Image of Language: Film Socialisme

05/25/2011 4:00 AM |

Film Socialisme

Directed by Jean-Luc Godard

Come take a Mediterranean cruise with Jean-Luc Godard and get 97 minutes of abstract and abstruse dialectics, which might be better enjoyed as a museum installation than as a feature film. Film Socialisme is a highbrow, non-narrative mash-up of aural and visual fragments both lofty and quotidian, in which all the usual mechanisms of cinema seem to have disintegrated: broken sound, broken images, broken dialogue—broken form, function and content. Background noise, sound effects and dialogue, all frequently distorted, pop in and out without much logic—but with loads more than that which seems to have gone into the subtitling: in a rebuke to the global hegemony of the English language, the subtitles are at worst streaming nonsensical commentary (“French northamerican/German Jew Black/love only friend”), at best a broken-English, haiku-like translation of the dialogue.

If the latter, Godard’s leaving spaces for us to fill in, emphasizing the gaps of meaning inherent in language (though usually in a less conspicuous manner!). Such unresolved mysteries form the essence of modern existence, of our thought, understanding and sensory experience: spoken and written words have only the crudest connections to one another here, much like the images—often coarsely textured or impossibly colored—have only the barest relation to their subject or to reality. They often flood forth in a numbing torrent: cute cats, casino interiors, war planes; a geometry lecture that cuts to a gaudy shindig on a cruise ship. Their juxtaposition suggests senselessness stemming from modern media-saturation—like Afterschool‘s more facile connection between Saddam’s hanging and anodyne YouTube expressions—history blotted out by the blinding, deafening present. In Film Socialisme, Godard fashions an “image of language” (as one key subtitle reads), a purely cinematic iteration of words in all their ambiguity and limited significance.

Opens June 3