Thursday, June 02, 2011

Review | "Film Socialisme"

At the end of his 1967 film, Weekend, legendary director Jean-Luc Godard famously declared the "end of cinema." It was a bold, and some would say narcissistic statement, and a prediction that ultimately proved false, both literally and figuratively.

And although cinema didn't end, it certainly did spell the end for the film movement that Godard had helped give life to, the French New Wave, sending the filmmaker into a period of underground, often extremist filmmaking from which he never quite reemerged.

But even if cinema isn't over, you couldn't tell it from Godard's latest work, Film Socialisme, a film that is as doggedly impenetrable as it is anti-cinematic. If Godard truly thought cinema was dead, his declaration has become a self-fulfilling prophecy. This isn't a film - it's a completely unwatchable ordeal. I've never had a root canal, but I'm pretty sure it would be preferable to Godard's pretentious naval-gazing.

Nadège Beausson-Diagne as Constance in Jean-Luc Godard's FILM SOCIALISME.
Courtesy of Lorber Films.

Neither narrative nor documentary, Film Socialisme is more of an essay on film (I hesitate to call anything about it cinematic, because it's anything but), an aggressively cerebral screed on the decline of the European Union. The film is largely set on an ocean liner, a garish Capitalist tourist trap Godard shoots in everything from 35 mm to a cell phone camera, making for a largely disjointed and disorienting viewing experience. Godard clearly has something to say here, but it's buried amid the seemingly random, aimless ditherings of a director who is clearly punking us. There are arbitrary shots of cats, disembodied laughter, and terse, choppy dialogue interspersed with quotes from literary giants such as William Shakespeare, Jean Paul Sarte, and Joseph Conrad.

There are times when Godard even seems to be going for a David Lynch type vibe, but none of his ideas are ever present long enough to create any kind of lasting impression, much less a cohesive presence. It's almost as if the entire film is Godard's idea of a joke, tricking the audience into thinking they're going in to see another work by one of cinema's greatest masters, only to be hit with this pretentious collection of free-associative ramblings.

Patti Smith as La chanteuse in Jean-Luc Godard's FILM SOCIALISME.
Courtesy of Lorber Films.

There are moments of beauty in Film Socialisme, flashes of the once great director we all know and love. But unfortunately they never jell into anything resembling a film. It appears as if Godard is going for an avante-garde evocation of the state of the EU, but his thesis is completely obstructed by his stubborn refusal to allow the audience in. He pushes us away at every turn, almost as if he never wanted us to get the point in the first place. It's a Brechtian nightmare, a film stuck frustratingly inside its own head. Godard even ends the film with a black title card, with bold white letters boldly proclaiming "No comment." Like his brazen declaration of "End of film. End of cinema" at the end of Weekend 40 years ago, it's as if Godard is once again flipping us the cinematic bird, but this time he doesn't have the substance to back himself up. It's an insulting, condescending move that displays nothing but contempt for his audience.

One of the phrases that pops up in the film is "successful dissonance." I actually can't think of a better phrase to describe the film, save for the successful part. It's dissonant, all right, maddening and obtuse all once - but all Godard has succeeded in doing here is burying his head firmly up his own ass.

GRADE - zero stars (out of four)

FILM SOCIALISME | Directed by Jean-Luc Godard | Stars Catherine Tanvier, Christian Sinniger, Jean-Marc Stehlé, Robert Maloubier, Patti Smith | Not rated | In French w/English subtitles | Opens Friday, June 3, in NYC.


Sam Juliano said...

I LOVE IT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Zero stars indeed. This film is utter shit, and fully deserves this condemnation.

Root canal indeed.

Matthew, you are my hero!!!

This is one of the worst films I've sat through in my life, and finally someone has the gumption to come right out and say what needs to be said. I will be sure to make reference to this essay in my own condemnation tomorrow.

Matthew Lucas said...

Thanks Sam! This is the worst film of the year for me, bar none. This emperor has no clothes.

JeanRZEJ said...

What is 'cinematic' if a piece of cinema is not cinematic? Is a Fuji apple more an apple than a Granny Smith?

I could begin to piece it together - 'This isn't a film - it's a completely unwatchable ordeal.' cinema is penetrable, whatever that means. It certainly doesn't mean that you can't make out the images on the screen, I'm guessing, since you can clearly tell that there is a woman in profile pointing in the first screenshot you posted, etc. Apparently documentaries and narratives are cinematic but essays, whatever that distinction means. Apparently the director 'clearly having something to say' doesn't make it cinema - perhaps if you understood what he was saying it would be cinema? Perhaps he had nothing in particular to say? Perhaps it is a collection of sounds and images projected in a cinema which may or may not elicit any range of responses from its viewer? Is this not cinema? What is cinema? It's still alive, but when it lives it's not alive, and yet it's not dead? Reason is dead.