Cannes 2010. Jean-Luc Godard's "Film Socialism"

David Hudson

Cannes 2010

Craig Keller has been doing outstanding work in the run-up to the passionately anticipated new film from Jean-Luc Godard, Film Socialism — translating interviews and press materials and keeping the English-speaking world up-to-date at his blog, Cinemasparagus, translating Arthur Mas and Martial Pisani's close reading of the trailers for Independencia, and tweeting some of his other finds. As I read the conversation between Godard and Daniel Cohn-Bendit today, this, from JLG, leapt forward: "Bachelard says there are two kinds of images: the explicit image, and the implicit image. I try to make an implicit image. It can't be made consciously."

With that in mind, when the New York Times' Manohla Dargis writes — in an ArtsBeat blog entry — that her "thoughts on the movie – which looks like it was shot in both low-grade video and high-definition digital – are tentative and, for now, brief," you can't help but suspect that this is the only sane approach. She does get to work on it, mapping out three sections and offering first impressions of each, but on the whole, she's not rushing to judgement: "Clearly, it will take many more viewings of Film Socialism, an improvement in my French and many more fully translated subtitles before I can begin to get a tentative grasp on it. Such are the complicated pleasures of Mr Godard's work: however private, even hermetic his film language can be, these are works that by virtue of that language's density, as well as by their visual beauty and intellectual riddles, invite you in (or turn you off)."

Ben Kenigsberg in Time Out Chicago: "Film Socialisme is stunning to look at — memorable images include a man lecturing to what appears to be an empty auditorium and a boy in a Soviet shirt conducting a phantom orchestra — but it should be said the movie feels more tossed off than Godard's last two features, In Praise of Love (2001) and Notre Musique (2004), in which it was easier to discern a sense of organization. Like the epic Histoire(s) du Cinéma, Film Socialisme feels like Godard's personal journal, which would make it both ideal and a tad disappointing if it turns out to be a swan song."

Godard "decided to run its subtitles in 'Navajo English' as in old Westerns where the Native Americans spoke in choppy phrases," reported Arifa Akbar in the Independent a few days ago. "Because the drama takes place on a cruise ship where no one speaks the same language, Godard has fashioned his subtitles concisely to say the least. If a character is saying 'give me your watch,' the subtitle will read 'You, me, watch.'"

Godard's topped even that by not showing up at the festival today, as Claire Rosemberg reports for the AFP, claiming he was unable to attend "following problems of a Greek type," and adding, "I will go until death with the festival but I will not take a step more."

Eugenio Renzi has posted his initial thoughts on the film at Independencia — in French.

The grades are high at Letras de Cine, which, of course, is hardly a surprise.

Joan Dupont profiles Godard for the NYT.


Updates, 5/18: "Rage over historical atrocity and America's effect on Europe have corroded Godard's formal focus," blogs the Boston Globe's Wesley Morris. "At this stage in his career, he expects that we expect him to puzzle us, we expect difficulty. He has traveled so far down the experimental rabbit hole that it's unclear whether the final hour, which is set near a filling station then ends a handful of montages, signals laziness or poetic injustice."

Lee Marshall in Screen: "Perhaps Jean-Luc Godard's least narrative production, this occasionally amusing, rarely thought-provoking and ultimately wearing reflection on civilization, language, democracy and llamas seems stuck in a 1960s timewarp, unable to renew the language of a filmmaker who has lost his urgency when compared to many of today's video artists."

"I have not the slightest doubt it will all be explained by some of his defenders, or should I say disciples," blogs Roger Ebert. "Although a commenter on my blog recently made sarcastic remarks about such a shameless liberal as me basking on the Riviera and drinking in Godard's socialism, there is nothing in the film to offend the most rabid Tea Party communicant, who would be hard-pressed to say what, if anything, the film has to say about socialism."

Melissa Anderson for Artforum: "The director returns to the topics that have dominated his film essays for at least twenty years: Israel and Palestine ('staying Haifa / right of return'), the Holocaust, the death of Europe, war. Film Socialisme may, however, be the first Godard work with LOL cats. But probably not the last."

"Film Socialisme, like most of his other essay films, is all over the place and (purposely) impossible to follow, but the master is adept at making you feel that if you don't understand it, it's your fault, not his." Peter Brunette in the Hollywood Reporter: "In any case it's true that he tosses out more ideas in five minutes than most directors manage to come up with in two hours or in whole careers. But it's also true that Godard films are much less fun to actually watch than they are to argue about afterward."

"I can argue either side when it comes to Godard," blogs Todd McCarthy. "Intellectually, I can extol him as a cinematic James Joyce, as they both playfully expanded the language, structure and form of their chosen arts and achieved sublime works until, increasingly, flying off into rarified realms into which few could accompany them; the proper view, I think, would be that Godard has been in his inscrutable Finnegan's Wake period for some time now. More personally, I have become increasingly convinced that this is not a man whose views on anything do I want to take seriously. I can neither forget nor forgive Godard's wish, resourcefully noted by Colin MacCabe in his biography of the director, that the Apollo 13 astronauts would die on their imperiled voyage; this was either the most spurious sort of anti-Americanism or genuinely profound anti-humanism, something that puts Godard in the same misguided camp as those errant geniuses of an earlier era, Pound and Céline."

"I'm not going to actually review Film Socialism," writes Matt Noller at the House Next Door, "as any type of critique I could make would be fundamentally worthless. To praise it would be to pretend to understand something I did not; to attack it would amount to no more than a superficial dismissal. Neither of those options is acceptable to me. What I will do instead is simply describe, as best I can, what few surface details I was able to ascertain on one viewing." And so, he does.


