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Friday, September 2, 2011
Indicting World History And Assailing European Empire
A scene from Jean-Luc Godard's "Film Socialisme".
Kino Lorber Films
Omar P.L. Moore/PopcornReel.com
September 2, 2011
In "Film Socialisme" Jean-Luc Godard delights in breaking
film's rules, not his own. Strangely dated and discordant, Mr. Godard's
latest film is an entirely disengaging but not disarming experience.
Somehow I got with its program of disengagement-through-engagement.
"Film Socialisme" is a didactic partly about mocking the image, and mocking the
conventions and pretensions of film and filmmaking. To do this Mr. Godard
orchestrates pretentiousness, with exaggerated music that you'd expect in
thrillers or otherwise melodramatic moments. He throws perception askance
with free-associational imagery, grainy, oversaturated video, loud screechy
noises and idle but pointed comments about the injustices perpetrated by Europe
and in world history, doled out at no more than five (subtitled and spaced)
words at any time.
The French director is understandably angry about Europe and its exploits and
criminality towards Africa and many of the world's peoples and he wants his
audience to feel angry too. He decries the apathy and complicity of his
own nation and uses literature (from the French writer Balzac, the British
economist Malthus) to indict, comment on and decry economics, politics and other
nations. "Film Socialisme" is obviously very personal to its director, who
speaks of Barcelona, Greece, Napoli among others as possible forerunning
culprits in what he sees as human civilization's demise and lack of decency and
overall humanity. He weaves mythology then appears to attack or mock it.
Mr. Godard's characters deride Hollywood and "the Jews" who "invented" it.
For the filmmaker Hollywood is an empire that's just as destructive as some
fallen empires. (Is this why Mr. Godard declined to come to Hollywood to
accept the honorary Oscar awarded to him this year?) Mr. Godard seems to
view Hollywood as a lurid, sickly, romanticized paradise in which everything is
okay and love is alive, a mass distraction from the abhorrent realities staring
us in the face. What, however, is Hollywood -- apart from its money-making
-- if not the personification of escapism and entertainment?
In "Film Socialisme" characters sneer and sarcastically deliver lines about
observance and existence. Existentialism has been a continuous theme in
Mr. Godard's work. There's a banality and indifference about the
characters and philosophies of "Film Socialisme", and Mr. Godard's onscreen
vessels are at their most conscious in their mundane state of being.
Titles are subverted as is minimalism. Stock footage of wars, movies and
television flash by furiously. It's all a droning noise for the director
and a distraction, which is what "Film Socialisme" is. Yet it was oddly
addicting for me.
I was never made to feel comfortable with the film's rhythm or the collage it
tosses at us, and I believe that's what Mr. Godard intended, among other things.
Similarly, he isn't comfortable with the real world as it is constructed through
history, with its victors that he views as villains. He's none-too-cozy
with the European Union, either. He references Simone Veil, the French
politician and, if I remember correctly, Simone Weil, the French philosopher.
In a rambling tone Mr. Godard argues that laws are unfair, unjust and artificial
and implies that they are so since they came from corrupt, criminal and unworthy
conquerors. He wants justice to prevail, not confederations. The
film's crescendo is the director's most forceful ally and advocate but also his
biggest propagandist. Mr. Godard isn't a capitalist's friend, nor do
aspects of his film necessarily look to make friends with America. Still,
Mr. Godard advocates a utopia but all he gets -- make that all he conjures -- is
chaos. He may be pessimistic but it is a conundrum, a pessimism wrapped in
hope for the future, through its young actors.
Mr. Godard celebrates freedom's weaklings and indicts liberation's musclemen.
He wants truth, direct truth, not its comfortable, candied reality. He
champions Orwell. (Are the cameras in "Film Socialisme" a weapon of
fascism in ways that guns also are?)
Nadège Beausson-Diagne in Jean-Luc Godard's "Film Socialisme".
Kino Lorber Films
There's a heavy-handed sense of artifice and illusion to
"Film Socialisme", and Mr. Godard uses imagery completely dissonant with much of
the story he's telling (or the view he's selling.) The message is
the message, and the medium to the director, is trivial, which is why Mr. Godard
subverts and plays with it as much as he does in "Film Socialisme".
