3x3D: Cannes Review

Eye-popping shorts trilogy redefines "uneven."

Directors Jean-Luc Godard, Peter Greenaway and Edgar Pera explore the third dimension in this trilogy of shorts commissioned by a Portuguese city and premiering on the Croisette.

In cinema, the perils of portmanteau productions have long been proverbial, but seldom can there have been as extreme an example as 3x3D. Commissioned to mark the Portuguese city Guimaraes' year as European Capital of Culture, the triptych showcases one of 2013's most thrillingly virtuouso filmmaking achievements, only to swoop from dizzy zenith to dismal nadir.

And while the renown of two of the directors, Jean-Luc Godard and Peter Greenaway, will ensure exposure for 3x3D at edgier festivals, the Godard section is so superior that it amply deserves the chance to "go it alone" around the circuit. Greenaway's opening section is a diverting curio; Edgar Pera's finale a near-total misfire.

A tantalizing taster of Godard's upcoming feature-length Farewell to Language, The Three Disasters is itself a trifurcate affair which sees the Swiss-French maestro in puckishly provocative prime form. As with much of his recent output, it's a blizzard of images and sounds, textual extracts and movie clips, photographs and snatches of distorted video art. But though Godard's brand of hyper-highbrow wit can outstay its welcome in longer formats, these 17 minutes function brilliantly as a swaggeringly unorthodox, penetrating personal history of cinema that's as aesthetically sublime as it is intellectually challenging.

Godard has for decades been a virtuouso of montage, and here his scope includes an array of recent 3D enterprises ranging from Werner Herzog's Cave of Forgotten Dreams to more commercial fare like Final Destination 5, Fright Night and Paul W.S. Anderson's The Three Musketeers. Godard's own approach to the stereoscopic format is genuinely experimental, including a burst of deliberately "wonky" plane-manipulation that will have audiences checking their glasses.

Studded with rousing aphorisms ("Digital will be a dictatorship!") and Olympian in its philosophical scope, The Three Disasters requires multiple viewings to unpack its layers of meaning and proves that Godard, now into his ninth decade, remains on the art-form's cutting edge.

Of the trio, it's Greenaway who engages most directly with Guimaraes itself in his curtain-raiser Just in Time. Indeed, his 16-minute film is a whistle-stop trot through the city's two millennia of history, whizzing us through a cathedral's interior and out into the streets -- nearly every surface covered with some kind of explanatory writing (in English), while costumed actors impersonate bygone luminaries.

Narrators rattle away, adding to the feeling of sensory high-cultural overload and brainbox bombardment familiar from Greenaway's last few feature films and multimedia extravaganzas. While occasionally dazzling in its visual splendors, this text-saturated variation on Alexander Sokurov's Russian Ark plays more like an elaborately opulent CD-ROM than a film, albeit one where the "learn more" features have been frustratingly disabled.

The less said about the concluding chapter, Pera's Cinesapiens, the better. A hectoringly shrill, sci-fi-inflected phantasmagoria set mainly in a rudimentary cinema, the duration is roughly that of the Godard and Greenaway sections combined -- a regrettable imbalance.

How unfortunate that the "local" element of the production should be such a letdown, and that the trilogy should conclude on such a clangorously discordant, headache-and-walkout-inducing note. Pera, 52, is by some way the junior of the three directors involved -- all of them men -- and it's a shame that a representative of Europe's many talented younger experimental filmmakers couldn't have found his or her way into the line-up.

Venue:  Cannes Film Festival (Critics' Week)
Production companies:  Fundacao Cidade de Guimaraes, Luperpedia, L'Atelier, Bando a Parte
Cast:  Nuno Melo, Leonor Keil, Keith Esher Davis, Jorge Prendas, Miguel Monteiro
Directors/Screenwriters: Peter Greenaway, Jean-Luc Godard, Edgar Pera
Producer: Rodrigo Areias
Directors of photography:  Reinier Van Bruemen, Luis Braquinho, Jean-Luc Godard
Production designer:  Ricardo Preto
Costume designer:  Susana Abreu
Editor:  Raphael Lefevre
Music:  Jorge Prendas, Marco Robino
Sales: UDI, Paris
No MPAA rating, 70 minutes