Filming Lausanne in 1980: an unprecedented artistic gamble
In 1980, Jean-Luc Godard and Yves Yersin, two leading film makers, were asked by the municipal authorities in Lausanne to produce short films designed to revamp the image of the city and raise its profile. A bold undertaking, which caused a storm in political circles in Lausanne at the time but remains an undisputed artistic success today.
1981. 35 mm, 11’
Réalisation: Jean-Luc Godard
Caméra: Jean-Bernard Menoud
Son: François Musy
1981. 35 mm, 26’
Réalisation: Yves Yersin
Caméra: Hurgues Ryffel
Son: François Veyrier
It all started on 22 April 1980, the date on which the local council approved a notice proposing the production of two films “to promote tourism and culture”. A choice considered to be somewhat risky by local councillors, given the personality of Jean-Luc Godard “of whom it may be asked whether he is not „breathless'”. And to recommend to the council “to make sure it gets a film in line with its requirements and, above all, one that can be used. To this end, it will do well to get hold of a detailed synopsis before giving the go-ahead.”
Clearly, the elected representatives wished to link this project with the commemoration of the unification of the upper and lower parts of the town in the Middle Ages (1481) and the opening of the new premises of the Swiss Cinematheque.
A poetic study
On 8 May 1980, a closed session agreed that the creative freedom of the producers be guaranteed but proposed that ADIL raise an “inventory of sites and places that it would like to see covered by the film makers” as a guide for the producer. On this occasion Godard presented a synopsis on the “Greatness and weakness of the city”, reaffirming that he did not wish to make a publicity film. He said he was interested in a non-sociological “poetic study” in a city where “he had left a part of himself”. “His idea was to describe the transition from water to sky” and he concluded that “The film maker has to take risks in the same way as the financial backer.”. Yves Yersin said he wanted his focus to be on inner life and poetry, that of a personal geography.
On 19 October 1981, the Swiss Cinematheque opened it doors in Montbenon with Georges Franju in attendance. Claude Autant-Lara, the guest of honour, announced the handover of his archives and the films of Godard and Yersin were presented by Buache as a symbol of revival. A German version was immediately produced and Freddy Buache had a 16-mm copy sent to the cinematheque in Canada to ensure the films reached a wide audience.
In 1981, the two films were shown in a preview programme for a film produced by Michel Soutter, L’amour des femmes. The short films were also shown twice that year on Télévision Suisse Romande.
An artistic gamble taken
On 8 December 1981, a motion submitted by 11 elected representatives attacked the productions, which were seen as not being in line with the stated aims. “These two films may be examples of technical virtuosity that cast a spell on cinematheque fans and bring the greatest possible enjoyment to Mr Freddy Buache, whom Mr Godard confuses with Lausanne. What is certain, however, is that these works cannot have any impact on the general public and, therefore, on the sort of people one would wish to see coming to Lausanne.”
In March 1982, defending its artistic gamble, the local council retorted: “The proposed mix could have been insipid; it was explosive.” During the intervening period, in January 1982, the two films had just been selected to be shown at the Cannes Film Festival in the “Un certain regard” category.
An enthusiastic response
“Everyone's talking about it and the word Lausanne appearing as a headline in Le Monde is no doubt worth just as much as several screenings of a nicely photographed film singing the praises of the cathedral and Le Tabaris put together.”
F. Buache. 10.12.1981
“While Inventaire lausannois, by Yves Yersin, is a classical yet mordant description of the city seen from the inside, in his imagination and its history, by a native, Lettre à Freddy Buache, by Jean-Luc Godard, a tribute to the city from an outsider, takes the breath away with its beauty and cadence. The filmmaker-cum-poet commends an area, a light, faces, mourns the death of the old cinema in tears and celebrates its resurrection like the legendary Phoenix, transfigured. Eleven minutes that count, the first great film of the 1980s, the artist with or without a safety net leading the dance, who films with super-8 and video, mounts on video, transfers the lot to 35 millimetres. And we don't notice a thing.”
Louis Marcorelles. Le Monde.
Yves Yersin, a fragmented discourse. “The narrative explosion in fact corresponds to a visual explosion, to give substance to a multitude of fixed ideas which follow an elevated rhythm.” Everything in alternating 16 mm, super-8 and even video images.
In contrast to such verbosity, Godard offers a reflection on cinema by cinema.
“Will it be possible to show these thirty minutes or so of footage in all four corners of the globe to serve the purposes of tourism? You could start to feel concerned for Yersin and Godard if the reply was yes…”
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