(aka 'Hail Mary')
Before “Hail Mary” ever reached theaters
in 1985, the film had already generated enough controversy to earn Godard a
stern reprimand from Pope John Paul 2, as well as a pie in the face at the
Cannes Film Festival (which one upset Godard more, I have no idea.) Godard was
accused of making a film that sullied the reputation of the Virgin Mary and
offended Christians throughout the world. As is usual in such cases, the most
vigorous protesters had not bothered with the formality of actually seeing the
As far as the film itself is concerned, blasphemy appears to be the last thing on Godard’s mind. “Hail Mary” is really an attempt to demythologize the Madonna, a rescue action meant to restore humanity and dignity to a figure whose image has been marketed everywhere from rosaries to prayer cards to deformed tortillas for nearly two full millennia.
Marie (Myriem Roussel) is a teenage girl who plays basketball, works at her dad’s gas station, and hangs out with her boyfriend Joseph. One day, the archangel Gabriel visits her and tells her she’s going to have a baby. Needless to say, this idea takes a bit of getting used to, not only for the chosen vessel for the Christ child, but also for the poor boyfriend who can’t quite understand why he’s never allowed to get any action.
This scenario, especially in Godard’s hands, would seem to positively reek of irony, but the film plays it straight (admittedly with plenty of oblique collage-style editing). Godard takes great pains to ground Marie’s life, and her struggle to understand her situation, in the quotidian. She plays basketball; she irons clothes; she takes baths. And when she takes baths, she gets naked, which I suppose is the part that might offend certain religious sensibilities the most, but there’s nothing prurient about it (despite the fact that Roussel has a truly magnificent body.) The point is that Marie is an actual person, with a physical existence, and physical needs, something Gunnery Sgt. Hartman understood when he ordered Joker to make the bathroom so spotless “the Virgin Mary herself would be proud to go in there and take a dump.”
As you would expect, the film is exquisitely composed, making particularly effective use of sublime shots of the moon and sun. Marie understandably has cosmology on the mind, but Godard also links the cosmic with the corporeal, as Mary looks up at the sky and then down to her own body, from full moon to full bush as it were (is it blasphemous to observe that both are beautiful?) I’m reminded of the two most famous filmic incarnations of Joan of Arc (unless you’re a “Bill and Ted” fan): Dreyer’s, in which Joan always looks up; and Bresson’s, in which Joan always looks down. Here Godard splits the difference: as David Sterritt notes, spirituality (up) is intimately linked with abjection (down) in “Hail Mary.” Meanwhile, poor Joseph has to find the trust (faith) to believe Marie when she says there is no other man, and to come to terms with his role in the relationship (is such a thing possible when your girlfriend’s baby daddy happens to be omnipotent and omniscient?) His struggle is just as moving (and occasionally amusing) as Marie’s.
The film is actually a diptych, which begins with Anne-Marie Miéville’s “Book of Mary” (27 min.) and is followed by Godard’s “Hail Mary” (76 min.) The two films are linked more in style than in content, though both tell the story of a young girl coming to terms with a life-changing experience. Miéville’s film is strictly secular, focusing on 13 year-old Marie as she learns her parents are splitting up. “Book of Mary” appears deceptively slight at first, but its final scene is deeply moving. If you want to know the “proper” way to watch this DVD, just click the “Play All” button on the Feature Menu and you’ll be fine.
A third film text also springs to mind. “Hail Mary” can be seen as a mirror universe remake of “Rosemary’s Baby.” Is it any less intimidating to be carrying the Christ child than the Devil’s baby? Either way, you’ve got a whole world depending on your womb. Now that’s pressure.
“Hail Mary” is generally not listed in the upper echelon of Godard’s films, but I find it quite potent. I think it’s at least a minor masterpiece. But even if it is only second-tier Godard, it is still first-tier cinema. Don’t miss it.
Theatrical Release: January 23rd, 1985
DVD Review: New Yorker - Region 1 - NTSC
Big thanks to Christopher Long for the Review!
|DVD Box Cover||
CLICK to order from:
|Distribution||New Yorker Video - Region 1 - NTSC|
Average Bitrate: 7.93 mb/s
NTSC 720x480 29.97 f/s
NOTE: The Vertical axis represents the bits transferred per second. The Horizontal is the time in minutes.
|Audio||French (Dolby Digital 2.0)|
• "Notes About Hail Mary" featurette (19:35)
• The Book of Mary (26:38)
Another NY'er interlaced transfer that doesn't really look that bad, especially if viewing through a CRT (tube). Detail is better than anticipated and colors (skin tones) look very good. Separated, but included, is Anne-Marie Miéville’s “Book of Mary” (27 min.) plus a featurette 'Notes About Hail Mary' at 20 minutes.
Audio and optional English subtitles (although not listed in the menu they were removable on my system) are fine and we thank NY'er for bringing this out as many have fans have patiently waited for its release. With an update of the Virgin birth relocated to contemporary Paris - one couldn't ask for a more enticing premise. Surely a 'must-own' for Godard fans.