After checking out a couple of Godard's eighties work (First Name: Carmen, which is a very good movie, and King Lear, which is one of the most fascinating, car-wreck adaptations of Shakespeare to come out of European cinema), I knew I had to check out Hail Mary, as by historical account got the kind of treatment that was almost bestowed on Last Temptation of Christ and Dogma. The religious right in America and abroad thought of the film as blasphemous (many said this before seeing this) and crude. I wouldn't compare Hail Mary to Last Temptation in controversy, since neither one really has anything to be controversial about. Whatever a viewer might take the film as, good or bad, it doesn't degrade or spit on the Christian religion and its eternally 'sacred' story of the Virgin Mary, Joseph, and the baby Jesus. It is Godard, after all, and outside of Weekend (a straight-up satire of the 60's radicalism and revolutionary air in France at the time), he hasn't tried to deliberately get people ticked off by his work. By my account, though, Hail Mary isn't a great movie, a good movie, or a particularly engrossing account of the tale, despite the hype.
The story is fiddled through the Godardian consciousness as such: a teenage basketball player named Mary (Myriem Roussel), with a boyfriend who drives a Taxi named Joseph (Thierry Rode), is visited by a foul and entirely no non-sense uncle Gabriel (Philippe Lacoste, one of only two acting appearances ever) and told she will conceive God's child despite never having had sex with no one, including Joseph. This sparks a rage in Joseph, and disillusionment in Mary, who can't figure out what to do with the situation. The rest of the film unfolds in a style that reminded me of what Godard did later on with Nouvelle Vague, where-in whenever images are presented that suggest that Godard (in another life outside of being a new-wave pioneer) been more fit in his later days to be directing nature documentaries as opposed to feature-length films. There aren't many emotions outside of coldness between the supposed lovers Mary and Joseph, and scenes of a compulsively naked Roussel that inspire only one really memorable shot (I won't reveal it, but I found it freaky in how real it might have or might have not been).
There were problems I had with Hail Mary, as I have stated, and when the film was over the recent religious film gaining hoopla came to mind- Gibson's Passion of the Jesus. The two problems I had with both films were these- the first, for non-Christians or non believers in HIM, there is not real entry portal to really get into the sympathy of the character of Mary. She feels pain, resentment, love, all of these things for God, and the way the film presents it if you don't have or have not had before a kind of feeling or attitude towards God and Christianity (the entailing symbolism Godard uses included) the dramatizes of it all won't fit. The second, for a film, even what is supposedly a film in high regards to the great artists of the celluloid, dealing with as strong a subject as immaculate conception (with POTC it was the gradual torture and death of Jesus, besides the point), this is a highly boring and dis-jointed result. For all the images of nudity and skies and oceans and roads, there isn't really much that it amounts to.
This isn't helped by the performances either- Roussel, Rode, Lacoste, and even young Juliette Binoche either didn't get the right directions (or the on-the-fly style of Godard didn't work with them), or they just pushed the realism envelope to its limit and too beyond. Roussel's a lovely young girl and a fair actress, but when the audience gets to see a supporting character (Anderson's character) show more emotion in her face, her eyes, there's trouble. Rode also creates little by over-acting, or not being there at all emotionally. Perhaps another minor beef I had with Godard's treatment of the subject matter was this- by taking the 'His creation' story (which it is at base level, believe in it or not), really as much of a leap of faith as is the details of Jesus' crucifixion, in such a dead-pan, no humor, morose attitude, Godard tries for a kind of neo-realism that backfires. Why not make the film a straight out satire, or have fun with the story elements like with Gabriel's character (I was hoping his would be the one cool element of the film, but it's hard to keep of track of him)? The short film that precedes the film by occasional collaborator Anne-Marie Mieville, at least has a light-hearted feeling to it, and let's art combining well with empathetic characters (Smith's Dogma serves as another example, however more in the mainstream than here).
By the time Godard rumbles and plods through his images and music, a soundtrack that manages some of the few interesting parts of the film (Bach, Dvorak, and Coltrane are some artists among others that sometimes get annoyingly sampled over and over to no effect), and gets to Mary's end moment, the catharsis is empty and frustrating. Here his logic is generally, if not altogether, a one-note concept stretched out with practically one-note emotions strung out from the watchable yet poor actors, and there's one or two sub-plots in the film that boggles the mind. Maybe if I watched the film without sound it'd be of some interest on a mis-en-scene level, though even that wears thin. It's surely my least favorite film of the director's so far, and at best I can say that, like 'The Passion', you won't get it (or Roussel's private parts if you're that type of person) out of your head.