Sunday, November 2, 2014

Review: Goodbye to Language

Image courtesy of Kino Lorber.
The title of Jean-Luc Godard's latest film could refer to any number of things, including the possible retirement of the 83-year-old French cinematic pioneer as well as a farewell to cinematic language as we know it and the death of communication in the information age.

"Goodbye to Language" is pretty similar to most of the films the prolific filmmaker has made during the past three decades and it's not likely to sway the opinion of those who have long held the belief that Godard is taking the piss, so to speak, at the expense of his audience. It's just as enigmatic as his most opaque work of recent years, but slightly more lively than the dour "In Praise of Love" and better than "Film Socialisme" - oh yeah, and it's in 3D.

In his latest film, Godard is having a little more fun than in previous exercises and he uses the 3D technology both to create some pretty memorable images, but also to poke fun at modern cinematic techniques. There is one explosion in the film, but most of the images that pop out during its brief running time include flowers, windshield wipers, water and Godard's beloved dog, Roxy, who acts as a stand-in for the filmmaker much like many of the lead male protagonists do for Woody Allen in his films.

As always, it's a little difficult to parse exactly what Godard is going for here and the picture is, to quote Winston Churchill, a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma. But it seems clear from the film's semi-ironic title, the director's use of 3D and a sequence during which several characters communicate by merely typing into their iPhones and passing them back and forth to each other that the goodbye to language references a communication breakdown, of sorts.

A man and a woman sort of act as the film's central characters, prancing around (mostly) nude in their home and failing to adequately communicate with one another. Roxy, when not prowling around a colorful field or walking along the shores of bodies of water, sits observing these humans as they speak in tongues to each other. One day, the woman tells the man, everyone will need a translator to communicate with one another. During another sequence, she bemoans the uselessness of words.

There are a few incredible sequences in "Goodbye to Language," most notably one in which Godard places two images - of a man and a woman taking part in an interaction - on top of one another, but then the two split off and move in different directions before meeting up once again. During this sequence, you can close your left eye and see the man on the right and then close your right eye and see the woman on the left. It's pretty visually incredible.

That being said, I still prefer the Godard of old - that is, virtually all of his work from the 1960s and some of his early 1970s movies. I appreciate some of his pictures from the 1980s and 1990s, but find just as many of them enigmatic in a calculated way. His films since the turn of the century have been scattershot ("Notre Musique" is probably the most complete and "Language" the most unique). And yet I'm always fascinated to see what he will come up with next.

I hope this is not his last film, although I get the sense that it could be. Towards the film's end, Roxy wanders away from his human masters and plays by a stream. It's as if Godard is saying he's had enough of humans and their language and would prefer to engage with something less convoluted.

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