Film festivals are wonderful, but film festivals are also absurd. In this, more than in any other case, I don’t envy those who’ve walked into a theater and walked back out again 70 minutes later obliged to produce copy ASAP. Writing for the Film Stage, Peter Labuza takes the best approach: “Goodbye to Language, an essay work by Jean-Luc Godard, is not the kind of thing one can simply write about without weeks or months of contemplation. The head is filled with thoughts, so I offer them in the same manner they swirl around.” And it’s a marvelous page of notes. Just a sampling: “A symphonic release. The violins swirl up the chords. The text tells us, ‘When imagination has failed, one must take refuge in reality.’ So must we. But what has come of reality?… Yes, this is Godard. This is Late Godard. Beyond Late Godard. Historie(s) investigated the past. Socialisme: the present. And now: the future. It is Cinema 3.0 — 3D.0. We’ve passed the movement-image, the time-image, and into the image-image: the Frankenstein of the 21st century.”
For Sight & Sound, Nick Roddick recalls a few of the more turbulent moments in the history of the relationship between Godard and Cannes and suggests that Goodbye to Language “situates him firmly, almost 65 years since his first short, within the tradition of artistic provocateur even more firmly than it recalls his beginnings in the nouvelle vague…. Clearly JLG has effortlessly completed the transition from enfant terrible to Bad Grandpa.” At any rate, “this is language in the sense of conventions of communication (the French langage), not national tongues (langues). But here too, Godard belongs in a tradition more than he might be willing to accept: that of Sartre and other philosophers whose philosophical and political langage involves the manipulation and re-definition of the meaning of words, often in aphorisms.” And “Godard’s films abound with aphorisms… Adieu au langage is (not surprisingly) no exception.”
Speaking once more of Godard and Cannes for a moment, JLG’s Letter in Motion to festival president Gilles Jacob and artistic director Thierry Fremaux appeared as Goodbye premiered yesterday (embedded below) and, at Indiewire, Paula Bernstein and Elyse Schein have translated a few key passages. So, too, has Fabien Lemercier at Cineuropa: “The risk of solitude is to lose oneself. It is, you could say, the professional risk, taken on by the philosopher because he searches for truth and worries about questions deemed metaphysical, but which are in fact the sole questions that worry each and every one of us.”
Variety‘s Scott Foundas notes that “voices on the choral soundtrack muse on such favored Godard themes as unregulated state power and global economic imbalance, in a movie that more than once suggests the Western world has descended into a fascistic nanny state. But that risks making Goodbye to Language sound like heavier going than is actually the case for a movie that devotes much of its second half to a dog’s-eye view of the world and features one character declaring that ‘thought reclaims its place in poop’ whilst sitting on the john, complete with scatalogical sound effects…. For while Godard is 83 and clearly heavy with melancholy about many things in the world, he hasn’t lost his prankster side, and Goodbye alights with visual gags and punning wordplay, including various permutations of pic’s French title, Adieu au langage, as ‘Ah dieu’ (‘Oh God’) and ‘Oh langage.'”
For Little White Lies editor David Jenkins, “this is cinema in which technical process and the DNA of montage construction are nudged to the fore and, perhaps, intended to be accepted as the essence of the work itself. Godard achieves this by offering a sustained sensory assault in three dimensions and with added bass-bothering stereo sound, planting scenes from a relationship at the core of the ugly-beautiful cacophony of images and then slowly shifting focus to the innocent travails of roving mutt, Roxy Miéville…. Goodbye to Language exists as an implacable object d’art that’s entirely enigmatic and wholly accessible at the same time. It’s a singular cinematic feat that should evoke slack-jawed awe prior to any trite proclamations of love or hate. There is also a killer bathetic sign-off in the vein of ‘No Comment,’ but we won’t spoil that…”
“So what does Godard do with 3D that, say, James Cameron would never think of?” asks Jonathan Romney in Screen Daily. “He shows us a naked woman holding out a bowl of fruit, for example but he also adopts more radical strategies. The roughness and high-intensity color of the images sometimes cause the screen to sparkle like crystal. At a couple of other moments, Godard breaks down the solid-seeming illusion of the image, in a disconcerting and rather magical effect that has the image break down into two, one veering off from the other before the two perplexingly join together again.”
“And what is it all about?” asks the Guardian‘s Peter Bradshaw. “Perhaps it is about humanity’s agonized sense—which gets worse as death approaches—that making sense of things is impossible, that language, art and the act of love offer a unity which is a mere transient confection. Often, Godard’s camera lens seems to me like the lens of a futuristically powerful telescope. He sees everything from a very great distance and vast detachment, on a planet of his own, and his communications are garbled and frazzled from being transmitted intergalactic distances. Farewell to Language is chaotic and mad, with longeurs. But it has its own baffling integrity and an arresting, impassioned pessimism.”
For the Chicago Tribune‘s Michael Phillips, “it was truly moving to experience first-hand the hearty reception afforded Goodbye to Language among the 2,300 Godard freaks in attendance at the festival’s largest venue, the Lumiere…. There’s a shot of [Heloise] Godet from the top of her head down, in 3D, that is beautiful enough to make you cry. It’s a few seconds of everything Godard ever did for the movies, crystallized: We sense the desire behind the eyes of the man behind the camera, but it’s not merely salacious. It’s sad, a human moment captured just so. Elsewhere a simple shot of a car windshield wiper going fwoop-fwoop in the rain takes on a strange import in the 3D format. This is how long Godard has loved the cinema; he was around as a cinephile and lover of trash to see the 3D films of the 1950s, and now here we are.”
