Mary is a young girl who works at her father’s petrol station. One day she is visited by a man known as Uncle Gabriel, and before you know it she is pregnant with what could possibly be the second coming of Jesus. Or perhaps. It’s never made quite that obvious, but it’s what it’s saying.
The version I watched was prefaced by a 27 minute short movie, called the Book of Mary and directed by Anne-Marie Mieville, where we get a glimpse at Mary’s off-kilter world view and watch the separation of her parents. It’s a prequel to the main story, which follows in Godard’s feature. This is where things get a little more controversial. Not only does the story cover a modern update of the Virgin Mary, but it also features quite a large amount of nudity.
Rest assured, the nudity isn’t sexual in any capacity, it seems instead to be an intimate glimpse at a young woman who is coming to terms with the changes that are going on in her body. She is pregnant yet she has not slept with anyone. A doctor’s investigation confirms this. But then, what do you expect when you meet the Archangel Gabriel who it turns out is a bit of a slovenly, taxi riding type?
Her relationship with Joseph comes under threat as they have been nothing but chaste, yet he suspects quite obviously that she has been unfaithful. This is one aspect of faith that is explored, aside from the obvious religious one. It is faith in those around you, specifically.
On the subject of taxis, that happens to be the modern Joseph’s job. It makes much more sense in a modern context than carpenter. Mary meanwhile is a basketball player for the local team. Again, this makes sense in a modern context. She is just an ordinary girl struck by extraordinary circumstances.
As for Godard’s approach to the story, it is told in a linear fashion, but with his typical nonsensical flourishes such as throwing odd background sounds into the mix, or having the background noise cut out completely for seconds at a time. These are often jarring transitions and don’t seem to serve any purpose than to be contrary for the sake of it. His visual sense, however, is incredible. There are some amazing images on offer
There’s a B story featuring Eve (played by Juliette Binoche) which parallels the story of Mary and Joseph, albeit with a different outcome and one in which a virgin birth isn’t a concern. I’d argue the same for Mary to be honest – at no point is she clearly pregnant.
I can understand why there may have been criticism from religious quarters at the time of release, if not for its message then for the portrayal of Mary and Joseph in an unflattering or sensationalist light. The truth is that the film is only good at two things. First, two anger and upset Christians, and second to bore almost everybody else. For this alone, ironically enough, it is worthy of a viewing, no matter which side of the religious debate you sit.