Every decade or so, Jean-Luc Godard makes a movie (”Hail Mary,” ”Every Man for Himself”) that is slightly less incomprehensible than the ones that preceded it, and the result is inevitably hailed as a return to form. In Praise of Love marks the first time that Godard has shot a film in Paris since 1966’s ”Masculin-Féminin,” and the black-and-white street images have a crumbly romantic glow; the landscape can work for audiences as a new-wave nostalgia exhibit. Over this visual scrapbook, Godard gets his actors to mouth a flowing series of misanthropic aphorisms (”It’s not whether man will endure, but whether he has the right to”), and then, after switching to psychedelically charged video, he starts to bash the United States, taking particular relish in making Steven Spielberg his whipping boy.
The anti-American didacticism can’t be separated from the filmmaker’s creeping rejection of life itself. The people in Godard’s universe have become little more than puppets reciting Quotations From Chairman Jean-Luc. They keep repeating the sentiment that ”the State” is incapable of love — as if this were news, and as if it said something about civilization’s fall from grace. (Has a state ever been capable of love?) Godard, as always, sounds full of insight, yet he uses the past to damn the present in a way that may be reflexively self-serving. ”In Praise of Love” leaves a taste as bitter as poison ash.