Screened at Stockfish European Film Festival in Reykjavik
Directed by: Jean-Luc Godard, Rated: NR, Runtime: 70 minutes
“The idea is simple: A married woman and a single man meet. They love, they argue, fists fly. A dog strays between town and country. The seasons pass. The man and woman meet again. The dog finds itself between them. The other is in one, the one is in the other and they are three. The former husband shatters everything. A second film begins: the same as the first, and yet not. From the human race we pass to metaphor. This ends in barking and a baby’s cries.”
Goodbye to Language 3D (fr. Adieu au langage) is a challenging film, in several different ways, which is fitting given its multiple avenues of interpretation. It’s hard follow, as it rapidly jumps from thing to thing, it’s sometimes hard to watch because of the (fully intentional) assault of its 3D technology and sound on the senses, it’s hard to understand as it throws endless quotes and philosophical musing at you and, finally, it’d hard to review for reasons that become readily apparent within seconds of watching the film.
Jean-Luc Godard’s latest has no real plot, no real characters (at one point an actor flat out says “I hate characters”) and seems wholly uninterested in anything that even resembles “traditional” filmmaking. If there’s any real story or structure, it’s too oblique for me to parse. For example, a good fourth of it is just a super artistic home video of Godard’s dog. Oh, and then there’s a short segment where we see Mary Shelley write a story as Percy looks on, coming out of nowhere. The auteur is actively playing with the filmmaking technology throughout, something that is much more catching and interesting than the director’s musings on nihilism and marxism. That in itself is somewhat fitting, given the title of the film, as the text of the film seems to melt away as you lose yourself in the film’s visuals.
As stated in the film’s closing credits, which are of course aren’t formatted in a traditional way, rattling off names and companies without any context, the film was shot on six different cameras at different frame-rates, spanning from 15fps to 29.97fps and vastly different resolutions. The result is a film that oscillates between vivid sharpness and harsh pixelation, in turn rendering jaw-droppingly beautiful, deep 3D images and aggressive grain that seems to almost assault your retinas. Godard also plays around with the sound channels, surrounding the viewer in sound, often rapidly and jarringly cutting between channels and letting lines of dialog trail off. Dialog is often repeated and musical motifs likewise show up frequently.
This film is also home to one of the most impressive moments of filmmaking that I have ever seen. The set up is simple: A woman is talking to an older man when another man barges into frame and pulls her off to the side. As the film is being shot in 3D, on two cameras place side-to-side, the right camera whip pans to follow the woman while the left camera stays on the old man. This creates an amazing blending effect where both images intersect in a way that feels like reality is breaking in front of you. Godard then keeps this shot long enough for you to realize that you can look through either the left or right lense of your 3D glasses to see the entirety of either shot.
A film doesn’t have to be just one thing or fit into one mold. There’s really no reason to score this film, it’s all but impossible. You can’t really make a quantitative judgment on almost all of it. It’s easy to dismiss as a pretentious avant-garde wankfest, and that’s a perfectly valid opinion. Goodbye to Language isn’t a film for everyone, and you might argue that it isn’t a film for anyone, but it’s undoubtedly interesting to see what a rule-breaking auteur does with 3D technology. Seeing how 3D is practically going through its most recent deathknell, this is a fitting adieu to it. At the very least it’s a unique experience.
The Good: The imagery is frequently jaw-dropping, the use of 3D is actually in perfect service to the film.
The Bad: It’s perhaps too oblique in its messaging.
The Ugly: I kinda wish that the entire film were crystal clear, those images are beautiful.