In Adieu au langage, which Jean-Luc Godard is reportedly preparing to premiere at next year’s Cannes Film Festival, Daniel Ludwig plays “a man who’s angry at his wife because she’s met another man on a park bench. Period. That’s all I need to know, the assistant succinctly tells me,” writes Ludwig in a delicious diary-like piece for the Tages-Anzeiger, a Swiss daily. “Godard’s screenplay leaves all sorts of other questions open as well. Alongside sibylline texts and the master’s own handmade collages and images, the screenplay is wildly, chaotically, wonderfully suggestive, an artwork. Godard has pasted in a portrait me, too, and drawn a mustache under my nose; I look a bit like Hitler.”
On this particular drizzly day in Nyon by Lake Geneva, Ludwig, sitting in the back of a silver Mercedes SL 500, is driven at breakneck speed, tires screeching, around two curves, after which, he leaps out, pistol at the ready, yells out his meager lines, and shoots. 27 times until Godard tells his assistant “C’est bon,” who then relays the okay to the crew and actors. Godard is not to be spoken to directly. Besides the assistant, Godard works with one cameraman and another “young man who ensures that the actors and props don’t go missing and no passersby wander into the frame.” All the equipment, he notes, fits neatly into a van: two “tiny” 3D cameras—Godard carries a third handheld—a sound recorder, and an umbrella. “That’s it.”
Christian Grégori plays the man on the bench, Héloïse Godet, Ludwig’s wife. Grégori’s to page through a book by Nicolas de Staël and mumble reams of texts by “ultra leftist thinkers” to no one in particular. As Ludwig describes him, Godard himself in fine shape at 82. At one point, peering into his handheld, Godard takes a step back, loses his balance, and falls backward into the wet grass—but rolls right out of the fall and back up on his feet again “like an aikido warrior.”
On his last day on the set, Ludwig is determined to break the ice. He approaches the director and asks him after the brand of the cigar he smokes since “it smells so good—which is a lie, because they stink.” Godard looks him briefly in the eye, rises, goes over to the van and starts rummaging around in the trunk. When he returns, he pulls a wooden box from a leather bag and says, “Je fume celles-là, Ludwig.” Partagás, from Cuba.
Ludwig tells him he once visited the factory in Havana, where books were read to the workers as they rolled the tobacco. “Godard stares at me with watery eyes; the blood freezes in my veins.” But then JLG breaks into a grin:
“Do you know this Jewish joke? Two old Jews are waiting to ambush Hitler and kill him. They’re very quiet. They wait an hour. They wait three hours. They wait six hours. Hitler doesn’t come. Says one Jew to the other one: Hopefully nothing’s happened to him.”
Godard bursts out laughing, turns, wanders over to the wall along the edge of Lake Léman, right up to the water, pulls out his little camera, and shoots a cruising ship and scampering water birds.