"The first hour is wonderful," blogs the Voice's J Hoberman. "Unfortunately, as with much Godard, the movie is unsustainable. Film Socialisme goes on the rocks once it lands somewhere in the south of France, where the children of a gas station owner put their parents on trial and advise the world to both liberate and federate."

"Anyone familiar with Godard's career will recognize the themes that begin to emerge," writes Salon's Andrew O'Hehir: "the untold stories of World War II, the roots of the Arab-Jewish dispute in the Middle East, the relationship between Europe and Africa. Even something as seemingly meaningless as a luxury cruise (or as ordinary as a family-owned business) becomes, in Godard's view, an encounter with history, much of which remains purposefully hidden from us. It's unlikely, if not impossible, that any imaginable viewer could "get" all the themes and references in this film, and indeed I don't think that's what Godard wants or expects.... It's an old-fashioned left-wing European artist's puckish vision of new media, and it's exactly as exasperating, didactic, gorgeous and brilliant as that sounds."

Updates, 5/19: Craig Keller tweets: "The best interview in years with J-L Godard: Rohmer. Copyright. YouTube. Obama. Now in English at Cinemasparagus." Jean-Marc Lalanne conducted the interview for Les Inrockuptibles.

"I'd love to salute the film as a heroically hermetic assertion of artistic independence from one of the giants of 20th-century cinema," writes Sukhdev Sandhu in the Telegraph. "But that would be cowardly reverence. Film Socialisme is coldly isolationist rather than socialistic or independent: its contents are random — at one point Patti Smith is shown wandering around with an acoustic guitar — and its rhetoric is hollow and platitudinous. Chris Marker, Agnès Varda, Harun Farocki: all these directors marry the forms and functions of the cine-essay to brilliant ends. Godard, by contrast, offers the clarity and militancy of senescent dribble."

Update, 5/20: "Like Zidane's head-butt as a way of adieu, Godard has just signed, with his latest film — aptly named Film Socialisme — his own suicide note. Both men, gods in their fields, can defy the world they live in and deny reality: the privilege of tragic heroes. By refusing to play the game of subtitles, Godard is making his film unexportable outside the ever-shrinking francophone world. But even there, his film requires from francophones to have a smatter of German, Italian and Russian as whole scenes in those languages are not translated at all.... Elitist? No, revolutionary." Agnès Poirier elaborates in the Guardian.

Updates, 5/22: Daniel Kasman here in The Daily Notebook: "It is, in a word, video as cinematic, and it is an approach and result that absolutely requires revisiting, as this only partially understood viewing proves the video a densely sorrowful but deeply rewarding experience, one worth mining for a long time to come."

"[T]he initial reviews from Cannes are, incredibly, the same ones he's been getting his entire career," notes Jim Emerson, "based in part on assumptions that Godard means to communicate something but is either too damned perverse or inept to do so. Instead, the guy keeps making making these crazy, confounded, chopped-up, mixed-up, indecipherable movies! Possibly just to torture us. Many approach the films themselves as though they are puzzles designed to frustrate (and to eventually be 'solved'), then they blame Godard for not doing a better job of solving them himself because they're too hard." At scanners, he present "a sampling of New York Times reviews over the years. Just about any of them could be about any of Godard's movies — and, positive or negative, some are noticeably more perceptive than others."


FILM SOCIALISME / JLG / FILM ANNONCE 2 from Lieutenant D. on Vimeo.

Updates, 5/23: "[W]hat struck me watching Film Socialisme after recently watching Godard's 1980 Every Man For Himself as part of IndieLisboa's survey of the Berlinale Forum 40th anniversary was how Godard is now thoroughly immersed in his second round of a radical, non-narrative phase following a narrative phase," writes Robert Koehler at "In other words, we've been living for the past decade-plus (including such masterpieces as Histoire(s) du cinema and Eloge de l'amour) through a new variation on his Dziga Vertov period with Jean-Pierre Gorin. The politics are, of course, different now: No less radical, yet independent, untethered to any party or ideological line, equally critical of every phase of contemporary European life."

"Just watching Film Socialisme, without trying to parse its meaning, is an eye-enriching experience," finds Time's Richard Corliss.

"Film Socialisme may fulfill the promise of its title, presenting a view of film language that's equally inaccessible to everyone," writes Eric Kohn for indieWIRE. "But innumerable Cannes audiences, ticked at the impenetrable nature of its design, have suggested that the movie means nothing at all except that a master auteur is in visible decline. Such a rash conclusion strikes me as highly suspect, given the sheer audacity of Film Socialisme as a kind of cinematic patchwork, not to mention one entirely consistent with his other recent essay films (1998's Histoire(s) du cinema and 2004's Notre Musique). Film semioticans will have a lovely time breaking it down."

Update, 5/25: Jonathan Rosenbaum: "[H]aving just recently seen Film Socialisme (I won't say how) myself, without any subtitles and with only fitful comprehension of the dialogue, I was impressed not only by the film's singularly fresh, daring, and often beautiful employments of sound and image, but also by its tenderness towards virtually all the contemporary characters and figures in the film (including the many animals) — a virtue I don't find in the least bit present in For Ever Mozart. I guess it's also worth noting that Film Socialisme tries to say something about the contemporary world, Europe in particular, an impertinence that isn't shared by such harmless, good-natured fare as Inglourious Basterds. But none of the film's tenderness towards its own characters can be said to be extended towards the preferences, habits, expectations, or overall well-being of the mainstream reviewers at Cannes — which I suppose makes everyone else potential members of a coterie of insiders."

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