Pages 467-473 of Antoine de Baecque's GODARD BIOGRAPHIE on the making of Godard and Gorin's Jusqu'à la victoire.
In February 1969, Yasser Arafat is elected president of the PLO – the Palestinian Liberation Organization, created in 1964 – and his party, the Fatah, becomes the majority leader of it. In this frame, the first films of the Palestinian cinema appear since a film unit is founded by the Fatah in Amman, Jordan under the aegis of three pioneers, Hany Jawhariyya, Sulafa Jadallah and Mustapha Abu Ali, who made, for example, The Burnt Land in 1968 and No to the Defeatist Solution in 1969, the first militant films against the Israeli attacks and the Rogers Plan. It is also by the intermediary of the Fatah, at least due to its financial, logistical, and ideological support, that a Western “anti-Zionist cinema” is born with films such as Jean-Pierre Olivier de Sardan’s Palestine vaincra, the current events series Palestine made by French reporter Paul-Louis Soulier, and the medium-length film Biladi in 1969 and 1970, an inspired and lyrical but equally poetic and sometimes disenchanted piece of reporting about the Palestinian people directed by Francis Reusser (a young Swiss filmmaker of the extreme left).
It is in this political and cinematic context that Godard and Gorin’s project, entitled Until Victory, is born. Contacted by the Arab League, via Hany Jawhariyya (the “official” filmmaker of the Fatah), Godard received a commission in 1969, for about 6,000 dollars, and an invitation in good and due form to be able to shoot in the Palestinian camps in Jordan, the West Bank, and Lebanon, under the protection of the Fatah, who also put guides and interpreters at his disposal. Godard obtained supplemental financing from Jacques Perrin (the actor-producer gave 20,000 francs), German and Dutch TV stations (8,000 and 5,000 dollars respectively), and the usual Claude Nedjar (8,000), or a total of about 70,000 francs.
Before leaving, Godard, Gorin and Marco drew up the “outline of a Palestinian film commissioned by El Fatah” that summed up in several slogans their still imprecise intentions: “What happened to the American Indians can not happen to the Palestinians. The armed struggle is not a military adventure; it is the struggle of the people. Palestinian face and Arab heart. War of national liberation = social struggle. First create unity (El Fatah).” This preparatory document ends with several verses from Mahmoud Darwish’s poem Identity Card, a veritable Palestinian hymn published in the collection Leaves of Olives in 1964:
I am an Arab
You have stolen the orchards of my ancestors
And the land which I cultivated
Along with my children
And you left nothing for us
Except for these rocks.
So will the State take them
As it has been said!?
Record on the top of the first page:
I do not hate people
Nor do I encroach
But if I become hungry
The usurper's flesh will be my food
Of my hunger
And my anger!”
Next, Godard and Gorin worked non-stop to put together a precise storyboard about what they wished to film in Palestine. This takes the shape of a big spiral-bound notebook where most of the shots of the future film are drawn, often sequences of an allegorical kind or short cautionary sketches, accompanied by slogans, words and emblematic phrases, including notes about movements, colors, and references to certain texts. The explicit goal of the film as prepared in Paris consisted in “understanding the thought and working methods of the Palestinian revolution”: “As Frenchmen, we have conceived the film as a film on the Arabs that was never made during the Algerian War.” Godard seemed to want to make up for the time lost ten years before when he made Le Petit soldat instead of a film supporting the NLF.
The three Vertovians left for Jordan for the first time at the end of November 1969, and made a total of six trips to the Middle East until the following August, regularly punctuated by return trips to Paris or trips to other parts of the world – especially for Godard who was often called back to France, for example, to attempt to deal with the crisis that effected his relationship with Anne Wiazemsky. Elias Sanbar, a young intellectual and militant French-speaking Palestinian called from Paris by the Fatah to serve as a guide and interpreter recounted his visits and the shoot in a beautiful article published in Trafic. The future editor-in-chief of the Revue d’études palestiniennes returned to Amman, the capital of Jordan, in the beginning of March 1970 at the request of Mahmoud Hamchari (the Palestinian leader in Paris), and met the “three Frenchmen,” including Godard who, during the first meeting at the Continental Hotel, arrived walking on his hands to the amazement of the young Palestinian militants. Setting off on a location scout towards the Jordan Rift Valley in a Land Rover, Sanbar quickly perceived the degree of the film’s preparation in the two French filmmakers’ heads and notebook. The film was already partially done “on paper”: “Throughout the trip,” writes Sanbar, “Godard did not cease to look at his notes, to add comments to them, to eliminate passages with the help of three different colored markers. This manner of preparing the shoot was maintained for the length of time that work on the film lasted. Godard wrote a lot, with a certain jubilation that seemed to abandon him during the shooting to be replaced by a certain detachment. The scenes were thought out in the smallest details before being filmed. At the beginning, I had the feeling – with everything being discussed, systematized, written and planned – that the film was a kind of pre-established succession of empty cases that we had the task of methodically refilling. […] So well that when something was happened and we were saying to him, ‘Come film this,’ he would respond: ‘I don’t need it for the film…’”
Thus, it was sometimes more a matter of confirming an established plan on location than going to discover a country and a people. According to the Dziga Vertov group, revolutionary cinema is done at this cost: structure and manufacturing precede the recording of reality. Marco attests to this: “We went there to confirm a plan, not to discover a situation that we didn’t know.” This obviously lead to some misunderstandings, like the time when, in a Fedayeen training camp in southern Jordan, Godard and Gorin asked Palestinian fighters to recite an extract from Mao’s Little Red Book that they didn’t know anything about, which they did while laughing wildly behind their keffiyehs. Another time, returning from a mission, Godard waited for the fedayeens to propose to them a “critique and self-critique” meeting, which the Palestinians did not understand, setting themselves to talking in Arab in the background while in the foreground an interpreter continued in English with conventional Fatah slogans. If they had a revolutionary manner – at this Godard started regularly wearing military fatigues, as reported by a journalist from L’Express who went to meet them in Amman in 1970 –, the two French filmmakers were sometimes a bit lost in an unknown territory.
