Another anomalous concoction by Godard that pushes the limits of 3-D viewing to uncomfortable, astonishing effect.
Goodbye to Language 3D
Goodbye to Language 3D is 70 minutes of erratic, beautiful imagery and sounds strung together in the strangest way, with barely a sliver plot to speak of. The images are evocative and ostensibly absurd: a dog darts to and from the camera; a naked woman shares post-coital proverbs with her man in a bathroom as he farts on the toilet; a shot of flowers and foliage with the colors blown out bedazzles…but makes no sense. It doesn’t mean to. This mad concoction is the latest effort of the irreplaceable Jean-Luc Godard, to no one’s surprise, I’m sure. The French New Wave pioneer’s affinity for philosophical free-association is well-documented (Weekend is the best example), but this film takes experimentation to new, dizzying heights, for better or for worse.
The film is presented in 3-D as the title promises, and the effect is appropriately crucial to the experience. 3-D is used (abused?) by the legendary auteur in ways that had my eyes strained to tears, throbbing in pain. In one scene, for example, a man and woman have a conversation outdoors, when suddenly the woman walks away. The image splits; the left eye sees the man, the right eye follows the woman, the multi-layered image causing a terrible, splitting headache (pardon the pun). It was a diabolically painful thing to watch. Then, a revelation: unable to bear the mind-bending, superimposed images any longer, I closed one eye and saw just the man, crystal clear. Then, I switched to my right eye to see the woman, speaking with somebody else, again crystal clear. Left eye. Right eye. Man. Woman. To my astonishment, I realized I was cutting the film myself! It was a thrill, something I’ve never experienced before. Better yet, my headache was gone. The question of whether this type of interaction was intended for audiences by Godard is of no interest to me, quite frankly, but it’s this mischievousness and irreverence that makes him so beloved by film obsessives, and so insufferable to others.
Godard shows us Mary Shelley putting quill to paper, invokes the Holocaust, and most prominently features the aforementioned couple-in-the-nude and their tumultuous relationship. But ultimately, all of these things are simply allusions to deeper subjects that we can choose to mine intellectually, or not. It’s a decidedly better experience to submit to Godard’s tidal wave of stimulants rather than try to find some deeper meaning hidden within the opaque non-narrative, which would only lead to frustration. The film’s form and philosophy defies critique, really, as its intent and vision is pure to the point of infallibility. Godard invokes different philosophies and historical events because he’s using them as brushstrokes on his canvas. Don’t mull over each blotch of paint and color choice; take a step back, view the entire picture as a one piece of art, and feel it sink into your bones.
The ability to take everyday moments in our world and make them seem otherworldly is Godard’s gift. Through his eyes, things look different, and reality is heightened. Everything we see in Goodbye is downright domestic, nothing approaching the spectacle of Weekend‘s famous tracking shot down an apocalyptic roadside. The added third dimension, however, is not only stunning, but revelatory. We see a woman standing behind a metal grate, and because of the 3-D effect, the sense of entrapment and isolation in the image is intensified. Equally as stimulating is the helter-skelter sound design, which will abruptly start and stop music at the most unexpected times (the large reaction at my screening was that there was something wrong with the theater sound system itself) and bump the volume up to ear-piercing levels seemingly at random. It’s uncomfortable and extremely artful, but far, far from enjoyable.
Godard’s 84th birthday is in just a few weeks, but Goodbye to Language 3D is a testament to how pertinent, audacious, and mysterious a filmmaker he still is today. While pain and frustration will be involved in most people’s experiences with the film, the value of its boldness and uncompromising vision is unquestionable. With films like this, Godard makes filmmakers 50 years his junior look well-dressed, meek, and impotent.