Upon finishing Everything Is Cinema: The Working Life of Jean-Luc Godard by author and film critic Richard Brody I came away with two clear notions. The first is that Godard has left an indelible mark on the history and construction of cinema since his initial feature film Breathless. Second, I realized that he has become one of the most divisive and belligerent filmmakers of the past two decades. While I constantly sing his praises for his earlier work, it is clear that his desire to be a political dissident and destroy the structure that is video have done nothing but ruin his artistic output. Film Socialisme, could well have been one of the best films of this decade were Godard to have reigned in his animosity for the rest of the world, given its clearly cinematic nature and experimental narrative. Tragically, his desire to distance viewers, particularly those not speaking French, with incoherent subtitles, like the one that titles this blog entry and his spiraling into ungrounded political attacks cause the film to quickly become unwatchable. It was only a matter of time before I found myself guessing when Godard would throw in an image of Hitler, and to no surprise, he did so in some of the films closing scenes. Not to dismiss the work completely, Film Socialism does indeed offer a few moments of cinematic expression rare in contemporary art house cinema, yet as a whole the film is clearly a failed attempt at creating works similar to the early works of Dziga Vertov, or anything by Dusan Makavejev, and ends up lacking the one thing that Godard always had going for him...hipness. Film Socialisme is a film that attempts to mix political commentary with the exploration of human relationships, however, the concoction lacks far too many ingredients to prove successful, the most apparent being a sane and accessible director.
While Film Socialisme plays out as a series of vignettes, it is possible to glean some basic narrative from the various characters presented throughout the film. The initial setting of Godard's work is on a cruise ship, as the images cut between glossy shots of the ships deck and the ocean to shots of passengers dancing in a nightclub which are captured in terrible quality by what appears to be a cellphone camera. In the midst of this entire structure, we are introduced to various members of the cruise, including an aged war criminal, a former official for the United Nations and what appears to be a Soviet detective. The characters interact to some extent, but without a complete understanding of the multiple languages throughout the film, it is impossible to verify with any certainty their conversations or the seeming ties between each character. Even when American viewers are offered a familiar language in that of musician Patti Smith she only rambles incoherently about a variety of things. With little explanation the film then cuts to the interactions of two children as they cope with coming to age and realizing the frivolity of their young lives and as such they begin to question there parents on a variety of issues, including notions of political justice and global equality. Their conversations are being recorded, for apparently no reason by a film crew who possess clearly revolutionary ties. These moments while completely absurd reflect Godard's traditional styling; it is when the film reaches the third act that everything falls apart. The film falls into a slew of still images, news reels and even the title menu for a film, with sections that represent major world locations, including but not limited to Barcelona, Egypt and Odessa. What connection Godard is attempting to make is quite unclear, but he obviously associates many of the images to fascist rule and violence is shown throughout, particularly as it relates to the Middle Eastern countries depicted. At one point earlier in the film, Godard even inserts this popular YouTube video again for no apparent reason. The film closes with the words no comment, implying that Godard desires no confrontation about the images he has depicted, despite their clearly agitating intent and fallacious nature. Furthermore, in a bizarre twist, Godard filmed the cruise scenes on the recently ill-fated Costa Concordia making the disparate nature of the film almost prophetic.
To dismiss the political and critical commentary of Film Socialisme would be unfair, despite the clear disinterests of Godard to his viewers and society in general. Film Socialisme is primarily concerned to great detail with what role the movie image plays in societal change. As the film's tagline suggests, "Freedom is Expensive," making Godard's choice to stage an early portion of the film on a cruise ship pertinent. The individuals on this ship are attempting to escape their problematic pasts and their large amounts of wealth provide them such an opportunity, yet any attempts to capture their escapes are ruined either by the lack of proper technology, which is best seen in the grainy footage of a party on the ship or inability to capture images properly as occurs with shots of individuals talk to people off camera who are never shown, or the scene later in the film in which one of the revolutionary filmmakers is killed off screen, but the stagnant camera is unable to follow the action. Godard desperately wants his viewers to understand that the power of video as a means of social justice is impossible and the third act of his film attempts to drive this notion home by suggesting that we as a society have seen atrocities in the past via video and have done little to affect change as a result. Film Socialisme, as such is a manifesto on the fading power of video in an evolving technocracy that allows those in power to escape media condemnation. It very much had the possibility of revolutionizing our current cinema standards, yet in the hands of an aging Godard, Film Socialisme is nothing more than a preachy old man shaking his fists with rage and fury so as to ruin any validity to his argument.
Film Socialisme is a unique viewing experience, without a doubt, however, to purchase the film would be illogical unless you are a die hard Godard supporter. The director has lost his touch and seems incapable of ever gaining it back. Rent the film if you find yourself intrigued by its controversy.