Neither Godard, Gorin, or Marco spoke or understood Arabic, and on both sides the incomprehension mounted. Gorin recounted this often delicate dialogue: “It was a long difficult gestation. We had drawings, outlines in black and red, plans, interruptions. We showed them to the Palestinians who didn’t understand. We didn’t understand any of the language. The translators translated as they wished, generally by slogans they knew by heart. This sometimes became comical, everything that was said to us was summed up as “We will fight until victory,” so often that we ended up laughing. In a pathetic way it confirmed our title. For us, it rather quickly became a silent film, or rather a musical.” But Elias Sanbar describes just as much the opposite phenomenon, when the environment made the filmmakers rethink their judgement and to “remake the film” in another way. Godard returned to his ultra-quick “thief” and “disrupter” of reality reflexes, which greatly impressed his Palestinian companion. “Often, from the moment of return from meetings or filming, and the immediate viewing of the images that we had just “brought back” thanks to heavy video equipment, a confrontation began between the pre-existing text and the images that had just been shot. It ended up most of the time with re-writing and a new request to shoot the same scene, to the great astonishment of the Palestinian representatives. Over the course of days and weeks, Godard appeared to me more and more of a terrific destabilizing force. […] There is something very playful about working with him, but mixed with a form of permanent irritation, because hardly had things been constructed with his meticulous care that he pressed himself to deconstruct them with care to disrupt the gaze that you can bring to the reality that surrounds you.”
The shoot, which actually began in March 1970, to continue with breaks until August, was one of Godard’s longest, and he returned to Paris with more than 40 hours of rushes. Certain things had been impossible to shoot which the Frenchmen had not foreseen. “When the women were teaching themselves to read and write in the Palestinian camps,” remembers Gorin, “the presence of men bothered them, so they refused to be filmed and we didn’t understand why.” Likewise, Jean-Pierre Gorin being Jewish, some other doors were closed to them, notably in the Fatah training camps. Other events fortunately jostled the foreseen plan, notably the meetings with the combatants, animated and joyful in the middle of the dangers of the desert, like in Ghawr al-Safi, in southern Jordan, coming back from which Godard confided to Sanbar, “You know, every people, every revolution possesses a particular characteristic, like an element of its own identity. For the Vietnamese, it was hard labor; for the Cubans, it was dance, and for you, it’s certainly laughter.”
Godard also wanted to meet and film the Palestinian leader. He secured a meeting. The filmmaker posed two questions to Yasser Arafat, the first about the concentration camps. “I asked him if the origins of the Palestinians’ difficulties had something to do with the concentration camps. He said to me, ‘No, that’s their story, the Germans and the Jews.’ And I said, ‘Not exactly, you know that in the camps, when a Jewish prisoner was very weak, close to death, they called him Muslim.’ And he responded, ‘So?’ I said, ‘You know, they could have called them black or an entirely different name, but no, they said Muslim, and that shows that there is a relationship, a direct relationship between the Palestinians’ difficulties and the concentration camps.” The second question was very short, “what is the future of the Palestinian revolution?” And Arafat’s response was even shorter, “I have to think about it, come back tomorrow.” Godard finished the story, “He never came back. At least he was honest.” In mid-July 1970, Armand Marco had to return to France after having badly sprained his knee. The shoot neared its end, Gorin returned to Paris, leaving Godard and Sanbar alone in Amman.
