At 80, Jean-Luc Godard still confounding bourgeois sensibilities

  • By Robert Horton Herald Movie Critic
  • Friday, August 5, 2011 12:01am
  • Life

Not that there aren’t many more important things to do with your life, but if you are inclined to sit around and argue about who the greatest living film director is, 80-year-old Jean-Luc Godard would have to be near the top of the list.

Earlier this year, Godard was even awarded an honorary lifetime Oscar. He didn’t show up to collect it.

Once the most revolutionary member of the French New Wave in the 1960s, and the creator of groundbreaking classics such as “Breathless,” “Contempt” and “Masculin Feminin,” Godard has in recent years retreated into a chamber of personal musings. His main works of the last decade, “In Praise of Love” and “Notre Musique,” were essay movies that could almost be followed in a linear way.

That’s all definitively left behind in “Film Socialisme,” his latest piece. Godard doesn’t seem to want the audience to “understand” this movie in any regular way, so the viewer better be ready for a nontraditional experience.

Totally experimental, in fact. “Film Socialisme” is a collage, fast-moving and nimble, that arranges itself around a few settings: the first is a cruise ship in the Mediterranean, the second a rural gas station. Finally, the movie gives way entirely to free-flowing montage.

If I had to describe the film in general, I’d say it’s Godard’s “Odyssey”: a journey around Europe, weighing in at different ports and finding strange alien visions at each. The floating European Union of the cruise ship offers a garish progress report for the state of things today, while Godard includes images of classical antiquities and classic movies as measuring points for what he doubtless sees as a decline.

Godard completely embraces the tools of the digital age, and “Film Socialisme” looks as though it’s shot partly with handheld devices and edited on the kind of program that allows for elaborate, quick-darting cuts. Still, Godard has a great eye, whether staring at the churning sea or finding rapturous angles on the ship at night.

It’s a film of startling comparisons: a priest delivering a sermon beneath a mirror-ball more suited for a disco, or a shot down a row of shipboard slot machines with the eternal sea passing implacably by in a window in the background.

Godard links Indochina with the Spanish Civil War with present-day Palestine, in a tumbling litany of the world’s sore points. Now, what he means us to conclude from that is entirely up to the viewer, except that it will likely send people scurrying to investigate the various subjects on the filmmaker’s mind.

The English subtitles aren’t of much help in that regard: They consist of broken English, sometimes just one or two words to convey a few sentences of spoken French (much of the dialogue is quoting other sources anyway).

In general, I wouldn’t mind if Godard wanted to make himself a little more comprehensible. But “Film Socialisme” is where this director is at right now, and for his fans and for cinematic explorers, it’s a trippy experience.

“Film Socialisme” (3 stars)

The 80-year-old revolutionary of the French New Wave, Jean-Luc Godard, weighs in with an enigmatic collage that seems to be his collection of quick-hit ideas about the state of Europe. Very much an experimental work, the film proves Godard still has a great eye, even if he doesn’t seem too interested in the audience actually understanding his movies anymore. In French, with quasi-English subtitles.

Rated: Not rated; probably R.

Showing: Northwest Film Forum.

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