goodbye-to-language-3d-posterAnyone who loves cinema — and I’m talking about visuals, sound and editing, with acting and narrative falling into fourth and fifth place — needs to see Jean-Luc Godard’s first 3D film, Goodbye to Language (Adieu au langage). The pioneer French New Wave filmmaker has long moved into a more subversive yet pure exploration of cinema. There is something about his movies that celebrate cinema while trying to tear it down. Though that dichotomy is always fun to watch, with 3D Godard finds a fresh level of experimentation that adds a new thrilling perspective that also does not stray too far from his thinking of cinema.

There simply has been nothing like Goodbye to Language in the movies, and some will be uncomfortable with it while others will delight in it. Those familiar with late-period Godard, like his last movie, Film Socialisme (my review: Godard’s ‘Film Socialisme’ and the entrancing “music” of visuals) will recognize a certain style. The quality of his visuals vary. There are diverse images like the hyper-color-saturated shots of flowers in nature and grainy black and white archival film and cheap, low-def video but also crystal clear HD images of an obscure drama following two couples who are almost doppelgängers of each other (or it could be a sense of Jungian synchronicity that makes us perceive them as one and not).


Godard’s synopsis of the film in the press kit is quite funny. He opens with “the idea is simple,” and continues:

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

That is the basic story or, better put a taste of the sequence of events in Goodbye to Language, but the effect of these events and the connections between these “narrative elements” are so creative and loaded with so muchd48a139f-e443-4096-ac49-f41c7628cc59 meaning, it defies plot. Dostoevsky, Solzhenitsyn, Darwin, Sartre, among others, make appearances in quotes and Shelley even appears in the flesh (Jessica Erickson). But great thinkers are actually playing second fiddle here.

Beyond narrative and philosophy, there are the moments of 3D trickery, whether it highlights the pubic hair of an actress (Héloise Godet) or the snout of the director’s dog Roxy Miéville, it also plays with depth of field focus in ways that can feel dizzying, like a pylon’s view of a ferry gliding over the sea or Godard’s interest in floors that highlight their disappearance in an unseen horizon or looking into the depth of a flat mirror. But what most will notice is how he overlaps left and right images to create a super-imposition like no other in cinema. It happens on three occasions. Each time Godard finds a new way to make it relevant to his exploration of the medium as well as the action in the scene.


But it’s not that these visuals try to move a narrative forward as much as capture the experience of time and space overlapping as an experience while celebrating creation in cinema. His “narrative” is loaded with meaning and history while also destroying any of its relevance in existence. He covers all sorts of heavy topics: gender roles, Hitler, marketing, nature, literature, socialism, but demands the viewer to inform the topics. It’s an invitation to bring competence to a work of abstraction.

Of course his film is also dense in commentary. For instance, a man, Gédéon (Kamel Abdeli) claims to take the position of Rodin’s Thinker while sitting nude on a toilet taking a noisy dump. It’s a profound gesture but also humanizing in uniting him with his female lover, Josette (Godet) who is also naked and watches him as he shit/speaks. He thinks it puts them on the same level as human beings. d1095a57-21c3-466d-9aae-c40d0dee4780But, as a man of a certain era, Godard cannot help but raise the woman to a higher state. The naked woman, her back to the camera, is all clean, curved lines. He’s a scruffy, unshaven troll sitting below her. He is still the man shitting, while she possess the great forest where life comes from (an unseen narrator, perhaps Godard himself, mentions a Native American tribe that refers to the world as “the forest” as he trains the dual camera lens on her hairy pubic area).

Staying true to the notion in the title of the film that language is a weak symbol for truth or expressing reality, the unseen narrator captures the unknowable character of woman in another great line repeated in the film regarding women: “A woman can do no harm. She can annoy you or kill you. That’s all.” Two extremes with the mystery of woman caught in between. The film, is about dualities on many levels, in another wonderful moment Gédéon says, “The two greatest inventions: infinity and zero.” She counters: “sex and death.” This review could be five times longer in exploring the play of dualities, it’s lush with them. Godard is a naturist in the way he celebrates nudity in a mundane sense, and it’s great fun in 3D, but then there is also the way he treats nature itself with his dog roaming through it. These moments provide wondrous respite from all his intense experiments in 3D, whether it’s the face of Roxy or a camera wandering up the trunk of a tree.