At the beginning of the month of August 1970, Kamal Adwan, Fatah’s information manager, asked Godard to go film Palestinian dancers. As Elias Sanbar recounts, “Kamal greeted us and, a very unusual thing for Palestinians, went directly into the subject, ‘Tell your friend that a Palestinian folklore troupe just arrived in Cairo and that I want you to leave tomorrow to film the show.’ I transmitted the request, smoothing out the angles with paraphrased bits, I didn’t wanted Godard to be hurt. Godard immediately told me and with a stubborn tone, ‘Tell him that his dance story is entirely stupid. I won’t go to Cairo.’ [...] Kamal looked Godard straight in the eye and said, ‘And I think you have to go film this troupe,’ to which Godard responded again, ‘I won’t go to Cairo...’ I was allowed two or three repetitions of this exchange before Kamal got up and said, ‘Go to your hotel and wait for instructions.’...” Consigned and forgotten in their rooms at the Amman Continental, Godard and Sanbar waited a good week before discretely leaving for Tyre in south Lebanon, where the filmmaker left a part of his video equipment with the local Fatah director, a movie fan and amateur filmmaker. Then they stayed at the translator’s mother’s house in a village in the Lebanese mountains, before going to Beirut where they met with militant Palestinians from the information section. Godard returned to Paris on August 21, 1970, not without leaving Elias Sanbar, who had become a close friend, the ten volumes of Brecht’s complete poetry.
Gorin and Godard, upon their return to Paris, put in a notebook the list of “filmed images,” notably: “Fedayeen march. Darwish’s poem ‘I Resist’ in the ruins of Karameh. Militia construction. Meeting in the south. Militia in the cave. Two women at typewriters. Militia with machine guns. Preparations, leaving, operation. Dispensary. Ashbal-Zaharat training. Abou Hassan conference. Peasant militia text. Doctor text. Women reading Abou Hassan text. Democratic Front school. “Grassroots organisation” discussion and self-critique. Two AK-47s firing. Safi song. Militia training, with flag. Crowd of children. Fedayeen camouflage. Directors: Abou Latov, Abou Ayad, Abou Daoud, Abou Hassan.” Or, an enormous amount of rushes to view and texts to decipher and translate. The work appeared like it will be long, but Godard and Gorin were happy about one thing: Armand Marco’s cinematography was beautiful and rarely had the filmmaker found himself with material so dense and of such a large quantity, in spite of the numerous misunderstandings of an overly prepared shoot in an unknown land. It is no doubt that it is the quantity, quality and cryptic character of this film material that explains in part the difficulty of transforming it into a film.
Jean-Luc Godard and Jean-Pierre Gorin – barricaded in their editing studio on Avenue du Maine, completely closed off because they were afraid, at this moment of high tensions in the Middle East, of being victims of agents from Mossad, militants from Betar, or Jordanian secret service agents – will not manage to finish Until Victory. Several reasons may explain the abandonment of the project. First, the ambiguity between two irreconcilable positions - felt on location while shooting - had not been resolved. Was it a propaganda film for the Fatah or a political essay, and thus a critique, on the methods of the Palestinian resistance? The Dziga Vertov group refused to create a militant film as they had been commissioned. This paradox was not new and re-surged with Until Victory as Jean-Henri Roger said, “It wasn’t a question of produce or not producing propaganda images. Now, when you find yourself in front of political apparatuses that is the only kind of request. The PLO wanted Jean-Luc Godard, the great, world renowned filmmaker, to make a ‘progressive and democratic’ film that told the world that the Palestinians were suffering and that the PLO was right.”
Moreover, several weeks after Gorin’s and then Godard’s departure from Jordan, a fair number of fighters, militants, and Palestinian leaders who were in the film were killed during the Black September massacres, when King Hussein decided to liquidate the Palestinian resistance and send its remains to the refugee camps in Amman. 25,000 were counted dead. Gorin said he felt the tension mounting, “the arming of the Jordanians by the Americans,” and the rivalry sharpen between the Jordanian power and its two opponents which were the Fatah and the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine. Following these massacres, the Palestinian situation changed completely. Decapitated and decimated, the liberation movement no longer thought of “victory,” but thought instead about rearming and regrouping. This explosion of internal violence in the Arab camp began to frustrate the Until Victory project, as if the armed struggle, that occupied the film, had been displaced to the very heart of the Palestinian camp. Godard and Gorin were profoundly shaken by Black September. Additionally, the idea of showing the rough cut of the film to the Palestinian militants, dear to the filmmakers, that they had filmed became impossible, since the majority of them had died and going back to the location was problematic. Until victory thus lost its first audience. Godard and Gorin, orphaned, conceived of three or four different versions of the film, but none satisfied them. The later recognized this in an interview with American critics, “There’s still the Palestinian film, that changed a lot. It’s in its third or fourth version and now it is going to have to be done in another way. We can no longer make a film about Palestine because the situation there has changed so radically that, as a result, it will be a film about how to film history.” Until Victory was overtaken by the dramatic story of the people of whom it wanted to offer a revolutionary portrait.