“It’s his most outwardly aggressive statement against contemporary civilization since the barbaric climax of Weekend,” declares Indiewire‘s Eric Kohn. “I think Godard is messing with us big-time, just as he did with Film Socialisme, and I don’t mean that in a bad way,” writes Barbara Scharres at RogerEbert.com. Prize for the most WTF line in this first round has to go to the Hollywood Reporter‘s Todd McCarthy: “Since winning his honorary Oscar, Godard is obviously on cruise control.” For more in Spanish see Mónica Delgado at desistfilm and Roger Koza.
Now then. If you’re fluent in French, you’ll want to listen to Patrick Cohen‘s interview with JLG for Radio France (82’29”), but setting aside Godard’s own Letter, yesterday’s item of the day was a 45-minute video interview with English subtitles posted by the Canon Professional Network.
Updates: For Mike D’Angelo, writing at the Dissolve, “what makes Goodbye to Language extraordinary, in a way accessible even to an avant-garde ignoramus like myself, is Godard’s revolutionary use of 3D, a gimmick I’ve always had little to no use for…. Godard does things here that, as far as I know, nobody else has ever thought of, and one effect is so singular and bizarre that I actually briefly lifted my 3D glasses so I could figure out what the hell I was even seeing…. It’s not often that a movie offers something I’ve literally never seen before, and while I’m skeptical that this heralds any new direction for cinema, it’s at least pretty damn cool.”
“Is Goodbye to Language really about how the ease of communicating—how every thought can now be instantly, painlessly fired into the ether—has led to the demise of language?” wonders the AV Club‘s A.A. Dowd. “If so, that adds a layer of irony to the real-time, social-media, insta-responses the movie’s premiere provoked.”
Wesley Morris at Grantland: “Twenty percent of the movie must involve water in various states—fountains, showers, rapids, snow, sea. That seems right for a movie about the denial of fixity and the embrace of flux.”
At the Playlist, Oliver Lyttelton gives the film a B.
Updates, 5/23: “The radically deep, sculptural 3D takes the ideas Raúl Ruiz took from Orson Welles and Edgar G. Ulmer and adapts it for the false trueness of 3D, where the image jumps at you, longing for your eyes, or your eyes for it,” writes Daniel Kasman in the Notebook. “And often it is so 3D it hurts, a grasp towards reality that pierces. The shots, the scenes are brief. Scene, pause, intake of breath, scene. Limpid and lithe, with sweetness and room for your senses to move and think…. The couple, always back to the couple, the two, in Godard, to love and to work, the struggle to be and remain one.”
“Finally, the competition lineup had something it has desperately needed all week,” writes Manohla Dargis, reporting on Wednesday’s premiere for the New York Times: “a thrilling cinematic experience that nearly levitated the packed 2,300-seat Lumière theater here, turning just another screening into a real happening. You could feel the electric charge—the collective effervescence—that can come when individuals transform into a group. ‘Godard forever!’ a voice boomed out to laughter and applause, as the congregated viewers waited for their brains to light up with the screen.”
For Time Out‘s Keith Uhlich, “it’s nice to see this great filmmaker sculpting something that feels genuinely revelatory…. Damned if I could tell you what it all means, where Goodbye to Language fits in with the director’s filmography and how I’ll feel about it ten days or ten years from now. But I was able to spin my own movie out of the experience, and for that, I’m thankful.”
Update, 5/24: “More than anything, the film’s 3D works to make the seen world seem strange and new again, to scrub clean our doors of perception, as Huxley would have it,” writes Budd Wilkins at the House Next Door. “In a time when many artworks, especially films, wallow in the quotidian, in the muck of the merely actual, Godard, with a nod to science-fiction writers like A.E. van Vogt, seeks out new vistas (‘strange new worlds,’ if you will). To this end, Godard invokes Claude Monet: ‘Paint not what we see, for we see nothing, but paint that we don’t see.’ With Goodbye to Language, he’s attempted to do just that.”
Update, 5/25: For the Voice‘s Stephanie Zacharek, “the real star of Goodbye to Language, the non-actor who gets the best lines, the best Godardian slogans, and the best action shots, the one who conveys the most delicate whiskers of feeling, is Godard’s own dog… naked as Brigitte Bardot in Contempt and just as beautiful, though of course in a distinctly canine way. Goodbye to Language is a fillip in the Godard canon. It probably can’t be called a great film, but it’s a teasing and exhilarating one, one that flirts with despair but somehow, I think, comes out on the side of joy. Godard—genius, irritant, innovator, pain in the ass—sometimes, perhaps by his own design, seems more god than man. In Goodbye to Language, he introduces us to his best friend. He must be human after all.”
Updates, 6/2: “It is ecstatic. It is awesome. It is wonderful.” Many have asked Craig Keller to gather his initial thoughts, originally tweeted, into a blog entry. And he has. “Godard didn’t just deliver what we hoped for. He made something unimaginable…. Yes, Adieu au langage is maybe not only among the greatest of all films, but the greatest… ..of all comedies. Yes, at the end, everyone was stunned, speechless. Kent Jones afterward just said to me, ‘a great, great, great film.’ Multiple other friends just said: ‘masterpiece’—which is a reminder, like Moullet’s recent film, how often that word is overused when.. …you see something like this. — Alright, that’s all for now. Just had to get that off my chest.”
For Jordan Cronk, dispatching to Reverse Shot, “far from the exasperation which climactically punctuates Film socialisme (‘No Comment’)—or even the brash proclamation closing Weekend (‘Fin du cinéma’)—the final moments of Goodbye to Language are serenely playful in their resignation, attuned to the rhythms of life, death, and quite possibly, rebirth. In lieu of such dramatic gestures, Godard seems to be wishing us, simply, adieu.”