Despite claims that this was the French new wave master lost to all intelligibility and purpose, the film was no harder to view than many of Godard’s other more experimental narratives, like “Keep Your Right Up!”, “Weekend”, “Notre Musique”, or noble but nearly complete failures like his “King Lear” "Passion" and “JLG/JLG: Self Portrait In December” (which came very close to being an old Godard recording himself wandering his house in a bathrobe muttering things) and from what little of it Ive seen and much read, of the montage-poetry of “Histoires du Cinema”.
If those titles are lost on you, and your reference to Godard comes from early works “Breathless”, "Contempt" and “A Band Apart”, yes this will no doubt seem at times like gibberish, but if you are familiar or at least adventurous in seeing his style pushed to its outer limits, than “Film Socialism” should come as no great surprise.
I suspect that much of the negative backlash comes from the Navajo-English subtitles, which Godard intended to be played for his English speaking audience, that read “Jew German Black” where the English subs version would translate “I don’t consider myself a part of any nation. Not the French nation, not the Jewish nation, not the German nation, or the Black nation.”
The Navajo version would almost recall “Finnegan’s Wake” in it’s provocation and demand of the readers re-evaluation of his relationship to the text, but having seen both translated versions, the Navajo-English seems more like a snub to English speakers than anything else.
Godard was the first film-maker who I ever saw acknowledge and really exploit the power that written words can have on screen, to enhance, augment, and ironically reflect a story or theme.
The optimum way to view the film would probably be as they were to be shown at the AFI Fest this past year, with both versions of the subs playing simultaneously in different color fonts.
AFI however embarrassingly turned off the film during the screening I attended, after the first few minutes saying they had neither copies of the subtitles in the “digital package” that Godard’s producers had sent them.
They apologized and said we could stay and watch anyway.
After another ten minutes I joined the steady stream of people leaving the theater, and I’m glad I did.
I do not understand all of Godard’s choices in the film, some scenes are so rich and brilliant, and funny(yes funny), and some do seem unnecessary.
But necessity would imply I knew what the goal was, what the themes were driving toward.
At first I thought the Navajo-English was a short-hand for ideas and phrases, Godard has been repeating his entire career transformed through lifelong repetition into a simple derilect babble (the kind I thought "JLG/JLG" would become, the mad Godard self-parody in “First Name:Carmen”) of words like “Jew German Black”, “War is war, crime is crime”, etc.
Though I still don’t feel that way about the Navajo-English subs, I think there is something accurate about the film being repetitious of past themes, and having a haunted requiem like quality.
“None of that matters anymore” an old man with defeat in his voice, tells the lovely young lefty enthusiast sitting on a bed and recalling so many of the heroins and anti-heroins of his 60’s films.
The film is divided into three parts, the ocean liner and it’s guests dissolve into a set of characters at a garage and gas station and oasis of petrol in a desert of automobiles.
The final segment is in the montage style that has cropped up occasionally in earlier portions (featured in "Notre Musique" and "Histoires du Cinema").
This describes what the film is like, but I still haven’t arrived at what the films about.
The ocean liner I understood in terms of the opening lines, about water and money being similar, the ship floats on a sea of wealth, those aboard spend their time frivolously, either enjoying the many diversions, games, clubs, exercise, and gambles, or discussing their dissatisfaction with the state of things, which may be just another distraction.
I have lived most of my life in San Pedro California,
From age 2 to 11 I could see cruise ships (like Dinsey cruise, who owns much of the downtown area near their ships) from the living room window of my apartment.
I have never been on such a ship.
Across the water and connected by the St. Vincent Thomas bridge are a network of deserted warehouses and the still active prison of
The rest of the harbor is freight containers stacked on top of each other 50 feet off the ground, and the cranes to lift them tall as the bridge, and staring down at the city like the skeletons of Brontosauras’ dead on their feet from exhaustion.
From between these shores the big bright cruise ships leave, and I imagine this is not so dissimilar from the ports and harbors of many towns. It might be, but I don’t know.
