Breathless Spectacle: Godard’s Three Dimensions are Child’s Play
A rough-hewn yet mesmerizing appraisal of the modern world presented from a disturbingly dispassionate point-of-view is the latest instalment of Jean-Luc Godard’s series of grumpy old man filmic essays. While social commentary is hardly new for Godard, in Goodbye to Language his barbs and skewers seem to emanate from a merciful Valhalla, like a bemused grandfather attempting to sort out the odd behavior of his grown and gone progeny. While Godard has new projects in the works and appears to be far from giving in to mortido, this 70-minuter feels much like a summation, and a fitting coda to a prolific career that has spanned six decades.
Goodbye to Language has the raw, improvised feel of recent Godard features but to call the film an experiment is not quite accurate. Typical of Godard, the film has several storylines that never pursue any type of traditional arc, but rather serve as platforms for the director’s opinions and observations. This may be a kinder, gentler 83 year old filmmaker, but Godard can still attack with relish, tossing casual sex, big screen TVs and texting into the rubbish bin of first world time wasters. While an economist on holiday calmly posits the collapse of the dollar, brutal men in designer suits run amok with violence and gunfire, ruining the peaceful seaside zen. Creating a sharply contrasting aura, much of the film follows Roxy, Godard’s beagle mix, on his daily forays into the familiar splendors of the natural world.
The film’s 3D effects are creatively plotted and often used to emit a blinding visual swirl beyond the resolution of human optics. The scenic ferries of Lake Geneva offer picture postcard 3D vistas, yet in Godard’s context, these sunny images feel like a re-imagining of the River Styx, with the director placidly observing while Charon goes about his eternal duties. Indeed, the Roxy sequences, with their surreal impressionism, seem to emanate from an otherworldly sphere, perhaps implying Godard’s vision of an afterlife. Goodbye to Language also features a few comforting tropes that have become mainstays in Godard’s post-new wave style. Noisy, color saturated video processing reminiscent of In Praise of Love (2002) graces a several scenes. There are also elements that have fascinated the director throughout his long career, such as circular conversations between shacked-up lovers and snippets of narration lifted from classic novels and philosophical tomes.
For an octogenarian filmmaker, Godard is surprisingly – if not ahead – at least on the production curve with Goodbye to Language. Many of Roxy’s rambles appear to have been casually shot with an iPhone while the film’s concise 70 minute duration feels to be the perfect length for a distracted society engrossed in various multi-tasks. But for all humanity’s advances, Godard observes the clinging to ancient, childish tendencies as either a feature or a bug of life in the new millennium. Male lead Gédéon (Kamel Abdeli) reveals an endless fascination with his own poop, giving the film a dose of comic relief along with a symbolic summation of the era’s excessive introspection.
One could argue that Goodbye to Language is Godard’s unique way of saying farewell. There is an essence here of weariness; of exhaustion with humanity’s endless cycle of folly and frivolousness. Yet, out of this existential ennui rises an excellent piece of cinema that manages to be entertaining – by Godard standards anyway – while remaining typically disorienting and provocative. And perhaps that’s Jean-Luc Godard’s main takeaway from his four score years on this planet: despite civilization’s impressive technology and connectedness, no one really knows what the hell is going on.