Cannes: Jean-Luc Godard Proclaims "Films Should Show What Is Not Happening"

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Jean-Luc Godard appearing via phone

The iconic director, whose newest film 'The Image Book' premiered at the festival, made a press conference appearance via FaceTime.

Iconic filmmaker Jean-Luc Godard didn’t accompany his latest movie The Image Book to Cannes, where it had its world premiere on Friday night, but on Saturday, the 87-year-old did make an appearance at the traditional Cannes press conference, appearing not in the flesh but via FaceTime, speaking from Rolle, Switzerland, where he lives and works.

A cinematic essay, The Image Book combines scenes from old movies, footage of contemporary violence and musings about the Arab world. And Godard was his typically gnomic self as he answered questions from journalists, who lined up to speak with him by phone. “It’s a bit like machine gun fire,” the lion of the French New Wave quipped as the high-tech experiment got underway.

“The cinema should consist not so much in showing what’s happening,” Godard proclaimed. “Films should show what is not happening,” a sentiment that he repeated several times during the discussion.

Asked his opinion of events in the Arab world, he said, “I think they should be left alone to deal with their own affairs.”

Godard also declined to speak about Russian politics. "I can’t talk about Mr. Putin because I don’t know him,” he said, adding that he doesn’t know France’s Emmanuel Macron or Germany’s Angela Merkel, either. But, he continued, “there is something in Russia today that touches me to no end. We have to be kind toward Russia.”

At another point, Godard offered, “Democracy is shrinking in Europe.” Noting that Africans are having more children than Europeans, he observed, “It strikes me there is perhaps more love in Africa than there is in Europe.”

Turning to filmmaking, Godard — whose 1965 film Pierrot le Fou provides the image that adorns this year’s Cannes poster — acknowledged that his famous pronouncement that “a film should have a beginning, middle and end, but not necessarily in that order” was a joke that he’d once directed at Steven Spielberg and others.

Because his current movie uses existing footage, which he manipulates, Godard emphasized the importance of editing over shooting film. And he said of actors, “A lot of actors today contribute to the totalitarianism in terms of the images that are filmed.”

In creating his new film, Godard testified, “I watched more films in the space of four years than Thierry Fremaux has seen in his entire career at the festival.” 

Speaking of the process of filmmaking, he said, “When you produce an image, be it of the past, the present or the future, you have to do away with two images each time to find the really good one.”

Godard also made the random observation, “The voice is not the same as speech, and speech is not necessarily language.”

Asked about the future of film, the director confessed, “I find that the cinema as I conceive it is a tiny Catalonia, which finds it difficult to exist.” He also predicted, “In the next 10 years, we think in a very few movie theaters, which are quite avant garde, they will screen my films and films in general.”

Questioned whether he expects to make another film, Godard answered quickly, “Yes, of course, absolutely. It doesn’t depend on me. It depends on my legs, it depends a lot on my hands, and it depends a little bit on my eyes.”