Goodbye to Language Dir. Jean-Luc Godard

[Wild Bunch; 2014]

Styles: late-period Godard
Others: late-period Godard, Avatar

It’s no exaggeration to state that Godard’s newest is the most important film released in 3D thus far. Even if taken as merely a tech reel, Goodbye to Language throws open the possibilities of filmmaking in three dimensions in ways its predecessors have barely hinted at, layering separate images on top of each other at shifting depths, color correcting each eye differently to create bizarre and beautiful fabrics, bravado staging built around revealing and hiding in depth, beginning an image in standard 3D and then sending one eye panning off in a separate direction, thereby allowing the viewer to construct their own shot/reverse shot by winking each eye in turn — the film can often read as an attempt to catalog every possibility inherent in the split-eye format, and wondrously so. It is, quite honestly, the most aesthetically important 3D film yet produced.

It is also, however, a late-period Godard film, and immediately identifiable as such. Assembled from shards of narrative, mashing formats and color grades, text and found footage, voice-over and fragments of music, it won’t read as entirely foreign in its construction to anyone familiar with his last decade and a half or so of work, especially his previous feature, Film Socialisme. As such, it is vertiginously dense, (de)centered around two almost-mirrored visions of two heterosexual couples and their continuous spats and demarcated by title cards — cards which themselves make stunning use of both 3D and the Final Cut Pro 7 default font. These conversations veer from the philosophical to the comically banal and corporeal — there are a lot of poop jokes and a lot of nude bodies evocatively decapitated by the frame line — and the thrust of the film gradually becomes clear as a rather literal working out of its title. Abetted by a recurring scenario of a shooting rendered in German, French, and English, and increasingly focused on Godard’s dog, the film mulls over the plight of a communication which remains bound by colonialist, heterosexual, and nationalist discourses. Films and music, dialogue and quotation, all become grist for Godard’s restlessly churning intellect, with that pup eventually morphing into a (troubled) image of nature without language.

It’s all fascinating, and the continuous wonder of his images and sounds pushes the film along at an engaging clip, but when the credits roll and Godard trots out his usual suspects list of theorists by name, one can’t help but feel that the theoretical underpinning might not have shifted too much since 1968 — on some level, his understandings of colonialism, capitalism, and sexuality don’t seem to have kept with the times. (The latter is perhaps the most crucial, his apparent disinclination towards queer theory noticeably absent in a film which appears to be striving to integrate every relational perspective it can get its hands on.) Ultimately, though the film gives its audience more space than his explicit references might suggest, in no small part aided by his use of 3D, his canted deep-focus compositions giving the viewer a surprising amount of free will, and his collage approach gives ample space for viewers to play around in its crevices. For all its retro-theoretical tendencies, Goodbye to Language is engaged in a material fashion with the present in myriad ways, the sensuality of iPhones and screens playing a minor role in much the same way that his vanguardist approach to three-dimensional cinema does, thrusting his ideas into the present against their own inherent tendencies — tendencies that Godard may well share. A love of aesthetics, it seems, can do wonders.

There’s also something crucial in the way Goodbye to Language engages with the spectacular, the overpoweringly alien image, that lends this film a particular resonance within Godard’s late canon. It’s a total thrill to watch, his sharply cut and viciously stereo-panned sound jolting the viewer awake as his images repeatedly dazzle with their formal ingenuity, resulting in what’s arguably his most “pop” film since Weekend (if not earlier). It’s a careening trip through an open vision of film form that initially seems at odds with his pessimistic worldview, but in its full-throated engagement of the sensual experience of the viewer, it points towards something new and vital.

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