Ultimately, with Goodbye to Language, you will feel something unequivocal in cinema. With the 3D medium, the master has once again found a new way to bring visuals to the forefront of the cinematic experience. Long frustrated with any idea of “truth” in cinema, Godard has gone on to make movies that expose the faults in the medium as far as storytelling but also raising them to a higher level. With Goodbye to Language he comes closer than ever to making the medium the message. He seeks to create a cognitive dissonance for anyone seeking some straight narrative informed by human history or current social concerns in an exhilarating way. Goodbye to Language is so much more than film or even experience for that matter. It is a portal meant to wake the mind out of a stupor numbed by expectation and trained by plot and narrative. It is awareness incarnate in image.

Hans Morgenstern

Goodbye to Language 3D runs 70 minutes, is in French with English subtitles and is not rated (there is violence, language and nudity).

Update: Broward County will now have a chance to experience this extraordinary movie. It opens December 19 at Cinema Paradiso – Fort Lauderdale.

It opened exclusively in South Florida this Friday, November 28 at the Miami Beach Cinematheque, which invited me to a preview screening for the purpose of this review. 

(Copyright 2014 by Hans Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)

JLG GOGOThough many great directors from the French New Wave have passed, it has been fascinating to have Jean-Luc Godard as long and productive as we have. Just this year, his first 3D film premiered at the Cannes Film Festival. I’ve already expressed my affection for the director’s contemporary work in a review for his previous film, Film Socialisme. While Godard could be seen as a curmudgeon who has long declared cinema dead, he is also one of the form’s greatest champions by making such a bold statement. He practically reinvented movies while trying to subvert them. He made it apparent as early as his first feature film, Breathless (1960), well-known for it’s startling jump cuts and disorienting shot/reverse shots. He said it was never supposed to be hit, but it became that and so much more.

Godard has never relented in his quest to demolish expectations along with the rules of filmmaking. His new 3D film, Goodbye to Language, is supposed to be as amazing and revolutionary as one could expect from JLG (check out Scott Foundas’ review in “Variety”). But before that arrives in my South Florida neighborhood (and I already witnessed the enthusiasm for it by two local art house programmers ready to bring the equipment necessary to host the 3D version), the Bill Cosford Cinema, located on the University of Miami Coral Gables campus, will host a series of retro Godard films on 35mm (click for all the details).

Calling it “Godard À Go-Go,” the program features his more recognizable and easier-to-digest films, from the early part of his career. They all also feature his famous muse and ex-wife, the always-game and mercurial Anna Karina. Even if she appears in all of these films, she inhabits very different characters. Watching all three will offer insight into her range as an actress who always seemed overshadowed by the panache of her director husband.

The series begins this Sunday, June 22, at 5:30 p.m. with Vivre Sa Vie (1962). Karina plays a rather tragic figure. In this episodic film, Nana dreams of becoming an actress but ends up a prostitute. Some consider it one of Godard’s most sympathetic films. His concern for social tragedy probably has never been more human than with this film. It has less sly stylistic turns than his other films, but if anyone has only thought of Godard as some hardhearted intellectual deconstructionist, they will find his heart very much on display in this film.


(Get tickets)

The next film, and the only of the three in color, screens Sunday, July 20, also at 5:50 p.m. I have been asked to introduce it by the theater’s programmer. I hope I can do justice to the greatness of Pierrot le Fou (1965). Though Vivre Sa Vie is the most tragic of these three, Pierrot remains the darkest. Brilliant in its play with color and light, I expect the film will look amazing in 35. But make not mistake, a grim, nihilistic undercurrent haunts this story about two lovers on the run. Appropriately, the narrative is the more fractured of the three, but even though character motives and actions may seem obscured, a sympathetic existential angst shines through. It’s also the only one of the three films featuring the star of Breathless, Jean-Paul Belmondo, in the titular role.


