'Goodbye to Language': Cannes Review

'Goodbye to Language,' Jean-Luc Godard (Competition)
Courtesy of Festival de Cannes

Nouveau Vague pioneer Godard, who makes his seventh appearance in Cannes competition with Goodbye to Language, has long since abandoned traditional narrative structure or the facade of appealing to a paying audience in favor of his deconstructive cinematic games. His latest (shot in 3D no less) is certain to delight, confuse and enrage in equal measure. (Sales: Wild Bunch)

Could this be goodbye to Godard?

Written, directed and edited by Jean-Luc Godard, the fragmented French drama explores a relationship's dynamics through 3D technology.

A dog. An often naked couple. A ship docking. 3D in your eye. A snippet of Beethoven. Blood down a bathtub drain. A big TV screen. Literary quotations. Lots of Hitler. Cars on snowy roads. A snippet of Schoenberg. Book titles. A pen scratching. A couple talking while a man poops with sound effects. "I am here to tell you no. And to die."

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Cobbling together such and other fragments of images, sound, music and words in ways that evince no surface logic and are often grating (probably intentionally) in how they interact, this is Jean-Luc Godard at 83 -- one of the last lions of the French New Wave still standing, recognizably himself but arguably less coherent in intent and concerns than in his last feature, Film Socialisme, which premiered at Cannes in 2010. Since winning his honorary Oscar, Godard is obviously on cruise control.

It doesn’t take more than a few moments to know who made Goodbye to Language (Adieu au langage). There are the bold, abrupt titles, in 3D, sometimes superimposed over one another. Very loud blasts of music abruptly assert themselves and are as sharply cut off. Books by authors carefully curated -- Dostoyevsky, Pound -- are shown front and center, film clips featuring Jean Arthur and Miriam Hopkins turn up, the trio of Lord Byron, Percy Shelley and the latter’s wife, Mary Shelley (the author of Frankenstein), abruptly appear in early 19th-century costume at the end, followed only by the last of countless dog shots. If this proves to be Godard’s final feature, let it be noted that the last image here is of a dog.

With voiceovers supplied by numerous actors, seen and unseen, as well as by the filmmaker himself, there are seemingly random (and unprovocative by Godard’s old standards) ruminations about Hitler having done everything he promised to do and society now being at war with the state. But, as usual, there are only fragments of thoughts, nothing is developed, and it will be left only to the tiny band of die-hard Godardians to try to make any meaningful sense of the disparate fragments stitched together here. What remains clear, however, is Godard’s unabated enthusiasm for showing lissome young actresses in the nude, with sustained emphasis on the rear end.

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Some of the technical work, specifically some deliberately blurred horizontal sliding effects and sudden drop-outs of sound, will prompt momentary fears that there’s something wrong with the projection equipment. Certain shots featuring objects in the extreme foreground also are extremely jarring and unpleasant to behold. But Godard is clearly quite taken with the 3D technology, as he has contributed episodes to two 3D anthology films, The Three Disasters last year and The Bridges of Sarajevo, which is being shown out of competition at this year’s Cannes festival.

Venue: Cannes Film Festival (in competition)
Production: Wild Bunch
Cast: Heloise Godet, Kamel Abdelli, Richard Chevallier, Zoe Bruneau, Christian Gregori, Jessica Erickson, Alexandre Paita, Jean-Philippe Mayerat, Florence Colombani, Nicolas Graf, Marie Ruchat, Jeremy Zampatti, Daniel Ludwig, Gino Siconolfi, Jean-Luc Godard, Jean-Paul Battaggia, Fabrice Aragno
Director: Jean-Luc Godard
Screenwriter: Jean-Luc Godard
Director of photography: Fabrice Aragno
Editor: Jean-Luc Godard
70 minutes