JS Bach, Jean-Luc Godard, and the Reimagining of the Immaculate Conception in Hail Mary (1985) – Journal of the Riemenschneider Bach Institute – article

JS Bach, Jean-Luc Godard, and the Reimagining of the Immaculate Conception in Hail Mary (1985)

Michael Baumgartner | Journal of the Riemenschneider Bach Institute


In his 1985 film Je vous salue, Marie (Hail Mary), Jean-Luc Godard integrated preexisting music by J. S. Bach. The choice is a surprise, as Godard hardly ever used the music of the German baroque master in his sixty-year film career. Since this use of Bach marks a singular instance in Godard’s oeuvre, the objective of this essay is to explore the process of Godard’s cinematic reappropriation of Bach’s music and how the music infuses the filmic narrative with a Lutheran message. Je vous salue, Marie is an intimate, modern-day adaptation of the story of Mary, from the Annunciation to Christ’s birth. Mary is a basketball-playing high school student and Joseph a taxi driver in contemporary Geneva. In Je vous salue, Marie, Godard examines the inexplicable idea of conception without corporeal contact in a contemporary world that has lost its unchallenged acceptance of incomprehensible occurrences. The mystical and intangible aura of the film is evoked through numerous short musical fragments, excerpted from the best-known highlights of Bach’s oeuvre. Godard exploits the nineteenth- and twentieth-century notion of Bach as both the quintessential composer of sacred music and the unrivaled master of the most sublime of all late baroque music. The use of Bach’s music allows us to interpret, on the one hand, Mary in a Catholic theological understanding as an enigmatic, mysterious, and transcendental figure and, on the other hand, Christ through Luther’s concept of the theologia crucis. Godard integrates Bach’s music into Je vous salue, Marie in a thoughtful and profound manner. He seeks to reinterpret Mary’s immaculate conception, her biblical role, and her relationship to her son within a critical contemplation of the historical, religious, and social foundations of Western society.


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