Thursday, October 30, 2014

GOODBYE TO LANGUAGE 3D (and Being a Battered Godard Spouse)

or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and OBEY MY DOG!

In other words: "OH!  I GET IT!"

The first thing to tell you when it comes to Jean-Luc Godard's latest film - which, at 83 years old, could be his last, and by the title it wouldn't be a surprise if it was - is that it's impossible to summarize.  Actually, that's not entirely true.  Sort of.  Here is what it says when you look at the summary on the website Metacritic for the title:

"The idea is simple: A married woman and a single man meet. They love, they argue, fists fly. A dog strays between town and country. The seasons pass. The man and woman meet again. The dog finds itself between them. The other is in one, the one is in the other and they are three. The former husband shatters everything. A second film begins: the same as the first, and yet not. From the human race we pass to metaphor. This ends in barking and a baby's cries. In the meantime, we will have seen people talking of the demise of the dollar, of truth in mathematics and of the death of a robin."

That's not a summary.  That's a poem.  Indeed I think this actually came from Godard himself, not another writer trying to figure out the movie.  Do these things happen?  Should you care?  

Remember this is a shot about... Mao! 

I don't want to make this sound like I am coming in cold on this one, far far from it.  I've seen almost all of Godard's features, loved a good few of them (not counting the ones that are so obscure they are probably locked away in the crawl space of his house after their first screenings), and as the last surviving member of the Cashiers du Cinema/Nouvelle Vague band, he has his great works and good ones and fair ones and... the incomprehensible pieces of pretentious malarkey, which Goodbye to Language leans more to the latter.  

But like any spouse to an artist that keeps getting knocked around and can't quite seem to know when to stop saying 'please, I'll be good, I'll stick around', I keep coming back.  Why in God's name?  Because sometimes through all the Film Socalismes and King Lears and Hail Marys and In Praise of Love and JLG/JLGs, there are times he just gets on fire as far as pushing the envelope of cinema as a form and language while keeping it INTERESTING (that's the key word).  

Goodbye to Language is... a lot of things.  That's a key question, which I'm sure Godard-heads would like to know: is it interesting?  Um... in a couple of parts.  Here's something to know; there is a couple here, as the summary points to.  And they have conversations.  And are naked.  For most of the film.  They don't fuck so much as skulk around, get undressed, get dressed, watch each other poop (well, the girl watches the man poop, I'm dead serious - if you've ever wanted to see a filmmaker literally crapping in front of his audience, this is an analogy that's too hard not to point out), and talk about the usual stuff that "characters" in Godard movies in the last twenty years talk about, which are a lot of things and nothing.  

It's a lot of babble.  There's lines like "I hate characters" (which is why I put "characters" in quotes) and "I am here to tell you no.  And to die."  There's also a scene shot in a car at night where the people on screen say things that just made me so befuddled that I only wince that I didn't have a pen to write it all down.  There are some seemingly provocative things said like, get this, Hitler was the start of terrorism... and uh, oh, here's a dog.  No, literally, Godard puts his own dog on screen for many chunks of the film.  And while it's shot in 3D, which I'll get to in a moment, it's not exactly the crisp and clear 3D we see in big blockbusters of the day.  

"I can write a thousand words about this picture, I just don't want to." - Bart Simpson, film critic

Frankly, it looks like home movies.  You may want to joke that a lot of Godard's films since the mid 80's have seemed like home movies, but this isn't being semantically cute (though Godard loves to do that), it's basically: "hey, boy, let's go out in this field, here we go!" and that's a movie. 

I actually liked the idea more when I first heard about 'Language' many months back, when it sounded like a film from the dog's point of view.  It may very well be from the dog's point of view for a lot of it, but fuck if I can tell!  It's the kind of experience, in general, even at 70 minutes - which is pretty paltry for a theatrically released effort run-time, good or bad movie - that makes me feel dumb.  Why don't I get what these people are saying?  It almost makes me question if I "got" things like Notre Musique (which I actually remember enjoying, his film from 2004) and portions of Histories du Cinema.  If you were to look at the critical appraisals online, they'll admit it's hard to find anything that really strings this couple and/or dog on screen together into a cohesive narrative, but they love it anyway.  