(Get Tickets)

Again, 5:30 p.m., on a Sunday, this time on Aug. 24. Bande à Part (1964), or Band of Outsiders in English, is that famous Godard film featuring the impromptu dance sequence in the cafe, cited over and over in many films and other mediums since (most recently in Le Weekend). Forget the caper that seems to drive the film. The characters seem to constantly subvert it, anyhow. It’s all about that dance. It’s probably the liveliest of this trio of films, but the film still has that social awareness of the 1960s that Godard so consciously references in many a delightful scene.


(Get Tickets)

Hans Morgenstern

(Copyright 2014 by Hans Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)

Of course since posting my year-end list of my 10 favorite films of 2011, my opinion has changed. I’ve seen a few more movies, or maybe it’s just Friday. Whatever. Life, not to mention film appreciation, is subjective. Regardless, I hope this read provides a refreshing guide celebrating 20 of what I consider are the best films cinema had to offer in 2011… as far as the independent ethos is concerned.

I could not find the time to see every movie released this year (what human being can?). I even have not seen (sacrilege!) Oscar® contenders like Moneyball and the Artist. But it is safe to say I satisfied by craving for art house films. Any film below that I also reviewed at length in this blog is followed by an *. So, search for their titles in the box to your right for more in-depth thoughts on what made these films special.

Please consider this list as an antidote for all the hype leading up to Sunday’s big night. Sure, I can try to predict what happens on Oscar® night (though the race seems more interesting than years past), but I prefer to dwell on the films I saw that touched me on an artistic level, free from the hype and commercialism that surrounds the Hollywood-centric event. This list goes out to the truly independent spirits, many of whom went under-appreciated partly because they probably did not have the marketing budgets of Hollywood films but also because they offered unusual and original cinematic experiences, be they independent movies, foreign films or people working in Hollywood bucking the “tent pole” and sequel/prequel trend. I’ll start with number 20 (All titles link to their pages. If you click through the links and purchase the movie, you will provide financial support to this blog):

20. Source Code

Time travel films can make for messy movies, and this one seems to be unraveling all the time until it all snaps together in one surprising mental “click” at the very end. It felt as thought director Duncan Jones had just pulled of a magic trick using the narrative techniques of cinema. Sci-fi has never felt both this entertaining and intelligent in a long time.

19. A Dangerous Method

This is as minimalist a Cronenberg film can get: go to the father of psychology (Sigmund Freud, as played by Viggo Mortensen) and examine the tensions between him and his most famous student (Carl Jung, as played by Michael Fassbender) and put a woman seething with id between them. Keira Knightley gives an underrated performance as the Cronenberg monster Sabina Spielrein, the animalistic Russian woman exploding in fits and ticks when encountering authority. Her contorting during Jung’s initial session looks like a special effect: a shape-shifting monster struggling to fix its short circuits in order to retain its human form. The dynamics that ensue thrills on the analytical, psychological level.

18. Drive

One of of the few films I watched in the theaters that physically affected me. I was shivering with nerves like I haven’t in a long time. The slowburn aggression of Ryan Gosling’s character coupled with the stylization of director Nicolas Winding-Refn, who clearly delights in violence, had me quaking like a little kid.

17. Martha Marcy May Marlene

First-time feature director Sean Durkin rises above a stellar, hype-stealing star turn by Elizabeth Olsen (the younger sister of the Olsen twins) with Martha Marcy May Marlene. Though she compliments the film with a delicate and dynamic performance, her character is also a cog in a twisted tale told through a twisted knot of edits that continuously flashback to her life in a cult. Marcy May somehow escapes the cult, returning to the open arms of her sister (Sarah Paulson) to reclaim her birth name Martha. However, she cannot seem to shake her past, which may or may not be catching up to her in real life. The film’s ambiguity does tremendous respect to this mixed up character. The director makes a great, if risky, move at film’s end, staying true to the feeling of helplessness of a person who cannot seem to distinguish “reality”— whatever that is— from fantasy, imagination, hallucination, dreams or what have you.

