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In 'Goodbye To Language,' Jean-Luc Godard Seeks New Ways To Make Pictures

Jean-Luc Godard's dog Roxy appears in his new film, <em>Goodbye To Language.</em>
Kino Lorber
Jean-Luc Godard's dog Roxy appears in his new film, <em>Goodbye To Language.</em>

Even the most ordinary movies can be seductive, as Jean-Luc Godard knows all too well. In the 1960s, he was besotted with American commercial cinema, even as he rejected the U.S. policies that led it to make war in Vietnam.

Now, oddly but with a certain logic, the 83-year-old Franco-Swiss auteur is playing with Hollywood's hottest toy: 3D. The result is Goodbye To Language, which includes some of the loveliest simulated three-dimensional images ever filmed. Yet Godard refuses to allow himself — or the viewer — to be content with beauty. Parts of the movie are hard to watch, and it's intentional.

The challenge is, in part, visual. The director superimposes text and images in a way that's meant to be alienating, places objects obtrusively in the foreground, and sometimes moves the dual camera lenses out of sync, emphasizing the artificiality of the 3D effect. These sequences seem to require viewers to close one eye or the other, and to in turn devise individual montages with their own senses.

As always, Godard pits art against interpretation, and challenges the human penchant for accepting what we see. Snippets of Beethoven and Tchaikovsky come and go, while clips from 1931's Dr. Jekyll And Mr. Hyde and 1952's The Snows Of Kilimanjaro arrive unexpectedly, all fractured to emphasize their artifice.

At other times, the movie condones 3D illusion-making, often with bright HD footage of the scenic Lake Geneva area that doubles as Godard's neighborhood. The peacefulness is challenged not only by harsh images, but also by disruptive ideas and ghastly history, notably of Hitler and the Holocaust. Genocide is one thing, the film suggests, that cannot be explained in words.

The movie's title doesn't suggest a return to silent cinema, though no lines are spoken by one of the stars: Roxy, the director's dog. The film is as chatty as any of Godard's work, offering philosophical asides as well as the dialogue of its two-part (or two-version) "story": the adulterous relationship of a married woman and a single man (Heloise Godet and Kamel Abdelli).

Both are naked much of the time, but theirs is no erotic idyll; they mostly talk, sometimes bickering. In one pointedly unglamorous scene, the man chatters while loudly using a toilet, echoed by a shot of the canine's performance of the same function.

Viewers with little patience for Godard will note that he's used most of this movie's gambits before — the rapturous nature shots in Nouvelle Vague, the collage of fiction and newsreel footage in Histoire(s) Du Cinema, the punning intertitles in Helas Pour Moi. And this is hardly the first time the director has bid farewell to something; his films of the last 25 years are all essentially elegies.

But Goodbye To Language is not a mournful movie, and not just because its muse is a lively, curious mutt. The film bubbles with energy and invention, thanks to jittery editing and a jumble of photographic styles. Initially skeptical of video, Godard has long since embraced it, and here uses a mix of high- and low-definition consumer-grade recorders. Imagine Breathless if its maker hadn't been chained to a bulky film camera.

Even as Goodbye To Language issues cryptic warnings — "What they call images are becoming the murder of the present" — Godard can't stop himself from exploring new ways to make pictures. He seems to enjoy doing so almost as much as he enjoys frustrating the expectations of those who still want a movie to have a beginning, a middle and an end, in that order.

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