Jean-Luc Godard’s newest film feels like an exercise — a bit strenuous and very familiar. Though it is interesting, if only for Godard’s attempt to navigate through the modern media and visual means of the internet era, it doesn’t so much impress. “Film Socialisme” feels like Godard is going through the paces and doesn’t have much more left to say.
The opening credits are standard Godard: plain word text lined up evenly in an inexpressive manner; lack of attributable credits; intermittent tone sound effects that signal a film in the making (or in a state of decay). Actually, the opening credit sequence is the best part of the film. Godard’s opening credit sequences are always great. Here one gets the sense of that Godardian magic, those familiar markers of authorial signification, the feeling that one is about to embark on a new journey with maybe the most iconoclastic filmmaker the world has ever seen. This excitement quickly gives way when one realizes this is a journey that has already been traveled numerous times.
Godard has done the non-narrative/essay thing before. He’s done the rapid, abrasive shifts in sound. He’s done the characters/real people waxing philosophical on the state of the world. He’s done the found footage montage. He’s done the intertitles. What to do for the filmmaker who has done everything? Oddly enough, Godard the artist may be in search (or need) of a subject. Maybe one that revitalizes his form. In a carer that has spanned over five decades and almost 100 films, Godard has lapped himself a few times too many.
“Film Socialisme” is more fragment film than essay film. Godard has abstracted his non-sequential scenes to an incredible degree here, so that one is left with truly disjointed, yet familiar, thoughts. The images also often remain the same. The gas station. The girl reading. The direct camera address. The monotonous, Brechtian delivery. One hates to speak of Godard in simplified cliches but there you have it — “Film Socialisme:” Godard’s highlight reel/victory lap.
When sitting for the screening I realized this is actually the only Godard film I had ever seen on first release in a theater, whether at a festival or a commercial cinema — and this after a lifetime of dedication to the man’s work, like many of my other fellow cinephiles. That made the film a bit more special and memorable than it otherwise would have been, like the feeling of finally watching Jordan play a game live in person before he retires — and just in time too. If this does in fact turn out to be the final film by Godard I’m certainly glad to be able to say I actually saw the great one, whether at the height of his glory or not.