16. Take Shelter*

A film telling a story from the perspective of a schizophrenic personality always makes for an interesting subject via the cinematic art form. It allows for wide-ranging amounts of mystery. But it can also be a harrowing experience, as one can never tell what lies around the corner from one scene to the next. Take Shelter piles on the stakes, as the main character, family man Curtis (Michael Shannon), slowly unravels while his family seems to need more with each passing day. Some might say there is a big reveal at the end of the film, yet you cannot really trust where director Jeff Nichols decides to place the final frame, as this is a story from the perspective of Curtis.

15. Le Havre*

With Le Havre, Finland’s most popular director, Aki Kaurismäki, reveals a refined, focused talent that has not compromised its sensibilities. The film contains many a breathtaking scene, like the starkly lit stacks of containers at the harbor where we meet the young African migrant Idrissa (Blondin Miguel) at the film’s beginning. Marcel Marx (André Wilms), a good-hearted elderly shoe-shiner, will invest all he has to help that boy get to his mother in London, finding karmic reward at film’s end, represented by a neatly framed shot of a cherry blossom tree in his front yard. Le Havre is a delicate, charming film that recalls the best of the most efficient of world cinema. It was nominated for the Palme d’Or at this year’s Cannes but lost out to the more bombastic Tree of Life. The film flows with the ease and charm for the joie de vivre of both adventurous youth and aging with grace. At the film’s heart is a boy embarking on a new life, daunted by a new, alien land and an old man happy in his groove of life, scraping together the few Euros needed to stay afloat and support his wife, home and dog.

14. Film Socialisme*

If it had a musical equivalent, Jean-Luc Godard’s Film Socialisme would be Sun Ra record from. The “music” of the movie’s imagery is one of the wonderful things about Godard’s obscuring of narrative that seems to bring out a rhythm inherent to the medium of cinema. It was as if JLG was exploring cinema in its purist form. As such, it seems to have more in common with a symphony rather than a book, as movies are so often compared or associated with. As with all great art, be it paintings, poetry, sculpture or music, you will get as much out of Film Socialisme as you put into it.

13. Mysteries of Lisbon*

The stories that make up Mysteries of Lisbon offer something beyond anything I have ever seen in a movie theater. It follows a curving narrative line that cannot be contained. One might imagine it follows a path that can only be illustrated as a three-dimensional cone that begins as a dot and spirals wider into a curlicue with gaps as branches sprout off the curls and twirl off in their own twisting manner into a dark abyss. All the stories within this epic 4-and-a-half-hour film. no matter how brief or long, are swollen with implication and possibilities. The movie’s layering of stories comes across almost dream-like, recalling a recent Hollywood movie that excited movie goers by diverting from the traditional form of blockbuster films, meshing together layers of ever-shifting settings and even goals: Inception. Like Inception, when the finale in Mysteries of Lisbon arrives, the audience is left to wonder: was all that happened really a sort of fever dream, brilliantly adding a layer of infinite possibilities to the proceedings with another surreal bow on top.

12. The Hedgehog

This film took me by surprise. Opening with the annoyingly precious precociousness of a young French girl preparing to kill herself, as documented in family home videos of her bourgeois life, the film becomes a testament to living.

11. Project Nim*

As I watched the story of the oft-abandoned and re-purposed chimpanzee Nim Chimpsky, I could not help but think of Robert Bresson’s classic story of a mule, Au hasard Balthazar. Project Nim has no heroes. The people in Nim’s life come off self-righteous in their presumption to know the soul of a chimpanzee. Director James Marsh splices together a moving documentary that hooks you early and never lets go. The film’s richness comes from a cast of characters who express their love for Nim that reveal how good intentions and human folly can wreak havoc on a living creature. Yes, Nim may have a consciousness, but his mind is not human, an immutable fact that dooms this 1970s-era experiment in assimilating a chimp into a human family from the beginning. Laura-Ann Petitto, Nim’s second surrogate mother, lays it plainly at one point in the film: “You can’t give human nurturing to an animal that can kill you.” The film also offered a powerful precursor to that other great chimp movie of the year: Rise of the Planet of the Apes.

