Goodbye to Language

Goodbye to Language is the official translation of the title of Jean-Luc Godard's newest film. In the original French, though, Adieu au langage becomes Ah Dieu, oh langage - ah God, oh language - in the polyssemic intertitles that the director consistently throws out throughout his work. The question could be: is Mr. Godard teasing the viewer, playing around with his head?

     Maybe the question should be: when isn't he teasing, when hasn't he teased? He is no longer making "traditional" narrative cinema, but, really, when did he ever do it? Even when his films could still be framed within the traditional confines of storytelling, they were still, always, colouring outside the lines; now that he is essentially creating abstract, philosophical film-essays, he manages to extract more cinema from each shot than most people manage in entire careers.

     Goodbye to Language gains an added formal weight - a dimension, even, if that's not sounding too pithy - from its usage of stereoscopic 3D. If his films have become dazzling, mind-blowing collages of pictures, ideas, quotes and concepts made all the more sophisticated by digital technology, the 3D merely heightens the idea of "palimpsest" underlying his current works: superimpositions, masks, layerings that create entirely new assemblages out of pre-existing elements gain an added depth from the technology. But Mr. Godard also uses it to disconnect and disassociate the traditional viewing experience. (And it should be pointed out that watching Goodbye to Language in 3D and in 2D is like seeing two different versions of a same film.) Image and sound, form and meaning, idea and action - all is irregularly and briefly disconnected before returning to a semblance of normality that has gained a whole other meaning.

     Disconnected, fragmented, dissolved, such is Goodbye to Language, taking the director's usual conceptual and linguistic playfulness to a new level; while criticising the multiplication of screens and visual languages that are impoverishing written languages and thought processes, he is also showing how these apparently "stupid" technologies can open new paths and new possibilities for thinking and seeing the world. The rise of technology and efficiency as enemies of art and love is an old refrain for Mr. Godard (Alphaville anyone?), but he has no qualms about subverting it and distort it into things of beauty and creativity - the new "opium of the people" can enslave as much as free.

     In many ways, it's a film of and about extremes - all and nothing, infinity and zero, sex and death, positing the physical body as the moment where we all are equal and suggesting the trivial domestic disputes and chit-chat of modern marriage are as important as conceptual thought. For all that, Mr. Godard never ever forgets that emotion is at the heart of everything, and has Roxy the dog be the actual star of the film - the simple act of being and existing as the greatest answer and counterpoint to all the complexity of life, underlining the film's incredible generosity of spirit.

     To be sure, we're not sure what language the 84-year old director is saying goodbye to, or if he is just replacing an old one with a new one, or opening up new pathways. Whatever it is he is doing, he is doing it right and saying something, at an age where so many others have nothing more to say.

France 2014
69 minutes
Cast Héloïse Godet, Kamel Abdelli, Richard Chevallier, Zoë Bruneau
Made by Jean-Luc Godard, Fabrice Aragno, Jean-Paul Battaggia
Producers Brahim Chioua, Vincent Maraval and Alain Sarde; production company Wild Bunch
Screened December 31st 2014, UCI El Corte Inglés 9, Lisbon (distributor press screening)


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