Passion (1982 film)  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

Passion is a 1982 film by Jean-Luc Godard, and the second feature film made during his return to relatively mainstream filmmaking in the 1980s, sometimes referred to as the Second Wave. As with all films Godard made during this period, the "mainstream" refers more to their budget, casting and distribution than to their content, which builds on the radical aesthetic of his post-New Wave forays into video and essay filmmaking.

The film marks Godard's reunion with cinematographer Raoul Coutard, his most famous collaborator during the New Wave era; the last time they had worked together was on Week End (1967), which is usually considered the end of the New Wave. Like most of Godard's work from this period, the film is shot in color with a 1.37 aspect ratio. Coutard won the Technical Grand Prize for cinematography at the 1982 Cannes Film Festival.



General Plot

La Passion is a film about the artistic process of making a film. The setting is a non-defined place in France and can generally be seperated into two parts: the shots in the filmstudio and the shots outside the filmstudio.

In the film, there are three important parts which have to be considered. The first part, which will be discussed in more detail below, is the process of making the film which consists of imitations of well known paintings, so-called tableaux vivants. Second, there is the love-story of Hanna and Jerzy and the love-story of Isabelle and Jerzy at the same time. Jerzy is the link to the film-making, as he is the director of the film. As a third part, the workers of a factory as the group Isabelle belongs to, revolt because of the bad circumstances of their work.

Jerzy is torn between the two women Hanna and Isabelle. As a further complication, Hanna is married to the owner of the hotel where Jerzy is staying with his crew. The factory, Isabelle is working in, also belongs to Hanna’s husband Michel. When Isabelle is caught during a fight, Michel dismisses her. After that she visits Jerzy in the hotel and talks to him about her feelings about work and love. At the same time it becomes clear, that Jerzy won’t be able to realize his film, because of several reasons. Therefore Lászlo, his companion, tries to use his connections to Hollywood and wants to leave France. But Jerzy doesn’t want to join him and decides instead to go back to Poland. In the end of the film, the protagonists leave the place of the film-making and find together in new groups. Isabelle and Hanna are leaving together and Jerzy is leaving with the waitress of the hotel.

Tableaux Vivants

La Passion by Jean-Luc Godard first departed from several real paintings without a real script. Godard made this experiment because of the essay El Greco y el Cine by Eisenstein which he had read. In this essay it is suggested that in a painting there is a dynamic which can evolve into a complete story.

The manner in which the paintings are represented in the film has a long tradition. Once transferred from painting into an imitation of the painting with real human beings, the paintings are called Tableau Vivant. Those tableaux vivants interact with the narrative elements of the film. The agression in the form of the revolution of the workers and the love of Jerzy, Hanna and Isabelle are reflected in the paintings of Goya or Ingres/Delacroix. They furthermore present the main themes like in the case of the Night Watch with the opposition of light/dark. Every sequence of tableau vivants has a particular classical music which accompanies it.

Rembrandt (The Night Watch)

The first Sequence of Tableaux Vivants is after only one famous painting by Rembrandt. It rebuilds the Night Watch, is interrupted by several shots showing Isabelle at work in the factory and is accompanied by a text which has little to do with the painting itself. The subject of the text which goes together with Rembrandt’s Night Watch thematizes the question of how a story should be constructed. Additionally, the composition of a painting is put in question and put in relation to the construction of the story itself. This comparison of the two artistic processes is very likely to be a hint to the notion of Ut pictura poesis, which aimed at giving poetry the same importance like painting. Finally the text speaks about light in paintings which reminds of the Chiaroscuro effects of which Rembrandt frequently made use. Later on, it will become clear, that it is exactly the missing story of the film, or rather a traditional plot in the sense of Hollywood Cinema, which will lead to the final failure of the production of the film.


The Goya Sequence consists of four Tableaux Vivants which are only partly really fixed. It is the Love Letter, the Third of May 1808, La Maja Desnuda and finally, set apart from these three, Charles IV of Spain and His Family. It is accompanied by the Introitus of Mozart's Requiem which evokes a gloomy atmosphere. First only the woman of the painting The Love Letter can be seen. She is walking towards the men with the guns of the painting Third of May 1808. All of the first three tableaus are connected with one tracking shot and for that reason they can be also seen as the three main levels of a painting in general: foreground, background and middle ground. The foreground would be, in consequence, the Third of May 1808, the middle ground the Love Letter and the background La Maja Desnuda. Furthermore the three levels can be read in a symbolic way. The Third of May 1808 could be a symbol for violence, conflict, and supression and the background with La Maja Desnuda a symbol for sexual desire.

The middle ground with the love letter would be a symbol for communication and the link between the foreground and the background at the same time. On the narrative plot level, there are insertitions of shots showing Isabelle sleeping in her appartment. These scenes serve necessarily as a counterpart to the scenes in the filmstudio, as the world outside is present during almost every Sequence. The only exception is the Delacroix Sequence, where all the action takes place in the filmstudio.