This list continues in this post:

An antidote for Oscar hype: My 20 favorite films of 2011 (numbers 10 – 1)

Hans Morgenstern

(Copyright 2011 by Hans Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)

With Blank City, first-time director Celine Danhier offers a celebration of the influential art scene of New York City during the late seventies and early eighties, which explored everything from music to movies to art with an almost nihilistic attitude. The movement earned the name “No Wave” because it went against the notion of art. It was the perfect complement to the attitudes in London that spawned the punk scene headed by the Sex Pistols during the same time. One of the many denizens of run-down East Side NYC Danhier interviews notes that her peers of the No Wave movement had felt art had ceased to exist in a “culture of blandness.”

Among those Danhier interviews are: Amos Poe, Ann Magnuson, Becky Johnston, Beth B, Bette Gordon, Casandra Stark Mele, Charlie Ahearn, Daze, Debbie Harry, Eric Mitchell, Fab 5 Freddy, Glenn O’Brien, Jack Sargeant, James Chance, James Nares, Jim Jarmusch, JG Thirlwell, John Lurie, John Waters, Kembra Pfahler, Lizzie Borden, Lung Leg, Lydia Lunch, Manuel DeLanda, Maripol, Michael McClard, Michael Oblowitz, Nick Zedd, Pat Place, Patti Astor, Richard Kern, Sara Driver, Scott B, Steve Buscemi, Susan Seidelman, Tessa Hughes-Freeland, Thurston Moore, Tommy Turner and Vivienne Dick.

Danhier assembles quite a colorful cast characters from the scene, and the film never falls short on illustrative anecdotes that typified the aesthetic of the No Wave scene. Lurie, a saxophonist credited for founding the Lounge Lizards in the late seventies, notes his contemporaries held disdain for any artist who did anything with any skill. Technical proficiency at anything was “not cool,”  he says. If you were a musician, you tried your hand at acting. If you were a filmmaker you played in a band. Lurie even expresses his embarrassment about his ability to play the saxophone, saying he felt so ashamed of his skills he hid it from others. He instead tried directing films and acting, famously starring in Jarmusch’s breakout feature Stranger Than Paradise (Support the Independent Ethos, buy the movie on

Though Blank City touches on musicians like the Ramones and artists like Jean-Michel Basquiat, Danhier focuses on the filmmakers of the era and offers tantalizing clips of an array of historic and obscure films featuring Buscemi and Vincent Gallo that are hard to find on DVD, if at all. The films of the No Wave scene, which are mostly shot in back and white, are best described as primitive. Danhier does an illustrative job at getting into the directors’ processes: from what equipment they used (more often than not rented Super 8 cameras) to a glimpse at their scripts, which invited improvisation from the actors and sometimes had child-like drawings as directions. Not only did these filmmakers shoot their movies without permits, they often trespassed into unoccupied buildings. Lurie noted how he set out to fund one picture by staging a robbery at his apartment and collecting the insurance money on his saxophone to budget the picture.

Blank City is filled with many great anecdotes like that, and anyone with an interest of a snapshot of the milieu that spawned the No Wave scene will delight in the information packed into this documentary. The only fault I might find in this exploration is that Danhier seems so fixated on the era, she fails to ask the deeper questions of how it fits into the expanse of art history. There is one point where she touches on the appearance of art galleries everywhere, including someone’s bathroom, and how it seemed to bring money into the scene but offers no further detail.

At least she spends a good chunk of the movie highlighting another art movement spawned from the scene. After Jarmusch’s Stranger Than Paradise began appearing in the movie theaters to much critical praise, it seemed like the alternativeness and independence of the artists was over, as they had seemingly sold out. Then comes the sub-underground movement of the “Cinema of Transgression” where drugs and sex take center stage. The directors of these films usually eschewed story lines in favor of offering shocking scenes where some actors would act out their sexual fetishes and/or get high on camera. The filmmakers of this scene emphasized a desire to shock and repulse more than anything.

