AMERICAN CINEMA PAPERS
IN WHICH WE SURF
by Harlan Kennedy
In the beginning was the word and the word was ‘Breathless.’ Nothing has changed in 50 years. A demi-century after A BOUT DE SOUFFLE, the first surfing challenge of the French New Wave, we still pant in the wake of Jean-Luc Godard. We are blinded by spray, wobbling and puffing and gasping in the master’s wake, while Godard stands proud on his speeding surfboard.
new film may be, he says, his last. Premiered at the 63rd
FILM SOCIALISME itself is a kind of no-show. A miraculous one. Godard is everywhere, yet nowhere. A whirring invisible intelligence, controlling a mock documentary. His personality is transubstantiated as surely, as metamorphically, as that of his near-namesake the Son of God, changed into bread and wine at the Eucharist.
101 minutes long, FILM SOCIALISME is a bit of fun about existence, death, art, tourism, history, religion, culture, politics, philosophy and the future of humanity. It clarifies one thing we knew already: Godard invented web-surfing before the web. He rides on a tide of ideas and free association. One topic sets off another. He sees everything as interlinked, which is why he likes puns. (“Ange, depeche!” cries a mother bustling out of the house with her child. “Hurry, angel.” That’s a riff on the Bresson title LES ANGES DU PECHE/ANGELS OF SIN).
FILM SOCIALISME – I can’t get enough of that po-faced, toe-crushing title – Godard’s camera goes on a Mediterranean cruise. He is
concerned with the littoral. With what the famous coastline incorporating
Godard becoming a fuddy-duddy? Is the ancien guerrier de la
Gauche becoming a Luddite and stick-in-the-mud?
You wouldn’t know it from the style. On the soundtrack, the loud sighs and
crackles of sea wind keep starting and stopping. So do the bits of chamber
music. (Godard loves his string quartets). The visuals, deliriously staccato, are
fragments of coloured surf. Some camcorder footage of cruise liner life. Passengers to-ing and fro-ing on the decks, some with pixellated
faces. (Can’t have sign releases. Obviously thought: “Who’s this French nutter with tinted specs and a digicam?”)
Slapping seconds of wake, brief roils of grey seas. Captions doing their Godardian stuff with words. “QUO VADIS EUROPA”.
“Where are you going,
Does it all add up? Godard would answer, it is a movie, not a math puzzle. It is a journey, not a destination. Aged 80, he is continuing in his French way – antic, eclectic, associative, speculative, passionate – the tradition of TS Eliot. You create art from rearranging what has been created before. Life is the legacy of others who have lived and others who have made art and thought. If that makes his cinema seems a little second-hand, well – what is more rich and human and varied and revealing and unpredictable than a second-hand shop?
This film is not about fragmentedness but about the impossibility of that to an active mind. (We should all get such a mind if we don’t have one). It sees cinchings, sutures, correspondences, cross-echoes everywhere. Godard puts the ‘disco’ into ‘disconnectedness’: he is still the funkiest old-timer in cinema. Deconstruction is an art you can groove to, which is why he picks out key words from every spoken utterance in the film and lays them along the bottom of the screen. If someone were to say in his movie, for instance, “Once more unto the breach, dear friends,” Godard’s subtitle would cherry-pick “Once Breach Friends”. That works to stir a whole new concept as well as to essentialise the old.
Godard is concerned
about the history and future of Israel/Palestine, so we get archive footage
and agitprop as we pass that spot. Actually I suspect he isn’t as concerned
as he thinks – or wants us to think. Didn’t he get the Jewish question out of
his system in his last but one film, which had another audience-allergising title (
think in this new film he’s Prospero. The title FILM SOCIALISME reminds us
that Shakespeare’s original title for THE TEMPEST was PLAY UTOPIANISM. (Well,
it might have been. You can’t prove it wasn’t?) Rather than fixating on any
particularity, Godard is abstracting himself into
cloud patterns and rainbow patterns of valedictory thought. He believes the
the marvellous sequence at the
History is always alive, say Godard’s film and his art. And if history ever looks like not being alive, or ever tries to play dead, it is art’s duty to get out the resuscitation devices or the necromancer’s skills. Life is here to serve art: that would be a Godard article of faith. But art in turn, he says, must serve life, imaginatively and indefatigably.
COURTESY T.P. MOVIE NEWS.
WITH THANKS TO THE AMERICAN FILM INSTITUTE FOR THEIR CONTINUING INTEREST IN WORLD CINEMA.
©HARLAN KENNEDY. All rights reserved