by Ken B.
I, like many, regard Jean-Luc Godard as an authority on cinema, and for good reason. A filmmaker for over 50 years, his early work gives us some of the building blocks of contemporary filmmaking, as did his French New Wave colleagues. That is why I’m especially angry at Film Socialisme, his latest feature effort. It is among the most inconsequentially time wasting, pretentious, and pointless movies I have ever seen. Had someone like Godard not have been involved, I imagine it would have no supporters at all, instead of the devoted few that exist. But there are supporters, so more power to them, I guess. Or most of them. More on that later.
Film Socialisme is a film without a plot – on purpose. It is divided into three acts, or “symphonies”, one on a cruise ship, one on land featuring a family, and one simply detailing the various wonders of the world. Most scenes within said movements are unrelated to each other. Dialogue is nearly entirely in French, and is compensated with three word subtitles following a line, “Navajo English”, Godard calls it (either he’s referencing the World War II Native American code talkers, or the way they talk in old Westerns. Both are equally viable, but I have a feeling that it’s probably not even either of the two). (Example: what I’ve written in this paragraph so far might be: “noplot foreign three”, or something to that effect. Words are frequently combined, hence “noplot”.) Based on the subtitles, most of the conversations are about Europe, race, history, heritage, war, and politics (hence: “socialisme/socialism”). There is nothing I want more than for a fluent French speaker to watch this and tell me what the freaking thing was about.
There are some profound moments to be seen – a softly spoken conversation with “Pathetique” by Beethoven tinkering in the background on a piano is one that sticks in my head, but everything else is an incoherent (on purpose) mess (on purpose), alienating the stupid Americans (on purpose). And you have to give Godard at least minimal credit on the camera – the segments on a cruise ship are parts grainy closed-circuit video, high definition digital video, and some godforsaken footage, grainy and abrasive, shot on a bad cell phone. The first part of the film has a documentary vibe to it, where the dissolution of independence is found by herds of tourists flocking off to every pandering subject and pastime.
A refrain among some defenders of Film Socialisme is that the very objective of the film is up to the viewer, and those who dismiss it are conformist and follow the masses, like the above mentioned tourists. If anything, the tourists represent them, the aggressive Godard admirers – those trying to sway anyone who comes to an individual opinion on things like this, attempting to pull them over to their side and living out a scene on a dance floor, where 5 year olds run around following the lights. Their very argument is hypocritical, telling them what they are supposed to experience after saying that everyone will experience something different. Think Godard wouldn’t alienate his own obsessive-level devotees? It’s gotten to the point where I wouldn’t put anything past him. It’s not hypocritical on my part to point them out; I have nothing against those who like the movie in general, but the behavior of a select few must be condemned.
A review should read as a personal reflection and record of what the reviewer felt while examining the work critiqued, and in writing this, I convey the message that I felt the work of an aging man, while rightfully complaining about the things I believe he was complaining about, doing so in a wasteful and inaccessible way. This is a one star review, yet I still call for you to watch it if you are interested, and draw your own conclusions. I won’t deny that’s what it was made for.