This post-No Wave scene featured filmmakers like Nick Zedd and Richard Kern whose movies are hard to find nowadays possibly because of their lack of relevance in today’s post-torture porn culture, a commercial Hollywood movement lead by filmmakers like Eli Roth and his Hostel series. Kern has a compilation of his short films from the era covered by Blank City simply titled Hardcore Collection (Support the Independent Ethos, buy the movie on Zedd’s compilation, however, Abnormal: The Sinema of Nick Zedd, seems out of print but seems to be going for a hefty price on the secondary market, at least on Amazon, so there still might be some curious interest in these films, but it would have been interesting to see Danhier explore the relevance of these filmmakers now. Supposedly Kern is still working mostly as a photographer but he also directed some erotic voyeur pictures. Zedd, meanwhile, seems to still be at work in the same lo-fi aesthetic that defined his films, but, from what can be gleaned from the ratings and information on his filmography on the Internet Movie Database, still seems to be working for a small audience with little appreciation for his work.

Danhier sums up the demise of this counter-culture movement with the rise of MTV and its “co-modification of downtown.” If these guys thought MTV was bad in the early eighties, I would be curious what they think of it now. Lord knows I have bemoaned the hypocritical dictates of MTV and its role in the stupefying of today’s youth (see this post). It is for that reason that it would have been interesting to see how the No Wave aesthetic fits into today’s world. Blank City ends with Jarmusch declaring filmmaking has become more democratic now with the Internet and affordable digital cameras. But it would have been even more interesting to explore the “truthiness” of that notion further instead of end the film at that.

In the end, Blank City indeed offers an exuberant look at artists who can care less about culture while creating vibrant works of art. For these people to have existed in the gloom of late seventies, run-down New York City, nonchalantly dealing with routine, sometimes violent muggings and battling rats for a place to sleep, while still producing vibrant art that celebrated living in the moment, offers a testament in itself.

Hans Morgenstern

Blank City has one last screening at the Cinema Paradiso in Fort Lauderdale on Sunday (June 19), at 8 p.m. It then opens at 9:15 p.m. Friday night (June 24) at the Miami Beach Cinematheque where it will play through June 15. The MBC invited me to a preview screening for the purposes of this review. If you live outside of South Florida check Blank City’s website for its screening schedule.

(Copyright 2011 by Hans Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)

Jean-Luc Godard is one of those rare filmmakers who can exist as a genre unto himself. His oeuvre has helped partially define the French New Wave, and his 1960 feature film, Breathless (Support the Independent Ethos, buy the blu-ray on, will forever exist as a film studies touchstone while continuing to influence and inspire filmmakers working today. One of the last survivors of the French New Wave, last year he directed his first feature film since 2004’s Notre Musique (Support the Independent Ethos, buy the DVD on  Film Socialisme, which has landed in that wonderful middle spot among film critics (see its current 50 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes and 6.0 rating on the Internet Movie Database). When critics divide like this over a movie, it more often than not means something exciting and evolutionary is happening in the movie, pushing boundaries of the medium and asking the viewer to put some effort into the viewing experience.

Those who want pat answers to plot conflicts will not enjoy Film Socialisme. Heck, even those who want a plot with their movie will come away from Film Socialisme frustrated and disappointed. To top it off, non-French speaking viewers will find the English subtitles are only ever two to three spaced out words that seem to catch a few words in the speech of the characters, so do not expect to understand everything on a literal level. Plus, more often than not, line to line, the connections between the words seem incongruous. Adding another layer of obscurity to the narrative, Godard cuts from one left-field-leaning scene to another. The film jumps time and even splices in other films. One of the more famously spliced-in works is Sergei Eisenstein’s Battleship Potemkin, the movie often credited by film academics for taking film editing to another level in the silent era. The quality of the image in Film Socialisme also varies from one cut to anther, which can be sharp or out of focus or pixilated. The color palate is also contrasted in extremes. This is one of those avant-garde films more comfortable in a room at an art museum than a movie theater. If it had a musical equivalent, this movie feels like listening to a record from Sun Ra, Faust or Melt Banana (all greats in the varied genre of “noise”).

