FILM SOCIALISME D
France Switzerland (101 mi) 2010 d: Jean-Luc Godard
Certainly from my perspective, Godard’s films have become more and more a modernist experience unto themselves, flooding the screen with somewhat disconnected images, adding essayist observations or commentary, then streaming them all together into a fragmented, full-length feature, while slapping his name on the picture, somewhat like a painter on the corner of the canvas. Godard was immersed in the video concept long ago, perhaps for the ease and simplicity of obtaining images, matching society’s compulsion for developing their own images now, whether on cell phones or YouTube, often shooting pictures of themselves and then immediately placing them on the Internet. As he’s gotten older, it’s easier to leave the heavy equipment behind and travel as light as possible, patching together images on film as quickly as he can think of them in his mind. This rambling, stream-of-consciousness format serves him well, as he forms an impression, spends as much time as he’d like developing the idea, and moves on, continually moving to the next subject with the ease of turning pages. For the viewer it’s not so easy, as he lost narrative interest some time ago, creating what amounts to an emotionally detached, experimental light show of cinema which the audience can choose to embrace, or not. In some ways, you can write reviews of his films without even seeing the movie, as so much of it is a concept that plays out in one’s head, though purists would find that sacrilegious. Godard, I’m fairly certain, wouldn’t mind, as seeing it in your head or onscreen is much the same thing—that‘s cinema. What matters is getting it on film or being able to describe it.
Of interest, late in life, Godard’s films have become, at least for me, closer to the film experience of Portuguese director Manoel de Oliveira—nearly unwatchable. De Oliveira is more the traditionalist, still instructing actors on a movie set and developing stories, where they can talk endlessly about matters of which I have no interest whatsoever, while Godard works in a more free form exhibitionist style, presenting a steady stream of images, ideas and concepts that I have an equal amount of disinterest in, so it’s much the same experience. I’ve felt both stopped taking any interest in making movies a long time ago, probably each finding their lives a dreary and monotonous bore, and now both are simply going through the motions, as if it’s something they feel compelled to do as their life’s work. Why they are still working at ages 102 and 80 is beyond me, well past the age when most people retire, so while it may feel necessary or invigorating for the artist to keep working, for many in the audience it’s closer to an obsessive-compulsive disorder. What’s equally intriguing is the level of interest their films inspire, as they both have legions of supporters who call each completed movie a cinematic masterwork, defending their heroes with a kind of cultish honor, where they will go to battle and fight a war of words defending these artists, believing they are beyond legendary, artists whose unquestioned status was affirmed decades ago. It’s a bit like some of those late, great blues artists that seem to reach an entirely new level of greatness as they age, as these guys continue to travel the circuit and perform before live audiences well into their eighties or nineties, endearing them to an entirely new generation of adoring fans until they eventually die, already immortalized through their recordings.
I’m not a compulsive Godard junkie who lives and dies for his next film, missing large pockets of his works, but have viewed at least something every decade where I’ve easily seen over twenty from about 90 feature-length films, where the closest thing to a favorite is likely VIVRE SA VIE (1962), a near documentary exploration of prostitution and existentialism, as seen through several points of view, not the least of which is a real philosopher sitting in a Parisian café expounding on his thoughts (we witness a person develop into a conscious human being) while the director himself is so enamored with his female subject (his wife Anna Karina) before the camera that he’s effectively become an adoring client to her prostitute. Told in different stages marked by a musical theme, that brief Michel Legrand piano interlude remains one of my favorite passages in my entire life, which has the capacity to cleanse the soul like a perfect Bach theme. Hearing just a few seconds is enough to send me into a state of ecstatic reverie, much like the gorgeous piano music in Fassbinder (Peer Raben) or Kieslowski (Zbigniew Preisner) films. Not much else in Godard’s collected works have ever sent such an emotional jolt, certainly not recently, though NOTRE MUSIQUE (2004) was surprisingly inspiring, another film that asks philosophical questions throughout, providing extremely eloquent imagery with perfect accompanying music. Using fictional, archival, and documentary footage, the pace moves very quickly from some brilliantly abstract opening war-torn imagery to an examination of war-ravaged Sarajevo.
In FILM SOCIALISME, Godard’s first film shot entirely with high-definition digital cameras, but also the occasional cell phone, Godard freely appropriates books, quotes, excerpts, and footage from others, still calling it a Godard film, where his intent may be about “undermining the idea of property.” Whether using clips from Eisenstein’s POTEMKIN (1925) or borrowing a trapeze act from Agnès Varda’s THE BEACHES OF AGNÈS (2008), or several collaborators who helped provide original footage for this film, FILM SOCIALISME continues the trend in many recent Godard works of simply assembling footage without any apparent purpose, where it could just as easily be a collection of outtakes. In this film, he doesn’t even bother with a translated subtitling, using a “Navajo English,” where never more than about 3 words on the screen are translated. One might make the point that this is exactly what news reports do, single out highlighted words as he does here, like Jerusalem, or Jews, or currency, which may as well be headlines, yet they form the basis of the narrative text of most TV news reports. Godard may be telegraphing his view that more than 98 % of the actual news from news reports is left out, leaving, at least using his film as an example, something that is considered incomprehensible. While this may be his point, I’m not sure anyone needs to sit through 100 minutes of untranslated conversations, where the audience basically learns to ignore the few words on the screen, ignore all conversations entirely, and focus instead just on the images. While Godard does oversaturate colors from time to time, or find gorgeous, painterly collages of mixed media, his use is all too rare in this film, where we are instead inundated with incessant conversations going nowhere. I was stunned to discover an uncredited Olga Kurylenko or Patti Smith randomly walking around a European cruise ship, which otherwise seemed to thrive in overpopulation, collected hoards of disinterested people, and conversations that may include 4 or 5 different languages. But for the most part, the film experience is endlessly boring. I see no reason why audiences couldn’t get just as much satisfaction by watching the trailer, or a 5 or 10 minute version of this film. In fact, if I’ve learned anything from watching Godard’s films of late, it’s that I don’t want to grow old and miserable, and I have no wish to ever travel on a European cruise ship.