Godard's Oblique Socialism

By Atkinson, Michael | In These Times, September 2011 | Go to article overview

Godard's Oblique Socialism


Atkinson, Michael, In These Times


Godard's Oblique Socialism

To GRAB HOLD OF THE angry snake that is Jean-Luc Godards new film, Film Socialisme, let's consider one more time the sum of the French director's revolutionary half-century intercourse with cinema.

Godard himself couldn't care less, of course - always the most recalcitrant of world-class auteurs, he has stood outside of fashion for so long he comes close to defining a separate outlaw idea of what movies are. That s only been the story after the '6os, when Godard owned the era's generational mojo as no other international filmmaker did and had a run of some 15 masterpieces in that span, from Breathless (1960) to Le Gai Savoir (1968), that is unparalleled in the medium's history.

From the very first, Godard has been a rule-breaker to whom some audiences intuitively respond and others find maddening. Because Godard requires active nlmwatching - the left side of your brain cannot doze- he has acquired a reputation as a cold, intellectually forbidding filmmaker. This notion is decimated by a second look at his '6os movies, which are quintessentially spontaneous, intimate, heartfelt and sometimes as messy as a lovers morning bed. These movies dont merely depict things or tell neatly conceived and performed stories. They throb with life.

But Godard is now 80, and the '6os are long gone. In the decades since, his films have dealt capriciously with narrative, and morphed testily into feature-length film essays that pick at anti-imperialist politics even as they still sigh in awe at the sight of sunlight in a girl's hair. His films have aged as he has, and Film Socialisme (invading US. theaters this summer) is just as filled with ambivalence, bitterness, longing and bemusement as your average octogenarian. It's also, by a notable stretch, Godard's most irascible film ever, a defiantly incohesive rumination on ... everything?

What it isn't is a film "about" socialism per se: Political principle hums in the film's corners, but obliquely, unless you decide, as Godard has suggested, that his free-flowing assemblage of new, old and borrowed footage is essentially socialist- egalitarianin practice. It doesn't feel that way, though - the film is either thornUy personal or a gob of spit meant for your eye. One major departure from even Godard's measure of orthodoxy is the refusal to subtitle the film clearly- Godard mandated that truncated, elliptical "Navajo English" titles be used, two or three disconnected words at a time, so the unlucky monolingual viewers among us can get only the scantest ideas of what's being said. …

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