Anyone who loves cinema — and I’m talking about visuals, sound and editing, with acting and narrative falling into fourth and fifth place — needs to see Jean-Luc Godard’s first 3D film, Goodbye to Language (Adieu au langage). The pioneer French New Wave filmmaker has long moved into a more subversive yet pure exploration of cinema. There is something about his movies that celebrate cinema while trying to tear it down. Though that dichotomy is always fun to watch, with 3D Godard finds a fresh level of experimentation that adds a new thrilling perspective that also does not stray too far from his thinking of cinema.
There simply has been nothing like Goodbye to Language in the movies, and some will be uncomfortable with it while others will delight in it. Those familiar with late-period Godard, like his last movie, Film Socialisme (my review: Godard’s ‘Film Socialisme’ and the entrancing “music” of visuals) will recognize a certain style. The quality of his visuals vary. There are diverse images like the hyper-color-saturated shots of flowers in nature and grainy black and white archival film and cheap, low-def video but also crystal clear HD images of an obscure drama following two couples who are almost doppelgängers of each other (or it could be a sense of Jungian synchronicity that makes us perceive them as one and not).
Godard’s synopsis of the film in the press kit is quite funny. He opens with “the idea is simple,” and continues:
a married woman and a single man meet
they love, they argue, fists fly
a dog strays between town and country
the seasons pass
the man and woman meet again
the dog finds itself between them
the other is in one
the one is in the other
and they are three
the former husband shatters everything
a second film begins
the same as the first
and yet not
from the human race we pass to metaphor
this ends in barking
and a baby’s cries
That is the basic story or, better put a taste of the sequence of events in Goodbye to Language, but the effect of these events and the connections between these “narrative elements” are so creative and loaded with so much meaning, it defies plot. Dostoevsky, Solzhenitsyn, Darwin, Sartre, among others, make appearances in quotes and Shelley even appears in the flesh (Jessica Erickson). But great thinkers are actually playing second fiddle here.
Beyond narrative and philosophy, there are the moments of 3D trickery, whether it highlights the pubic hair of an actress (Héloise Godet) or the snout of the director’s dog Roxy Miéville, it also plays with depth of field focus in ways that can feel dizzying, like a pylon’s view of a ferry gliding over the sea or Godard’s interest in floors that highlight their disappearance in an unseen horizon or looking into the depth of a flat mirror. But what most will notice is how he overlaps left and right images to create a super-imposition like no other in cinema. It happens on three occasions. Each time Godard finds a new way to make it relevant to his exploration of the medium as well as the action in the scene.
But it’s not that these visuals try to move a narrative forward as much as capture the experience of time and space overlapping as an experience while celebrating creation in cinema. His “narrative” is loaded with meaning and history while also destroying any of its relevance in existence. He covers all sorts of heavy topics: gender roles, Hitler, marketing, nature, literature, socialism, but demands the viewer to inform the topics. It’s an invitation to bring competence to a work of abstraction.
Of course his film is also dense in commentary. For instance, a man, Gédéon (Kamel Abdeli) claims to take the position of Rodin’s Thinker while sitting nude on a toilet taking a noisy dump. It’s a profound gesture but also humanizing in uniting him with his female lover, Josette (Godet) who is also naked and watches him as he shit/speaks. He thinks it puts them on the same level as human beings. But, as a man of a certain era, Godard cannot help but raise the woman to a higher state. The naked woman, her back to the camera, is all clean, curved lines. He’s a scruffy, unshaven troll sitting below her. He is still the man shitting, while she possess the great forest where life comes from (an unseen narrator, perhaps Godard himself, mentions a Native American tribe that refers to the world as “the forest” as he trains the dual camera lens on her hairy pubic area).
Staying true to the notion in the title of the film that language is a weak symbol for truth or expressing reality, the unseen narrator captures the unknowable character of woman in another great line repeated in the film regarding women: “A woman can do no harm. She can annoy you or kill you. That’s all.” Two extremes with the mystery of woman caught in between. The film, is about dualities on many levels, in another wonderful moment Gédéon says, “The two greatest inventions: infinity and zero.” She counters: “sex and death.” This review could be five times longer in exploring the play of dualities, it’s lush with them. Godard is a naturist in the way he celebrates nudity in a mundane sense, and it’s great fun in 3D, but then there is also the way he treats nature itself with his dog roaming through it. These moments provide wondrous respite from all his intense experiments in 3D, whether it’s the face of Roxy or a camera wandering up the trunk of a tree.
Ultimately, with Goodbye to Language, you will feel something unequivocal in cinema. With the 3D medium, the master has once again found a new way to bring visuals to the forefront of the cinematic experience. Long frustrated with any idea of “truth” in cinema, Godard has gone on to make movies that expose the faults in the medium as far as storytelling but also raising them to a higher level. With Goodbye to Language he comes closer than ever to making the medium the message. He seeks to create a cognitive dissonance for anyone seeking some straight narrative informed by human history or current social concerns in an exhilarating way. Goodbye to Language is so much more than film or even experience for that matter. It is a portal meant to wake the mind out of a stupor numbed by expectation and trained by plot and narrative. It is awareness incarnate in image.
Goodbye to Language 3D runs 70 minutes, is in French with English subtitles and is not rated (there is violence, language and nudity).
Update: Broward County will now have a chance to experience this extraordinary movie. It opens December 19 at Cinema Paradiso – Fort Lauderdale.
It opened exclusively in South Florida this Friday, November 28 at the Miami Beach Cinematheque, which invited me to a preview screening for the purpose of this review.