The loopy French iconoclast is as nouvelle vague as ever, but his latest shouty diatribe is also bracingly cinematic, writes
GOODBYE TO LANGUAGE/ ADIEU AU LANGUAGE Directed by Jean-Luc Godard. Starring Héloïse Godet, Kamel Abdeli, Richard Chevallier, Zoé Bruneau, Roxy Miéville. Club, IFI/ Light House, Dublin, 69 min Somebody, somewhere, is wondering whether this garish, intermittently coherent 3D essay would receive quite so much attention if it were directed by anyone other than Jean-Luc Godard.
You wouldn’t be able to do these awful things to me if I weren’t in this chair. “But you are, Blanche! You are in that chair!” You get my point. But it is by Jean-Luc Godard!
Goodbye to Language is just the latest chapter in the same rambling, occasionally deranged, often hectoring monologue that Godard has been carrying on for 30 years.
Once again, a starkly shot, blankly delivered quasi-drama is intercut with monochrome archival footage and bold legends representing uncompromising political positions. We’re still fretting about the second World War. We’re still a little unsound in our sexual politics. We still seem to regard conventional storytelling as unspeakably bourgeois.
And yet. This is unquestionably the most arresting and amusing interval in the diatribe we’ve seen since the completion of Histoire(s) du cinéma in 1998. Much of that is down to Godard’s outrageous, hilarious use of 3D. Monster- truck rallies do a less efficient job of inducing deathly headaches.
Godard and his contemporaries were profoundly in love with the American pulp cinema of their youth. Sure enough, the great man’s approach to 3D is closer to the carnival populism of Jaws 3D than it is to the boring, immersive (and ultimately invisible) stereoscopy in contemporary middle-brow cinema. That’s to say, he turns all the dials to “11” and shoves any number of objects straight at your ducking head.
The most startling moment comes when he projects different images into either eye, thus – for perhaps the first time in cinema – allowing the viewer to edit his or her own montage. Of course, this isn’t what 3D is meant to do, but Jimi Hendrix’s Marshall amps weren’t designed to deliver feedback either.
All of which only delays the inevitable trial of attempting to describe the content. “The idea is simple. A married woman and a single man meet. They love, they argue, fists fly. A dog strays between town and country,” Godard begins his predictably unhelpful synopsis.
In fact, the film appears to be concerned with two couples, both of whom meet up in Nyon, a district in Godard’s Switzerland, and go on to have various allusive (not to say “elusive”) conversations about politics, semiotics and literature. Then again, it may concern two variations on the same couple.
As the film progresses, the violent imagery and language (this is not the first Godard film to include diving Stukas) gives way to a more pastoral tone.
A charming mutt, played by the director’s dog Roxy Miéville, wanders about the countryside and bonds with the near-characters. We end with an epilogue that makes reference to Mary Shelley’s composition of Frankenstein. Cineastes (and, frankly, who else is going to buy tickets?) will catch snippets of Rouben Mamoulian’s Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, Jean-Pierre Melville’s Les Enfants terribles and Howard Hawks’s Only Angels Have Wings.
Featuring fired-up colour that makes Warhol flower paintings of the flora, and abrasive sound design that turns a water fountain into a fire-hose, this economic film, for all its obscurantism, engages throughout with the brain’s primal engines. All the surfaces seem freshly painted. Scrape the facades away, however, and what lies beneath seems awfully familiar.
The gunplay in trench coats used to look like a commentary on Hollywood; now it feels like a reference to early Godard. The political hectoring took on an exhausting quality long ago. More depressingly, Godard’s digital camera has depressingly old-fashioned ways of looking at women. The man sits on the toilet being intellectually oafish about ordure. Meanwhile, his partner stands decoratively in the nude. We can get that from Judd Apatow films, thank you very much.
Oh well. Goodbye to Language is living history. We don’t encounter that too often in the cinema.