The “music” of Film Socialisme is one of the wonderful things about Godard’s obscuring of narrative in the movie that seems to bring out a rhythm inherent to the medium of cinema. It is as if JLG is exploring cinema in its purist form. As such, it seems to have more in common with a symphony rather than a book, as movies are so often compared or associated with. Film Socialisme begins with a frantic pace, cutting between a variety of characters on a cruise ship. At times the sound is terribly distorted with the ocean wind banging on a microphone or the throb of music at a discotheque overwhelming the recording process with distortion. Occasionally, a symphonic piece of music creeps up ominously, but mismatched with the scene, of course. Toward the end of the film’s focus on the cruise ship’s denizens, two people are shown in a library, and the movie seems to malfunction as if the DVD is skipping, but this is apparently not the case, as a subtitle appears smoothly while the movie seems to skip. It reminded me of Tortoise’s epic 20-minute-plus instrumental piece “Djed,” from their career-defining post rock album Millions Now Living Will Never Die, and how it incorporated the sound of a skipping CD into its jazz-inspired music (I recently acquired a copy of that album on vinyl and wrote this review of it: Albums that have stood the test of time: Tortoise – ‘Millions Now Living Will Never Die’).

The film continues on land in three more distinct “movements.” The second involving a media crew in an around a gas station. The third is the mundane life of a family inside their home. Both of these “sections” progressively slow down the pace of the movie in their own ways. However, the fourth, brief but expansive part of Film Socialisme  seems to offer a sort of history lesson with voice overs, offering a return to the kinetic energy of the first part of the film.

As with all great art, be it paintings, poetry, sculpture or music, you will get as much out of Film Socialisme as you put into it. It begs for a knowledge of world history, art, literature and philosophy, as it makes lots of sly references to the past, but still can be enjoyed without encyclopedic knowledge. Some subtitles appear as important dates from history. For instance, “1789, August 4”, marks a particular date of the French Revolution, as the title of this book points out.

But far be it for Godard not to interject commentary into his movie. Though it is still obscure, one heavy-handed line is delivered by Constance, (Nadège Beausson-Diagne) when she recites  something that is translated in the subtitles as: “Poor Europe/Corrupted by suffering/Humiliated by Liberty.” Between Godard’s references to France’s colonial efforts is his inclusion of a woman joining meowing to a YouTube video of cats “talking” with each other…

… make of Constance’s “speech” what you will, but I, for one, do not think Godard shows an contentment with today’s culture and where it has gone from the 20th century and into the 21st. But then, I would never be so bold as to attempt to decipher a specific message from Godard via this opaque movie. As lose as it is in its associative construction, this is one of those magic movies where the “medium is the message,” as  Marshall McLuhan would have said. As little as the film seems to communicate, it is also about a desire to communicate. Film Socialisme is a movie made of associations, no matter how random the images and words may seem.

At one point, a girl tells her father something that is subtitled, “no talk/about invisible/show it.” This bit of dialogue is highly open to interpretation, and again, like all great works or art, Film Socialisme will invite a variation of interpretation from one viewer to the next. The girl actually “says” this during the film’s slowest section, a part of the movie where I felt myself lulled into a hypnotic trance. At the same time, it also began to make “sense” to me, as it seemed to tap into my subconscious, allowing me to read into the subtitles a semblance of a story, which I know I projected into the film from a very personal place, almost like experiencing a waking dream. Can your regular Hollywood movie do that?

Hans Morgenstern

Film Socialisme opens 9 p.m. Friday night (June 10) and plays through June 15 exclusively at the Miami Beach Cinematheque, who loaned me a preview screener for the purposes of this review.

(Copyright 2011 by Hans Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)