Jean-Luc Godard b. 1930
Opération béton (Operation Concrete) (1954)
Duration: 16'34"

Operation Beton is the very first film by Jean-Luc Godard, former ethnology student at the Sorbonne. Having immersed himself in film at the Cinematheque – where he encountered Truffaut, Rivette, Rohmer, Chabrol (and Bazin), with whom he would later form the core of the French New Wave – the member of the staff of the recently emerged Paris-based magazine of film criticism, Cahiers du Cinéma, set out on a journey to South America, where he shot his very first footage.

After returning to Switzerland, Godard went to work as a manual worker at a dam building site, using the money he earned to buy a camera, and making a short documentary about the building of the dam. An endurance test of material. Under the intensifying pressure, the block of concrete for building the dam at Val des Dix crumbles and breaks. The scientific experience of material takes place not only in physical space, it also in a psychic domain, a train of thought, for breaking up the matter means beginning to look for the ultimate cause.

Operation Beton is the start of Godard´s monologue – even though before making this film, his texts addressed issues of cinema – that has gone down in cinema history as the journey towards the essence in the relation of cinema and existence. In his essays, and in the lacuna between observation and analysis, they testify, and he would over the years make variations on the foundations he had already outlined here (working cinema) and on the outlook, where a cinematic situation becomes one´s fate, an escape from the critical relation of a person to the world, to an even more fatal and complex relation of a person to film. Seemingly this debut film is nothing more than an objective illustration of the labor of builders working high in the mountains, since one can grasp its meaning only in retrospective, when the film one has seen itself becomes the screen for a condensed and fast-forward projection of all that Godard stands for. —