I WISH I could love it, or even respond positively.  But I left the theater punch-drunk, like I got fucked up with dopamine.  Part of this is because of the 3D.  It's a bold experiment, I'll give it that: use the two-camera 3D process on stuff that isn't particularly epic (unless you're someone that gets a hard-on for shots of leaves on trees and water and ships cruising to nothing), and he also dares to mess with the audience in a way which sounds radical and even fun - on paper.  What he does is a few times in the film, he shoots something with one of the cameras in one direction, and leaves the other camera in the same spot.  In other words, when you watch it through your glasses you see one thing in one eye and another thing in the other.  So two actors in a scene, one of them moves, and you get to see both actors... one with each eye.  

I ended up taking off my glasses after the first time made me sea-sick, like 'Holy shit, what the hell was THAT' level.  It's difficult enough to have a 3D movie with subtitles, and then the derangement of the inter-titles, which are also in 3D.  Perhaps this will be something that will be in a lot of movies in the future, kind of like Peter Jackson's experiments with 48 FPS and James Cameron's alleged plans to shoot Avatar sequels in 120 fps.  I wanted to laugh, at first, with the definite head-fucking.  But it felt like being fucked in the ass, visually speaking.

This isn't to say Godard can't shoot some beautiful stuff, also far from it.  This is what's kept me going through several of the later-period work, just by how he gets compositions that any painter would be jealous of.  If there's any issue here, however, the cinematography isn't consistent.  The stuff with the dog is mostly, again, shot like it was on a camcorder in the early 90's.  Maybe it was.  Other shots were likely done on crisper digital DSLR cameras (for the large part of the 3D, like with the naked people), and of course this ALL could be by Godard's design.  No, not could.  It is.  

The technical side of the picture isn't quite as frustrating as what he puts into it, all of the philosophical, poetic, didactic, semantic, existential ramblings-on, which all makes Goodbye to Language so... slippery, not even episodic but like little post-it notes that go flying one minute to another.  If there had been a stronger foundation to grab a hold of with the couple at the center - again, this is where a little extra run-time would have been useful - his film would have been flawed but a success in having a through-line to hang his ideas and notions on.  But he doesn't.  I can't tell you if these actors are any good - the main ones or any of the side char, sorry, 'people' who pop up, and like in other Godard works they pop up just to look at and flip at books (Dostoyevsky gets name-dropped here) or write things down, and at one point there's.... a scene with people in 18th century clothing.  

Actually, that wasn't too bad.  There was a sense of play and fun in that moment that was lacking through a lot of the rest of the movie.  

I just... I started with Godard when I was swimming deep into the art-house cinema pool of the BIG auteurs of the period (Bunuel, Bergman, Truffaut, Pasolini, Kurosawa, Ozu, the list goes on and on), and Godard always stood out as being one of the weirdest, the most daring, the most IN-LOVE of cinema but also poetry, classical music, existentialism, and a kind of fatalism/dark-side that permeated the best of his 1960's and into the 70's work of any of the heavy-hitters.  He was, and sometimes is, inspirational in ways some of the Hall-of-Famers weren't.  

This made finding his work at a certain point, probably when he hit his 40's and 50's, to lose any sense of narrative and becoming completely experimental, disappointing.  He never stopped trying to be daring, but after a while, as with, oh, I don't know, Tim Burton to throw out a big example, you can see the old dog turning the old tricks so many times.  

That, or, to quote the scene from Shawshank Redemption: "Why are you so obtuse?" "What did you call me?" "Obtuse. Is it deliberate?"  My mind has been battered by this man so much and yet I continue to return, hoping for a fix from this spouse-cum-drug-dealer of movies, and it's here, with what may be one of his final films, that it's much too much.  Yes, even at 70 minutes.

Goodbye to Language 3D is baffling and frustrating, and that's what the filmmaker intended, probably.  That, or it's completely clear and like music and I just can't stand what this dude is dishing out, or make heads/tails of.  There may be some deep things here... other times, frankly, there was a sense of 'The Emperor has a big middle finger where clothes should be'.  

Or, perhaps, I should stand up for myself and not let my Filmmaker beat me around.  Cue Tina Turner...

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