New Brainwaves: Goodbye to Language

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10/22/2014 4:00 AM |

Goodbye to Language
Directed by Jean-Luc Godard
Opens October 29

The use of 3D in Jean-Luc Godard’s latest feature is so singular, so wrapped up in the director’s intellectual concerns with the material nature of cinema, that to call it the best ever application of the technology is almost underselling the achievement. Depth of field limitations are accentuated, then overcome, through extreme distances between people and objects, and items that “protrude” from the screen, like the snout of unofficial star Roxy Miéville (Godard’s dog), are perhaps the first 3D shots that genuinely look as if they have leapt off the screen to speed straight for the audience. Most bewildering of all are shots that send one of the stereoscopic cameras veering off after other action, producing a kind of neo-superimposition that overloads the senses in more ways than one.

Compared to the historical, political and aesthetic density of Godard’s other late-period works, Goodbye to Language is stripped-down, with fragments of half-glimpsed narratives and ideas given more space to breathe than in the usual collages. Yet this reduction in complexity becomes an indictment of reductiveness itself. A woman regularly asks passers-by if “it is possible to produce a concept of Africa,” a challenge so difficult to answer that it is not immediately apparent that to conceptualize Africa as a whole, instead of the continent’s diversity, is itself an oversimplification. Likewise, a debate between a nude woman and her bathroom-occupying lover lets the man pontificate about the differences between the sexes while suggesting that he is literally full of shit.

Godard stages these scenes as admission of the insolubility of ostensibly simple concepts, and he even throws in quotations and recollections of his earlier films to criticize their failure, be they they early genre deconstructions or later essays, to adequately articulate his thoughts. Notorious for his cerebral irascibility, the director humbly ends his film with an imagined conversation between two dogs, suggesting he cannot say anything more profound or true about the property of any idea or object than some mutts scampering around each other.