Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Oval%20Mogulbullet









image010Click Here for:




image010Click Here for:






















































by Harlan Kennedy


In the beginning was the word and the word was ‘Breathless.’ Nothing has changed in 50 years. A demi-century after A BOUT DE SOUFFLE, the first surfing challenge of the French New Wave, we still pant in the wake of Jean-Luc Godard. We are blinded by spray, wobbling and puffing and gasping in the master’s wake, while Godard stands proud on his speeding surfboard.

His new film may be, he says, his last. Premiered at the 63rd Cannes Film Festival it is called FILM SOCIALISME, which would make it the last film of most directors. What a clunker for the marquees. Yet at Cannes the movie filled the giant Salle Debussy. People sat in aisles, craned from doorways, all but hung from the ceiling. This man is still a name. The most newsworthy press conference at Cannes was Godard’s, because he didn’t turn up. His no-shows are more newsy than other directors’ full-dress showmanship – jokes, wisdoms, profundities – at the press-confab microphone.

FILM SOCIALISME itself is a kind of no-show. A miraculous one. Godard is everywhere, yet nowhere. A whirring invisible intelligence, controlling a mock documentary. His personality is transubstantiated as surely, as metamorphically, as that of his near-namesake the Son of God, changed into bread and wine at the Eucharist. 

101 minutes long, FILM SOCIALISME is a bit of fun about existence, death, art, tourism, history, religion, culture, politics, philosophy and the future of humanity. It clarifies one thing we knew already: Godard invented web-surfing before the web. He rides on a tide of ideas and free association. One topic sets off another. He sees everything as interlinked, which is why he likes puns. (“Ange, depeche!” cries a mother bustling out of the house with her child. “Hurry, angel.” That’s a riff on the Bresson title LES ANGES DU PECHE/ANGELS OF SIN).

In FILM SOCIALISME – I can’t get enough of that po-faced, toe-crushing title – Godard’s camera goes on a Mediterranean cruise. He is concerned with the littoral. With what the famous coastline incorporating southern Europe, a bit of Asia and a stretch of Africa tells us about the historical and cultural footprint of man. Do we need to say “and woman”? Woman, interestingly, is kicked inland. Mothers and daughters get the film’s central section, an entr’acte in and around a gas station. This is about the power of oil. It’s a gag (I speculate) about being stuck, marooned and immobilised in the command post of motion and commotion. I note that a character is reading Balzac’s LOST ILLUSIONS, a novel about the calamities attending social mobility – or mobility of almost any kind.

So is Godard becoming a fuddy-duddy? Is the ancien guerrier de la Gauche becoming a Luddite and stick-in-the-mud? You wouldn’t know it from the style. On the soundtrack, the loud sighs and crackles of sea wind keep starting and stopping. So do the bits of chamber music. (Godard loves his string quartets).  The visuals, deliriously staccato, are fragments of coloured surf. Some camcorder footage of cruise liner life. Passengers to-ing and fro-ing on the decks, some with pixellated faces. (Can’t have sign releases. Obviously thought: “Who’s this French nutter with tinted specs and a digicam?”) Slapping seconds of wake, brief roils of grey seas. Captions doing their Godardian stuff with words. “QUO VADIS EUROPA”. “Where are you going, Europe?”. “HELL AS”. Meaning Hellas, for our visit to Greece. One shot captures the docked liner, middle-distant and ominous, squeezed between the sides of a narrowing street. A MARNIE tribute shot.

Does it all add up? Godard would answer, it is a movie, not a math puzzle. It is a journey, not a destination. Aged 80, he is continuing in his French way – antic, eclectic, associative, speculative, passionate – the tradition of TS Eliot. You create art from rearranging what has been created before. Life is the legacy of others who have lived and others who have made art and thought. If that makes his cinema seems a little second-hand, well – what is more rich and human and varied and revealing and unpredictable than a second-hand shop?

This film is not about fragmentedness but about the impossibility of that to an active mind. (We should all get such a mind if we don’t have one). It sees cinchings, sutures, correspondences, cross-echoes everywhere. Godard puts the ‘disco’ into ‘disconnectedness’: he is still the funkiest old-timer in cinema. Deconstruction is an art you can groove to, which is why he picks out key words from every spoken utterance in the film and lays them along the bottom of the screen. If someone were to say in his movie, for instance, “Once more unto the breach, dear friends,” Godard’s subtitle would cherry-pick “Once Breach Friends”. That works to stir a whole new concept as well as to essentialise the old.

Godard is concerned about the history and future of Israel/Palestine, so we get archive footage and agitprop as we pass that spot. Actually I suspect he isn’t as concerned as he thinks – or wants us to think. Didn’t he get the Jewish question out of his system in his last but one film, which had another audience-allergising title (ELOGE DE L’AMOUR) and wittered on endlessly about the sorrows and sins of Zion?

I think in this new film he’s Prospero. The title FILM SOCIALISME reminds us that Shakespeare’s original title for THE TEMPEST was PLAY UTOPIANISM. (Well, it might have been. You can’t prove it wasn’t?) Rather than fixating on any particularity, Godard is abstracting himself into cloud patterns and rainbow patterns of valedictory thought. He believes the more the Mediterranean’s shore becomes commodified for tourists – or that of the Black Sea, which we also venture into – the more its true ghosts will come clattering out. Or he thinks and hopes the ghosts will come clattering out. This film is a command call and instruction manual to them.

Hence the marvellous sequence at the Odessa steps. The steps are now a stop-off sight for cruise passengers. The tourists surely know – even they – of the famous event in the Russian Revolution, when the soldiers marching down the steps opened fire on the crowds, and/or they know of the Eisenstein sequence. Just in case, Godard plays games, brilliant games, alternating present-day footage with POTEMKIN footage, and sometimes mischievously mixing the two.

History is always alive, say Godard’s film and his art. And if history ever looks like not being alive, or ever tries to play dead, it is art’s duty to get out the resuscitation devices or the necromancer’s skills. Life is here to serve art: that would be a Godard article of faith. But art in turn, he says, must serve life, imaginatively and indefatigably.






©HARLAN KENNEDY. All rights reserved