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NYFF 2010. Jean-Luc Godard's "Film Socialisme"

"As psychology is the cheap tool of Hollywood plot and the bourgeois axis of identification" — so begins David Phelps's piece for the BOMBLOG, half an overview of this year's New York Film Festival and half a furiously argued defense of the project that is the oeuvre of Jean-Luc Godard — "and capitalism's made us itinerant mercenaries to our bank accounts or cattle homeowners branded by decor, the only ideology is that ideology is dead: men are bodies in a landscape or photos on a Facebook wall, but in any case commodity forms taken by money, that content without content, that soul without a soul. This neat outlook makes it somewhat easier to make movies — no plot and, as Godard recently explained, no characters — and so the main target and fodder both of Godard's Film Socialisme, a documentary on-board a cruise and at a garage with national and noir stock icons passing through the frame and muttering melodramatic responses to unheard refrains ('why won't you say you love me?'), is seemingly the unthinking image, proliferated by digital cameras, cell phones, and the local news as a commodified substitute for local consciousness: and yet the images bear witness anyway to become, as Godard said of Manet, 'images that think.'"

"Film socialisme is the 27th Godard film to play at the New York Film Festival, and with nouvelle vague luminaries like Rohmer, and, most recently, Chabrol dropping like flies, more than one recent reviewer has speculated that this may be his last," notes Leo Goldsmith in Reverse Shot. "It's a morbid thought, wholly unfounded by any particular knowledge about the director's health, but perhaps it's at least partly informed by the rather mordant tone he takes with his new film. Though Godard's latest nudge at the limits of cinema parades a number of the director's usual puckish gestures, multilingual plays on words, and provocative image-puns, it's nonetheless a dour archaeology of the roots of our cultural end times."

"Even as his art has evolved over the past half-century — yoking it to Maoist ideology; pursuing groundbreaking experiments in video and television; exploring classicism, nationalism, and digital editing — some preoccupations have long remained," writes Eric Hynes in the Voice. "The filmmaker's uniquely radical historical-political obsessions motivate Film Socialisme, as they did Notre musique (NYFF 2004), In Praise of Love, and most of his work since the late 1980s. But so did they inform his Algerian war thriller, Le petit soldat (1961), and the allegorical Les carabiniers (1963), his second and fifth films, respectively. And despite their reputation for being ponderous and pessimistic, the recent films are still the work of a wry, frisky mind, as bounteous as Breathless with visual and verbal puns. Far from having abandoned his aesthetic gifts, his later films, including Film Socialisme, are as visually accomplished as anything he's ever made. And most importantly, even as he enters his sixth decade behind the camera, Godard still shapes films as inquiries: Words say one thing, yet his pictures keep intimating something else. 'If anyone understands me,' a character says in Notre musique, 'then I wasn't clear.'"

New Yorker contributing writer and Godard biographer Richard Brody: "The over-all theme — aptly, for a director fascinated and appalled by American power — is e pluribus unum, and Godard yokes his vision of a united society of Mediterranean lands and a government that grants women and children the same centrality that they bear in a family, to that of a country that, after four decades of dictatorship, liberated itself without American intervention. His political vision is, literally, visual: filming aboard ship and in various ports of call, evoking relevant historical landmarks and artifacts, watching a family work out its domestic policy, Godard offers images that are multifaceted, even contrapuntal. His aesthetic genius and his revolutionary project are both a way of seeing and a way of life, and both are deeply personal: a family, a society, and an image all start with one plus one."


"Having sat through Film Socialisme with an open heart and mind, I was left with a profound sadness for Godard," writes Tom Hall, "and while I am sure the last thing on earth he cares about is my pity, still, I couldn't help but feel his contempt, the creeping realization that the director has abandoned those for whom his revolution once stood, instead favoring a cloistered life where the world can be reduced into a simplistic, metaphoric Tower of Babel, and where real political concern, that is, a belief in the possibility of human action, has been replaced by a reduction of Godard's humanism into incoherent disengagement."

"With Film socialisme, [Godard] has succumbed to the cranky impulses of a septuagenarian, pretty much railing against everything wrong with the world today while sporadically lamenting a missed opportunity for us to do without capitalism," writes Martin Tsai in the Critic's Notebook. "It's surprising that critics have given Mr Godard a pass so far on some of the seemingly anti-Semitic sentiments expressed in the film, from the rant against Jews in Hollywood to the fact that a title card that reads 'access denied' represents the entirety of the Palestine leg of the voyage. Since Mr Godard continues to innovate the cinematic form and experiment with the digital format, it's just really jarring to see some of the backward ideas in this film — even if they are consistent with the iconoclastic and anti-establishment preoccupations that have marked his career."

"If its covert editorializing about any number of hot political and social topics were more explicit, Film Socialisme would probably generate howls of outrage from many corners," suggests Stephen Holden in the New York Times. "But it leaves you to fill in the blanks between what is implied in its abbreviated subtitles and what is actually shown and said. At the very least, it has many indelible images: a llama leashed to a gas pump; a young boy painting a reproduction of a Renoir canvas; and arresting shots of churning seas as a ship of fools plows Mediterranean waters."

"While Film Socialisme is distinguished in large part by its commitment to an all encompassing multiplicity and heterogeneity," writes Lisa K Broad, "the film as a whole can be viewed as questioning the relationship between concrete parts (individuals, images) and imagined wholes (nations, families, art forms, industries). However, the result of this inquiry is frequently obscure or unsatisfying. Ultimately, Film Socialisme's form is more eloquent than its content. While the brusque 'No Comment' that ends the film seems to foreclose on future political discussion, the silent dialogue Godard opens between desperate incarnations of the cinema speaks to the director's continued aesthetic relevance."


In Slant, Aaron Cutler offers "less a review than a sampling of how this movie showcases attitudes that Godard's work has expressed for the past half-century, from his first shorts up to now. Whether this film works depends upon one whether one thinks Godard a genius or a crackpot jackass; personally, I think he's both."

Blogging for TCM, R Emmet Sweeney finds Film Socialisme so "referentially dense, it would ideally be watched with hyperlinks attached to all the quotes and film clips, as well as the concrete poetry of the partially-translated subtitles, which he puckishly described as 'Navajo English.'"

Speaking of which, Time Out New York's David Fear adds, "If you don't know French, forget it... Had he not already used Contempt as a title, it'd be ideal here; the man formerly known as cinema's greatest living artist has officially spent the last of his currency. This gnomic, cantankerous essay's final words are 'No comment.' The tragedy is, we may finally wish that Godard would take that statement to heart."

Earlier: Reviews from Cannes; and Daniel Kasman: "Known for decades now for his pioneering use of video, Film Socialisme finally sees Jean-Luc Godard use digital video to the fullest, widest productive, dramatic, and essayistic, potential yet, creating a tremendous open space to explore. 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."

Screens once more this afternoon.

Update, 10/9: "[T]he presumption that there is a fixed meaning being withheld from us is, according to at least one Francophone of my acquaintance, a wrongheaded one," writes the L's Mark Asch: "The film is obscure, sure, but not unsubtle — it's in fact very literal, frequently pitched at the lowest common denominator of international understanding: not just those talking-point subtitles but also the broad word-association cultural signifiers in the montage: hieroglyphics for Egypt, the words 'right of return' for Palestine, the Odessa Steps sequence for Odessa. Even visually, the film is structured around big elementary particles, ugly exploded viral-digital looking video of cruise-ship revelers intercut in the cruise ship section, otherwise shot with a gorgeously saturated Raoul Coutard-style palette, the blues and yellows practically throbbing."

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