Every Man for Himself (1980)
Every Man for Himself (1980)
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as Isabelle Riviera
as Paul Godard
as Denise Rimbaud
as Second Costumer
as Isabelle's Sister
as Opera Singer
as 1st Guy
as Elevator Attendant
as Farm Girl
as Second Guy
as Paul's Ex-Wife
as First client
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Jean-Luc Godard's "Every Man for Himself" is intriguing, but not as essential as the director's early films. Lack of cultural context may be the key. His '60s work was stuffed with topical commentary on Paris street life and restless youth, but "Every Man for Himself" is just an insular tale of a few random urbanites. It was released in 1980 but, really, the script could have been written during any year.
Regardless, the film's appeal mostly hangs upon a beautiful, blank-faced prostitute (Isabelle Huppert, whose character shares her name). Be patient: She doesn't enter until a half hour has passed. Isabelle is neither energized nor depressed by her unsavory job, and meets her appointments with all the passion of a housewife drying dishes. She's even game to let her younger sister into the racket -- well, as long as the sister has nice enough breasts and is willing to cut Isabelle a share of her profits. Isabelle is equally nonchalant about almost any perversion, whether it's incestuous role-playing, spanking or the strangest foursome choreography you've ever seen.
The other storyline involves a couple who mostly function apart from Isabelle. Their tale is not so interesting, even though the male is provocatively named "Godard." This Godard (pop singer Jacques Dutronc) is emotionally aloof, works in television and has a child via an estranged wife. He's also on the brink of losing a relationship with a film editor (Nathalie Baye) who likes to bicycle rather than drive. She has an earthy sensuality but Godard, hidden behind a shaggy haircut and oversized glasses, is an unlikable cipher. Eventually, the two intersect with Isabelle.
Director Godard's usual tricks abound, jabbing the audience to notice the artifice of cinema. Title cards appear, dividing the film into four vague sections. Characters notice the non-diegetic music, and one shot where a string section appears onscreen almost recalls the absurd Count Basie cameo in "Blazing Saddles." Jerky, slow-motion moments keep intruding for little discernible reason (a late example does save the need for a stunt man). And dialogue repeatedly overlaps across scenes -- in other words, a conversation lingers on the soundtrack after the visual setting jumps elsewhere. There's even a quick in-joke pointing out how movie vehicles typically lack a rearview mirror.
"Every Man for Himself" was Godard's return to narrative film after several years of thorny experimentation. His peculiar genius remains evident, but seems a bit diffused.
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