Movie Review: An Indian Village goes French New Wave, “Adieu, Godard”

“A ‘film,'” the old joke goes, “is a ‘movie’ we don’t quite understand.” And if you’re not a little confused when you’re watching a film by French avante garde/Nouvelle Vague (New Wave) director Jean-Luc Godard, you’re probably not getting it.

That’s the thesis of the Indian comedy “Adieu Godard,” a quirky and quaint tale of village provincialism, porn and “pure cinema” in the style of the French master, Jean-Luc Godard. Amartya Bhattacharyya’s homage is about what happens when a porn-addicted old man (Choudhury Bikash) has his eyes opened when he rents Godard’s New Wave masterpiece “Breathless” by mistake.

As his daughter (Sudhasri Madhusmita) tells the tale to a pretentious young big city filmmaker (Abhishek Giri) years later, her father Ananda “didn’t even understand the subtitles.” But something about Godard’s technique rattles Ananda and so touches him that before we know it, he’s planning a Godard film festival so that his fellow rural porn and Bollywood addicts can have their tastes and minds changed, too.

Ananda was seemingly content to bicker over his accounts at the store that rents him dirty DVDs and invite three equally pervy pals over (Choudhury Jayaprakash Das, Swastik Choudhury and Shankar Basu Mallik) to leer at and literally drool over the “American” or “Japanese” actors going at it in these sexcapades.

It’s a “men’s only” activity, even though daughter Shilpa (Madhusmita), then a student, could hear, as could his sad and sighing wife (Shwetapadma Satpathy). Ananda is puzzled about why his wife could be depressed.

“All wives are depressed,” the doctor reassures him.

But everything changes when the store, fearing a crackdown, drops the porn and passes on “Breathless.” And despite the noisy commentary by his porn pals — “Twenty minutes in, and NO action…Clothes ON…Is it a film? No song, no dance, no fight, no romance, and it’s a film?” — Ananda is changed.

He wants to learn English from his daughter, so that he can read the subtitles. And he wants to see every Godard film he can get his hands on. Once he acquires five DVDs, that can only mean one thing. “This village needs a (Godard) film festival!”

“Adieu Godard” is in Origay with subtitles, with some scenes in English. It finds its laughs in pithy village exchanges — “My wife is sick.” “EVERY man says so!” — in sight gags and in the incongruous notion of a generally experimental, narrative-defying French filmmaker finding a fan in BFE, India.

Ananda’s friends aren’t sure the locals are “ready” for Godard. They have enough trouble figuring out what to shout over the PA system they strap to a bike to ride around advertising the festival.

“Listen listen listen,” they shout. “Foreign films…all heroes, all heroines, all villains are FOREIGNERS…revealing costumes, FAIR skin!”

Ananda insists “there are no heroes, heroines or villains” in Godard films, “only characters.” He’s getting nowhere with that argument.

Writer-director Bhattacharyya toys with Godard touches by having daughter Shilpa abruptly start narrating this story to her filmmaker beau just before the half-hour mark. The “past” scenes are in black and white, the modern ones in color. The “dirty” sexuality of the porn is contrasted with the porn addicts and “Adieu Godard” being positively prim and very India 1999 (cutting away to avoid showing a kiss). That kiss becomes a village scandal.

Later, there’s a frank (by Indian standards) “virgin/condoms” sex conversation between the modern day couple as they discuss the story of the village that hosted a Godard film festival and try to turn everyone in that story into “characters” suitable for a movie.

It’s very self-conscious and gets very meta and kind of arty. But if “Adieu Godard” rarely achieves laugh-out-loud chuckles, scene after scene finds grins, giggles and bits of comical outrage.

And if Bhattacharyya’s film lacks a linear narrative and a more conventionally joking tone, well that’s just so Godard of him.

Rating: unrated, sexuality, profanity, off-camera violence

Cast: Choudhury Bikash, Sudhasri Madhusmita, Dipanwit Dashmohapatra, Abhishek Giri, Swastik Choudhury and Shankar Basu Mallik

Credits: Scripted and directed by Amartya Bhattacharyya. A Film Movement release.

Running time: 1:22

About Roger Moore

Movie Critic, formerly with McClatchy-Tribune News Service, Orlando Sentinel, published in Spin Magazine, The World and now published here, Orlando Magazine, Autoweek Magazine
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