In the Ingres Sequence, the The Valpinçon Bather and presumably The Turkish Bath are represented losely as they are interrupted by shots in the hotel and in the factory. The topic of the paintings of the tableau vivants indicate on the one hand that the theme of love and sexual desire which was symbolically presented in La Maja Desnuda of the Goya Sequence is taken up here. On the other hand, the Ingres Sequence is about the notions of love and work which are put into relation through the tableaus and the interrupting scenes of the hotels and the factory. A very important point in the Ingres Sequence is when Jerzy and Bonnel are having a conversation in the dark filmstudio. Bonnel asks Jerzy what “the right light” means for him and Jerzy tries to make him understand by darkening the studio. Bonnel finally understands then, that the question about the light is linked to Jerzy’s relation to the two women. He compares Isabelle to the night and Hanna to the day. For Jerzy the main conflict would be to find the right balance between the two.


The Entry of the Crusaders in Constantinople and Jacob’s Fight with the Angel were the models for the sequence of the Tableaus Vivants by Eugène Delacroix. Like in the Goya Sequence, the Tableaus are not fixed. The horse-riders in the Entry of the Crusaders are mobile and are another symbol of fight or agression. In Jacob’s fight with the Angel, the director Jerzy gets himself a part of the tableau vivant as he is actually fighting with a comedian disguised as an angel and thus performing Jacob's part from the original painting. Connected to the narrative side of the film, this means that Jerzy is getting more and more involved into the problems concerning the production of his film. This could mean that he is so much involved in the problems concerning the production that he gets a part of his own film.

El Greco

In the Episode of El Greco, the Assumption of the Virgin as a tableau vivant in the filmstudio is combined with a narrative episode in Jerzy’s hotel through the montage technique. The music, Fauré’s Pie Jesu, serves to link the two distinct places and is a hint to Isabelle’s virginity, as Isabelle is compared to Maria and to the religious theme of the tableau vivant. Isabelle’s virginity points to the scene of the tableau vivant in the studio, as the original painting is called Assumption of the Virgin. However there are two interruptions of the music when there is a cut and Isabelle is sitting on Jerzy’s bed in his hotel room murmuring the text of the Pie Jesu. According to the principle of the montage, the movements and actions in the two different settings correspond to each other so that when one action is performed in one shot, the action is carried on in the shot afterwards. When Isabelle finally arrives at Jerzy’s room, the camera makes a circle upstairs around the tableau vivant and is very close to the comedians.


The Embarkation for Cythera is the only painting of the Watteau sequence and the last of the tableaux vivants. It exists only in fragments, because when it is performed, it is already clear that the main persons who were responsible for the film won’t participate in its production anymore and thus the whole film is falling apart. The camera is very far away from the action, like in an establishing shot. The Embarkation for Cythera is the only tableau vivant which is performed outside and therefore the only tableau vivant which is executed under the conditions of natural light. Hanna, one of the women with whom director Jerzy was in love with, is wandering through the tableau. On her way she encounters two couples. The first couple is a tableau of the two pilgrims from the center of the original painting where the spectators view is likely to attach first. The second couple she meets is to the right of the central couple in the original painting. Furthermore, the sailing boat of the Berlin version of the painting is displayed in the background of the scene.


Love and Work

The narrative part of the film is about love and work in general. In the film, the two notions get mixed up. Love and work are not seperated anymore as Hanna is Jerzy’s lover but works with him for his film at the same time. On the other hand Jerzy is living in Hanna’s hotel but having an affair with her at the same time. The process of film making as a kind of work is paralleled with Isabelle’s work in the factory. At one point, Isabelle even claims that the gestures of love and work are the same.

Light and Dark

The opposition of light and dark first appears in the Night Watch, which is the first of the tableaux vivants represented in the film, in the context of light in a painting. Later on during the Ingres episode, the two women Isabelle and Hanna are described by Jerzy as the opposition of night and day. According to him, Hanna is like the day, as she is opened towards everything; Isabelle is like the night because she is more difficult to reach. The filmstudio is the place, which stands for artificial light whilst most of the places outside of the filmstudio stand for natural light. The lighting of the tableaux vivants can never reach the qualities of the natural light outside and therefore remains artificial. This may be the reason, why Jerzy is never satisfied with the light.

Possible Influences

Making a film about the production of a film has been a topic in films before. One example is La Ricotta of Pier Paolo Pasolini, in which the making of a film about the Passion of Jesus is the main topic. In this film, two tableaux vivants after the Deposition of the Cross by Pontormo and the Descent from the Cross by Rosso Fiorentino, form the structure for the film in the film as the first level of action. As a second level of action, like in La Passion, there are the stories around the filmset, the problems of the director and the story of Stracci. Another important point is that the topic of La Ricotta (Christ’s passion) is possibly reflected in the title of La Passion.

Films with Similar Topics by Jean Luc Godard

Contempt (film)

The film Contempt (1963) is another film by Jean-Luc Godard which has little in common with La Passion. However, the topic of film making is also essential for this film and the plot is about the love triangle of a married couple and the producer of the film to be shooted. Apparently this film was a way of critizising the Hollywood film industry – a topic which is also evident in La Passion at some points.


The shooting of La Passion began in November 1981 close to the Lake Geneva for the outdoor scenes and in 1982 in the Billancourt filmstudios in Paris for the outdoor scenes. Godard met Hanna Schygulla in Hollywood when she was shooting One from the Heart with Francis Ford Coppola. He asked her at once if she wanted to participate in his new film but she first wanted to see a synopsis before she accepted the offer. So Godard sent her in January 1981 a summary of the project in three pages translated into English. The title of the summary was Passion: Work and Love.


Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Passion (1982 film)" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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