Cameras are constantly seen, filmmaking references and dimensions are tossed
around dismissively. The film's dispassionate tone is impassioned.
Mr. Godard has consistently kept things on edge in his illustrious body of work,
whether in "Pierrot Le Fou", "La Chinoise", "Alphaville", "Contempt" or others.
There's always a larger voice lurking around the corner, just waiting to
interrupt a narrative sense of normalcy.
Speaking of which, is there a narrative in "Film Socialisme"?
Absolutely. Mr. Godard's inquiry centers on a young woman on a cruise
ship, seen taking photos early on. She converses about history with an
older man and later embarks on a journey with several other characters who also
comment on history. The director hopes that these young people will
continue talking about history and its place in everything. By extension
Mr. Godard hopes young people in the film's audience will too.
Stylistically, the film's frequent edits suit the short-attention span
demographic to a tee. Characters, some cameo, others less ephemeral, grace
this unpredictable stage.
"Film Socialisme" is often bloated, droll, self-congratulatory and repetitive,
but interesting enough to stir thought and debate afterward about both Mr.
Godard and the ideas he presents. The film is more an effect and an
expression than a truly linear story.
The film constantly upends, disrupts itself to make a
point, even if the points made are occasionally incoherent. Disconnected
voices are heard outside the film's frame. Only two images in the entire
film are conventional close ups of a solo actor speaking, and just one of those
looks directly at us. There's faux-Norman Rockwell staging in several
scenes. Characters speak in fragments and disconnected verbs and nouns.
Speech is expressed as blips of thought rather than coherent sentences.
Mr. Godard avoids subtitles in many scenes. This will heighten the
frustrations of some English-speaking audiences. Maybe that's the
director's intent. Maybe that's Mr. Godard's indictment of such audiences,
a number of whom don't like to read subtitles to begin with. Perhaps Mr.
Godard pities them and wants to explode or offend their expectations and
sensibilities, or at least test their patience, for his film surely will.
Among other things, there's even a spliced slow-motion clip of the 2009
Champions League Final match between football superpowers Manchester United and
Barcelona, used to make a definitive metaphorical point about games, history,
empire and the fanaticism of a city the director suggests has blood on its
hands. The clip is an oddly powerful one, juxtaposed against Spain's Queen
Having said all of this, I don't think "Film Socialisme"
intentionally frustrates, but it is a curious, somewhat maddening experience.
If some thought
"The Tree Of Life" was pretentious and
overblown and walked out of the theater on it, I shudder to think how soon those
same people would exit Mr. Godard's latest. I managed to stay, and this
anarchistic film more than merits a look. The director hammers points home
and doesn't stop until your attention is gained.
Confession: I remember a very embarrassing day years ago when I actually thought
that Mr. Godard was dead. I almost verbalized my belief to someone.
I hid my ignorance by asking people how old Mr. Godard was. Thankfully he
wasn't gone. Some may think Mr. Godard is figuratively gone with "Film
Socialisme". The ending of the film didn't make me angry but snuck up on
me in a snide, naughty way. The ending of "Film Socialisme" will make some
angry, not necessarily for its content as much as for other reasons.
The film's final seven minutes play as an epilogue, an editorial for those who
don't leave the theater. It's by far the strongest part of a film which by
Mr. Godard's high standards probably isn't potent enough. On his most
mediocre days however, Mr. Godard's work is stronger and more persuasive than
most, and that's ultimately how I felt about "Film Socialisme" and its often
stream-of-conscious meditation on its liberal anti-imperialist politics. I
think the film is valuable enough to stand on its own as a sufficiently astute
work. "Film Socialisme" should be seen in a movie theater but it's the
kind of work that would be more at home in a museum as an exhibit or a wild,
bizarre but intriguing time capsule.
With: Nadège Beausson-Diagne, Jean-Marc Stehlé, Catherine Tanvier, Patti Smith.
not rated by the Motion Picture
Association Of America, though there are fleeting moments of violence and
disturbing images. In French, German, Spanish and English languages, with
English subtitles and French, Greek and Spanish titles. The
film's running time is one hour and 37 minutes.
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