Passion (1982 film)

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Directed by Jean-Luc Godard
Produced by Armand Barbault
Catherine Lapoujade
Martine Marignac
Written by Jean-Luc Godard
Jean-Claude Carrière (uncredited)
Starring Isabelle Huppert
Jerzy Radziwilowicz
Hanna Schygulla
Michel Piccoli
László Szabó
Cinematography Raoul Coutard
Edited by Jean-Luc Godard
Distributed by Parafrance Films
Release date
26 May 1982
Running time
88 minutes
Country Switzerland / France
Language French

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. Like most of Godard's work from this period, Passion is shot in color with a 1.37 aspect ratio. Cinematographer Raoul Coutard, collaborating with Godard for the first time since 1967, won the Technical Grand Prize for cinematography at the 1982 Cannes Film Festival.[1] The film had 207,294 admissions in France.[2]


Jerzy is a Polish filmmaker working at a big studio in Switzerland shooting a series of tableaux vivants for a feature film. His producer Lászlo is impatient because there is no apparent story to this film and Jerzy keeps canceling the shoot, repeatedly citing difficulties with the lighting. In the process of making his film, Jerzy has gotten involved with two local women: Isabelle, an earnest young factory worker with a stutter, and Hanna, the worldly German owner of the hotel where the crew is staying. Hanna is married to Michel, an arrogant man with a chronic cough who owns the factory where Isabelle works.

Isabelle is fired from her job and attempts to organize her fellow workers to strike – not for her sake, but for their own. The film crew is meanwhile recruiting factory workers as extras for the series of tableaux that Jerzy is shooting. Jerzy continues to search for the right lighting in the studio and to try to manage an increasingly unruly group of extras. At the same time he is trying to continue his relationship with Hanna, with whom he has shot some test footage that the two review together while discussing the intersection of love and work. Jerzy is also taken with Isabelle, who also wants to merge love and work. She tries to get Jerzy involved with her cause and to make meaningful connections with the film crew, asking them why films never show people working.

Finally, Isabelle and Jerzy have an intimate encounter and Isabelle gives up her virginity. She accepts a payoff from Michel, her fellow workers having abandoned their half-hearted attempt at a strike. Lászlo secures more money for the film but Jerzy feels the tug of the Solidarity events and his family back in Poland. Resolving to finish his project by other means, Jerzy leaves for Poland with neither Isabelle nor Hanna but with a waitress from the hotel. Isabelle and Hanna connect with each other and also decide to go to Poland.



Shooting began in November 1981 close to the Lake Geneva for the location scenes and in 1982 in the Billancourt filmstudios in Paris for the scenes shot in the studio. Godard had met Hanna Schygulla in Hollywood when she was shooting One from the Heart with Francis Ford Coppola. Godard asked Schygulla at once if she wanted to participate in his new film but she first wanted to see a synopsis. Soon after Godard sent her a three-page summary in English titled Passion: Work and Love. The film marks Godard's reunion with cinematographer Raoul Coutard; the last time they had worked together was on Week-end (1967), which is usually considered the end of the French New Wave.


Love and Work[edit]

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 separated 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[edit]

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.

Tableaux Vivants[edit]

The practice of staging a painting in real life with actors belongs to the tradition of the tableau vivant. In Passion, the tableaux vivants are intercut with and inform the film's narrative. For example, the unrest of the workers and the relationships between Jerzy, Hanna and Isabelle are reflected in the paintings of Goya or Ingres/Delacroix. The tableaux also reflect the film's themes, as in the case of Night Watch, with its opposition of light/dark. Each tableaux vivant has a particular piece of classical music that accompanies it.

Rembrandt (The Night Watch)[edit]

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.


Third of May 1808

The Goya sequence consists of four tableaux vivants in process. They are The Parasol, 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. At first only the woman in the painting The Parasol can be seen. She is walking towards the men with the guns in Third of May 1808. All of the first three tableaux are connected with one tracking shot and for that reason they can be also seen as the three main levels of a painting: foreground, background and middle ground.[3] Here the foreground is the Third of May 1808, the middle ground is The Love Letter, and the background is La Maja Desnuda. These three levels can be read in a symbolic way. The Third of May 1808 could be a symbol for violence, conflict, and suppression and the background with La Maja Desnuda a symbol for sexual desire.

La Maja Desnuda

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 apartment. These scenes serve necessarily as a counterpart to the scenes in the film studio, 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 studio.


The Valpinçon Bather

In the Ingres Sequence, The Valpinçon Bather and presumably The Turkish Bath are represented loosely as they are interrupted by shots in the hotel and in the factory. The topic of the paintings of the tableaux 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.[4] 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 Lászlo are having a conversation in the dark filmstudio. Lászlo asks Jerzy what “the right light” means for him and Jerzy tries to make him understand by darkening the studio. Lászlo 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 wrestling with the angel by Eugène Delacroix are recreated in this sequence. As in the Goya sequence, these tableaux are not fixed. The horse-riding crusaders are mobile, as is the camera. Jerzy himself becomes part of a tableau vivant when he starts wrestling with an extra dressed as the angel from Jacob wrestling with the angel.

El Greco[edit]

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.[5] The music, Fauré’s Requiem, 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 Requiem. 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 extras.


Embarkation to Cythera

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 infatuated, 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.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Festival de Cannes: Passion". Retrieved 2009-06-12. 
  2. ^
  3. ^ Paech (1989): p.17, ff.
  4. ^ Paech(1989): p.19.
  5. ^ Paech (1994): p.25.


  • Barck, Joanna. Hin zum Film – Zurück zu den Bildern. Bielefeld: Transcript Verlag, 2008.
  • Dalle Vacche, Angela. Cinema and Painting- How Art is used in Film. London: Athlone Verlag, 1996.
  • Heeling, Jennifer. Malerei und Film – Intermedialität. Saarbrücken: VDM Verlag, 2009.
  • Paech, Joachim. Film, Fernsehen, Video und die Künste. Strategien der Intermedialität. Stuttgart: Verlag J.B. Metzler, 1994.
  • Paech, Joachim, Passion oder die Einbildungen des Jean-Luc Godard. Frankfurt am Main: Deutsches Filmmuseum, 1989.
  • Schönenbach, Richard. Bildende Kunst im Spielfilm. München: Scaneg Verlag, 2000.

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