Directed by: Jean-Luc Godard.
Written by: Jean-Luc Godard.
Starring: Héloise Godet (Josette), Kamel Abdeli (Gédéon), Richard Chevallier (Marcus), Zoé Bruneau (Ivitch), Christian Gregori (Davidson), Jessica Erickson (Mary Shelley).
Over the years, I have often struggled with the so-called “late period” films of Jean-Luc Godard – although that late period has lasted far longer, and produced far more films than his so-called “early period” in the 1960s. Those films – from Breathless (1960) to Weekend (1967) produced numerous masterpieces and even if Godard had simply retired from filmmaking in 1967, he would still rank among the best and most influential filmmakers in history. Since then, Godard has pretty much turned his back on narrative filmmaking – going for more avant-garde films, filled with quotes, ideas, collages that can either add up to something profound, or something approaching a pretentious mess of junk. I hated his last feature, Film Socialism, although I will fully admit that I just didn’t get that film – the reviews by the films (many) champions left me confused, and had me wondering if we had seen the same film.
So when I got a ticket to see Goodbye to Language 3-D at TIFF this year, I didn’t know what to expect. Perhaps the film would be another infuriating, confusing mess – at least to me – or perhaps it would be something brilliant – as again, many said coming out of Cannes, where the film won the Jury Prize. Watching the film, I was glad (for the first time) that I had seen Film Socialism, because it had prepared me for the content of Godard’s film. They are undoubtedly the work of the same filmmaker, working in the same style. But this time, the film won me over. Everything in it was a little clearer, a little more playful and funny. And above everything else, the visuals were quite simply stunning. This isn’t the best 3-D film I have ever seen – but I do believe it uses 3-D better than any other film I have ever seen.
In general, I’m not really a fan of 3-D in live action movies. For every Avatar or Hugo or Gravity that uses the technology brilliantly, there are a dozen movies where the 3-D is unnecessary at best and a distraction at worse – it’s gotten to the point where I avoid 3-D whenever possible. What 3-D – which as a technology is capable of doing interesting things – really needed was someone like Godard to use the technology. Never one afraid to experiment, Godard uses 3-D in new, unique and revolutionary ways – including one mesmerizing sequence when the image pretty much splits into two, and you have to close one eye at a time to see thing clearly – and then the camera slowly loops back so that image comes together again. What’s the point of this shot? I admit it – I don’t really know – but damn it all if it wasn’t one of the coolest things I have ever seen in a movie. And Godard comes up with other images, brilliantly using 3-D to layer the image in ways that quite simply left with awestruck.
So, do I really understand what the hell was happening in Goodbye to Language – what the “story” was (and yes, there does appear to be a story, about a relationship between a man and woman – or multiple couples, who may be the same couple, but may not be, and then in the second half becomes a dog’s eye view of the world for at least part of its running time)? Not really. I understood it in the moment, and the many literary quotes and allusions also somewhat make sense – at least as I was watching it, but become harder to write about and piece together when looking back at the film. If I watched the film again – or a few times – I could probably piece it altogether. But my first reaction to Goodbye to Language 3-D was one of pure awe. Godard does things using 3-D that I doubt any other filmmaker in the world could – or would even consider attempting. Perhaps I don’t appreciate Goodbye to Language 3-D in the way I am supposed to. But appreciate it I do.