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Despite a Palme d’Or win and despite the fact that he’s one of the better-known proponents of Slow Cinema, Apichatpong Weerasethakul is a director I’ve only become familiar with since I started blogging, so I guess the release of his fêted latest film Cemetery Of Splendour is a good point to start what will probably be an aptly-slow exploration of his career to date. It’s set in and around a makeshift Thai hospital – until recently used as a school, though the full extent of the site’s history becomes apparent later on – and in one ward we find that a group of soldiers who were tasked with clearing the site are collectively suffering from a bout of narcolepsy. No-one seems to be able to explain why the condition is affecting these men, and the doctors at the hospital are open to alternative healing methods, embracing coloured light therapy in particular. Jenjira Pongpas plays Jenjira, a woman who volunteers as a nurse/carer in the hospital, and the character takes a shine to one soldier in particular, named Itt (Banlop Lomnoi), who subsequently wakes for brief periods under her watch. Also working on the ward is Keng (Jarinpattra Rueangram), a young medium who uses supposed psychic powers to help loved ones communicate with the soldiers, and given that she does this for no obvious remuneration (and has turned down the opportunity to work for the FBI), the implication is that her skills are genuine rather than an attempt to hoodwink and profit from the desperation of others. It’s revealed that the hospital now stands on a site that was once a king’s palace, and what transpires is a strange scenario that could perhaps be termed ‘fantasy’, but I’m loathe to use the phrase given that it has a loaded meaning in relation to cinema and culture more generally, and the fact is Apichatpong – ‘Joe’ to his legion of fans – determinedly keeps his film grounded in reality with scenes that depict characters undertaking routine activities, such as exercise by the river or the simple act of eating lunch and dinner. Perhaps a term such as ‘mythology bleeding into modernity’ would be more accurate: the ‘ghosts’ or ‘past lives’ of previous residents of the site are discussed more and more and even begin to appear to Jenjira, though when they do they’re dressed in modern clothes and have modern haircuts.

The plot is actually fairly clear and concise up to a point, though I’m presuming it shouldn’t be taken on face value and it’s certainly possible to read the film as if the soldiers, or perhaps even other characters, are actually in some kind of purgatory. There is repeated talk of a hidden world under our own, in particular when Keng (channeling the dreaming Itt) walks around a sculpture park with an enraptured Jenjira, describing the rooms that once stood where the characters in question stand today. There are plenty of symbols and metaphors that fit with such a subtext – next to the hospital a digger ploughs into and churns the land, for example, although for much of the film it isn’t operated – but I couldn’t quite figure out whether Apichatpong is arguing for or against raking through (or disturbing) the past, and I was left none the wise by the film’s enigmatic final sequence. Supposedly there’s some criticism of contemporary Thai politics in the film, too, though I have to admit that beyond the unrest in recent years it’s not a subject I know much about, so I’m afraid it was all lost on me. So I guess it’s a difficult film to pin down, which is critical shorthand for saying ‘I only understood some of it’; it’s quiet, very slow and duly filled with long takes, yet suddenly out of nowhere Apichatpong finds the extraordinary in the ordinary, be it the hypnotically-whirring fans and water wheels that repeatedly appear or the brightly-lit montage of street scenes that match the changing colours of the therapeutic light sticks used on the hospital ward. Cemetery Of Splendour is a relaxing watch, and it reminds me of that brief, strange state we sometimes experience when we’re no longer dreaming but haven’t quite woken up, and the difference between what is real/what is not real is not immediately obvious. It’s a shame, though, to not fully understand the underlying message.

Directed by: Apichatpong Weerasethakul.
Written by: Apichatpong Weerasethakul.
Starring: Jenjira Pongpas, Banlop Lomnoi, Jarinpattra Rueangram, Petcharat Chaiburi.
Cinematography: Diego García.
Editing: Lee Chatametikool.
Certificate:
12A.
Running Time:
120 minutes.
Year:
2016.

 

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This enthralling drama by Colombian director Ciro Guerra is set in the Amazon rainforest, and if I were to mention that it ocasionally brings to mind Conrad’s Heart Of Darkness and that it features a brace of westerners who are travelling along the Amazon river in search of a flower that will cure illness and (perhaps) provide psychotropic enlightenment, you’d be forgiven for dismissing it as yet another film in which white men go on an exotic quest through the jungle to find/lose themselves or to obtain something they deem to be important, the implication being that the concerns of any indigenous characters in such stories are of a firmly secondary nature. I’ve seen Embrace Of The Serpent mistakenly dismissed in these terms in some quarters, and while physical and spiritual journeys are undertaken by the two western characters here, somewhat refreshingly the real focus is on a shaman named Karamakate, played in two different periods of his life by Nilbio Torres and Antonio Bolívar. Using this character in particular the film seeks to address the indigenous experience in Amazonian Colombia at the turn of the 20th Century, exploring the way in which tribes were exploited and/or the way that their different ways of life were corrupted. Through the film’s decades-spanning structure we see, for example, the direct results of acts of mistreatment carried out by those involved in the rubber trade and religious missionaries. And despite the fact that Embrace Of The Serpent is a post-colonial piece that is critical of colonialism, it’s also refreshing that the two westerners in the film – both scientists – are not simply presented as symptomatic of the problems faced by indigenous people in Colombia, and one in particular seems to be keenly aware that his presence in the jungle is changing the lives of those he comes across; his unshakeable belief in the importance of scientific knowledge, however, means he presses on regardless.

We first see Karamakate as a young man in 1909, watching the river from a bank as a canoe comes into view containing the severely-ill German ethnologist Theo Koch-Grunberg (Jan Bijvoet) and his travelling companion Manduca (Yauenkü Migue), another indigenous man who – to Karamakate’s displeasure – wears ‘western’ clothes. Theo is on a research expedition, making notes and sketches about flora and fauna in a variety of notebooks, while also photographing the tribes he meets as he travels along the river, but he appears to be near death when the boat first floats into view. Karamakate – who lives away from his own tribe for reasons explained later in the film – has the know-how to keep Theo alive and to help him in his quest to find the rare (and fictional) yakruna plant, which will supposedly cure the German completely. Thus the three set off along the river, despite Karamakate’s initial mistrust and misgivings. Guerra repeats this opening scene shortly thereafter, only now it’s 1940 and the older Karamakate meets American scientist Richard Evans Schultes (Brionne Davis), who is retracing Theo’s journey into the jungle and is also in search of the yakruna. (Guerra proves to be a master at switching between stories and timelines: this opening segment makes use of a match cut while several other transitions are executed with the kind of grace that is beyond most filmmakers.) Meanwhile, across the two versions of the story, Karamakate discusses his own Chullachaqui, a mythical figure that looks like a copy of a human being but is perhaps a hollow shell or a ‘ghost’ who either intends to deceive or serves as a reminder of that which has been lost or forgotten.

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Jan Bijvoet and Yauenkü Migue in Embrace Of The Serpent

Karamakate as an older man has seemingly forgotten many things – presumably because some of it is irrelevant to his daily life – whereas by contrast both Theo and Richard cling to their notebooks and possessions with a protective fervour, convinced by the importance of the knowledge that they are amassing without ever really understanding what they’re missing or whether, even, their way of life actually is every bit as ridiculous as Karamakate seems to find it. The journeys that Karamakate undertakes with both of these men are similar in that they roughly cover the same physical ground, but it’s the later journey that stirs the shaman’s long-forgotten memories of the former trip, and it’s during the 1940-set scenes that Karamakate questions what he himself has become, and indeed what has become of his land and people. In 1909, for example, