Au Revoir to Hans Lucas Cinema
Six months shy of Clint Eastwood’s eighty-four, Jean-Luc Godard unleashes Goodbye to Language/Adiue au langage. This forty-third feature world premièred and won Prix de Jury at Cannes, has already been at Locarno and Toronto, and now first-runs here in the New York Film Festival.
The long-ago enfant terrible has gone through numerous phases, from admiration for American tough-guy noir to virtual dismissal of cinema art as visual medium, on to leftist revolutionary sociopolitical critique and didactic film essay to collective group production, and back again. This new, likely last, seventy minutes touches nearly every thinkable thematic base and, in unnecessary 3D which on occasion supplies a different image for each eye, goes from sharp to poor video focus or black screen, from saturated to bleached color, set to Sibelius or static or the sound of oft-repeated “poop” descended or splashing water or Psycho bathtub blood, and what sounds like one single offscreen gunshot.
Many authors and philosophers are paraded, quoted, named, end-credited, read in book titles or smart phone Googled, even re-enacted to a scratchy quill pen at Villa Diodati. The helter-skelter non-story does not stay long on anyone or anything but tackles a range of topics obliquely: modern malaise, death, sex, boredom, love, freedom and slavery, fascism, the will to power, Yes-to-baby/No-to-baby, killing, animal vs. human vantage points, the inadequacy of language (or of anything?) to communicate, cinema history, nature as against artifice, the seasons, rain and snow and the cycle of life.
To a man and woman, critics have fawned over it. The public will not, for in this flight from reality and the coherent into the personal subjective -- for “those lacking imagination take refuge in reality,” it claims -- the hodgepodge neglects to rise above the totally personal therefore incommunicable. For what it is worth, the track follows the haphazard routes, meanderings and rest stops of the director-writer’s own dog Roxy as entrée for the audience. The dog’s-eye approach does not work, or perhaps it is just intended to pull cinema’s collective leg.
A fairly often and explicit buck-naked couple seems probably adulterous. Sometimes against classic films or TV snow on a home flat screen, less often on the toilet or in the shower, they disagree, argue, continue, about as inane in abbreviated dialogue as most people. There is in addition the possibility that they are actually two distinct couples, four reasonably lookalike actors, or even one-and-a-half couples, three actors united through a single common fornicator or through the “adopted” pooch who sleeps on, or observes from, a couch.
In between the one or two or fewer couples and couplings, seasons go by along with images that would not be out of place in a Magritte, with trench coats, wide slouch hats, wire fences grasped by disassociated hands, incongruous chairs approached by gangster limousines, a real ferry going nowhere or everywhere, a ringletted redhead (Marie Ruchat) drinking (or not) from a plaza fountain spout, and Roxy’s muzzle.
(Released by Kino Lorber; not rated by MPAA.)