The irony of pleasure, relaxation, luxury, and the biggest corporate name in mass entertainment, coming and going between the shadows of housing projects, imprisonment, a history of labor union disputes, and never ceasing cargo and commerce, was not lost to me even as a boy.
So Godard’s opening whether we can all agree on the metaphor or not, struck me as completely natural and sensible.
"Yes that is what is like, at least that’s what it’s like from here", I found myself thinking as I drifted through Godard’s oblique world, whose heart and desires are so firmly political, tract, and lecture-like, but whose delivery and sensibility belong equally to the aesthetic pleasures of poetry.
“Clarity through obscurity” a French voice from somewhere says over flickering casino images.
Though told in an array of styles from digital to camera phones, and quickly edited from scene to scene, all of the non b-roll shots (those Godard shot himself) are static anchoring down the imagery to a stable perspective being bombarded like jumping through 100 different channels on a tv set while remaining motionless.
Those who have seen “Exit Through The Gift Shop” might recall a similar description given to fuax-artists Mr. Brainwash’s aborted attempt at cinema, which was also described as unwatchable.
There is indeed a slippery slope between Godard’s post-modernism with purpose (which you could argue is actually modernism, but lets not go there shall we) and Mr. Brainwashes post-modernism as fashion, which in an off hand way the film deals with in it’s multiple refrain of “there will always be assholes. Only today the assholes are sincere.”
Will Godard’s latest critique of capitalism, decadence, and alienation (or more specifically a lack of “fraternity and solidarity”) convert those for whom socialism forever remains a pejorative and synonym for totalitarian? Probably not, but conversion was never the point here.
As the film points out “Democracy and Tragedy were born in
There is still hope though, Godard’s young characters in the film for all the memorization of party lines, still seem genuinely interested and engaged in discussion (even if trapped in the Errol borrows of discussion for discussion sake, or discussion that never escapes the bedrooms).
The young, when not children, are always beautiful girls, for “Hope” in Godard-speak means beautiful girl with brains, ethics, and courage, but this anthromophism is nothing new.
It is the old men (like Godard himself who appears here) most disconnected, unconcerned, and detached, or maybe just tired of repeating themselves.
If you expect drama, action, romance, in a word-emotion, this is not the film for you, Godard has long since broken away from any genre conventions (aside from “avant-garde” which he remains in obsessive fidelity to), so there is not much here to connect with in terms of plot or character.
The film breaks down into its formal elements of words, sounds and images strung here together, at times reflective, at times ironic and slapstick, and at times perplexing, but never unintelligible.
It is wrong to expect artist to serve up enlightenment to us to answer, satisfy and assuage, many films can and do, and are usually forgotten just as fast as another enlightenment-product comes to occupy its recycled mental space.
The films you have to fight and struggle through, that can infuriate, puzzle, annoy, delight and demand multiple views are the kind of films you don't easily forget.
Those that cannot be easily summarized in an advertising blurb or the ever dwindling word counts allotted to criticism in periodicals (to make space for more ads!) are the films which prove (time and time again) the most rewarding and relevant to the ephemeral and information soaked western world we live in, bored and floating on a sea of money aboard a money ship.
I cannot say that everyone will see in this what I have seen.
Many Godard fans love his “JLG/JLG” which I regard as one of the most truly pretentious, dull, and arduous pieces of film I have ever seen, from anyone cult or otherwise, so the “one man’s trash” notion can probably be applied here.
If you’ve read this far, you know what attracts you to film and what repulses you so your own sensibilities will be best guide as to whether you should see this.
I didn’t see another film in 2010 besides "Uncle Boonme Who Can Recall His Past Lives" (which was also described by its creator as being about the death of cinema), that made me feel as if I wasn’t watching a narrative about a subject, but having a truly and uniquely cinematic experience and seeing an art form really used to the best of an artists ability, which is always thrilling even if like many brilliant experimental filmmakers the narrative is unintelligible or absent altogether.
“Film Socialism” does not have a tale to tell, but it does have questions, rants, musings, jokes, beauty, and information to impart, perhaps too much to squeeze into the confines of a story, but still slim enough to enter the wide gulfs of cinema, and to remind us how wide and expansive those gulfs are.