France/tour/détour/deux/enfants

1978, 312 min (12 movements), color, sound, French with English subtitles.

In this astonishing twelve-part project for and about television — the title of which refers to a 19th-century French primer Le tour de la France par deux enfants — Godard and Miéville take a detour through the everyday lives of two children in contemporary France.

This complex, intimately scaled study of the effect of television on the French family is constructed around Godard's interviews with a school girl and school boy, Camille and Arnaud. Godard's provocative questions to the children range from the philosophical ("Do you think you have an existence?") to the social ("What does revolution mean to you?"). The programs' symmetrical structure alternates between Camille's and Arnaud's segments (or "movements"), each of which is labeled with on-screen titles: Obscur/Chimie is paired with Lumiere/Physique; Réalitie/Logique with Réve/Morale; Violence/Grammaire with Désordre/Calcul.

Using precise formal devices, including the extended take, slow motion, closeups, and the freeze frame, Godard and Miéville "decompose" the quotidian world of their young subjects by focusing on the minutiae of the everyday and isolated gesture, the significance of a gaze. In one remarkable sequence, the fixed camera remains on a close-up of Camille as she sits in silence at the dinner table, while her parents hold an extended conversation offscreen. Another extended sequence observes Arnaud in the classroom.

The children's interviews (titled Verité) and scenes of their everyday routines at home and at school (Télévision) are followed by the ironic commentary of two adult television journalists (Histoire) who provide a history/story that elaborates on the interviews. Intercut with multi-textual collages of television, cinema and advertising images, these discursive visual essays analyze the economic, social and ideological functions of the mass media.

As they expose how a child's world is "programmed" by the institutions of family and television, Godard and Miéville posit the mass media as the pervasive cultural influence in the home, with television as the 20th century primer. A provocative social discourse that resonates with eloquence and wit, France/tour/détour/deux enfants is an extraordinary achievement.

In French with English subtitles.

With: Camille Virolleaud, Arnaud Martin, Betty Berr, Albert Dray. Video: P. Binggeli. Cinema: W. Lubchansky, D. Chapuis, P. Rony. Produced by Institut National de l'Audiovisuel/ Sonimage and Antenne 2.

 
 

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