say the film is like a photocopy, it is because I have these letters and I copied them many, many times in different stages. The film itself is the collage. I was also basically working with an archive, which is the chronological archive of the letters themselves, but then I also had an archive of action, which was the trail that these letters made from when they were first written until they actually were made into a film.

Watching the film, it was clear to me that at some point, Godard got the idea that it would be his film, because he was setting up these self-portraits the way he sets them up in many of his films. Did that stop in 2015?

No, he asked me to propose more scenes and I did. I think that when he sent me these additional scenes, it was within the same concept as sending the letters. I think that throughout the whole process, he was really making the film for himself. One of the things I was really concerned about was if, in the end, he would be disappointed in the film if his interests were not represented in the way that he was setting them up to be represented. At one point I asked him if he would record some sound for me, and when he received the request he said to his assistant, “It’s just another film. She’ll make the film like any other film.”

Which is also the title of one of his films. [A Film Like Any Other, 1968]

Exactly. That comment created a block in me until the day I sat down and said to myself, “So what if I make a film like any other?” And that unblocked me. One version of the title was “Robinson: A Film Like Any Other Film,” but I dropped that. Throughout the entire process, he never forgot the material he sent me, and he would contact me and say, “Where’s Friday?” He always expected the film to be finished. Once he contacted me and wanted to know if he could use the scene where he’s in bed and he’s talking about fear. I panicked because it was a scene that I wanted to use in my film. I was afraid that he was asking for it back so that he could use it in one of his own films. The day we finished the production of The Image Book, he said to me, “Remember, you have not finished that film!”

The sequence you were talking about, where he’s in bed and he talks about feardid he ever use it?

No. He told everyone, “If she doesn’t finish the film, I’ll use it.”

Were you there when those self-portrait scenes were shot?

Some of them.

The one at the end is great. 

I’m happy that you said that, because I asked him specifically to do that one. It’s something he did often—mix water with his wine. I asked him specifically to do this looking straight at the camera. I had this idea from [Leon Battista] Alberti’s writing about Renaissance art in the 1400s—that the great portrait painters would pose someone looking straight out from the canvas. It was as though the dead were looking from the painting at the living, who were looking at the painting. And while I never thought about that directly (perhaps I was at a subconscious level), I wanted that to be captured so that, after he died, he would be in the film looking at us—the living. That moment would be there with Godard looking at us living.

What struck me in this scene is that this is the letter where he tells Golestan that his question is something the police would ask. And then Godard says what cinema is in a way that no one else could. That’s extraordinary, but then he makes himself into such a fool by pulling up his T-shirt and using it to wipe the crumbs from the table. That’s a gesture that, even more than him looking at the camera, I’ll remember forever. He made great film portraits because he understood the meaning and impact of a gesture. What is the thing that he says at the end, where he wants the camera turned off?

The last thing he says is, “Are you OK? Let’s stop.” Do you want to see what Godard wrote after he saw the film?

So he actually looked at the film before he died? Before you showed it at the Berlin Film Festival in the winter of 2022?

Yes. This is part of his email. In the subject line he wrote, “Traitors.” And then: “Dear Mitra, Perhaps it was difficult for you to understand the two traitors. Or perhaps just to refer to the meaning of this beautiful and good film. There are two poker players who don’t play the game, but show their cards in order to continue, and in this way, each betrays their own environment.” Godard had not seen any of the film prior to seeing the whole film. He had never met Golestan, and had no idea what Golestan looked like, and after six years of the process of making this film, he finally understood who Golestan was—actually, the real meeting of the two started when Godard saw the film.

What are you working on now?

Godard’s last film, Scénarios, for which I’m a producer. And Impossible Scenario, my project. I have the feeling that the exhaustion of the physical body [on camera] was reflected in the exhaustion of the work itself. So my idea is to approach it with the idea of this being an impossible screenplay.

Wait, which Scénarios are we talking about?

The film I want to make is an impossible screenplay, Impossible Scenario. I’m interested in the late work of an artist. Something which is produced when it’s almost impossible because the body itself is disintegrating. One month prior to his death, he sent me this: “That it’s impossible does not mean failure, but it praises the power of not being able to do, not being able to say and not being able to be, not being able to be identical to yourself in the becoming of another, becoming an animal, becoming nonhuman.” The project Impossible Scenario is to conceive of a film that explores the power of powerlessness.

Amy Taubin lives in New York City, where she writes about movies and art.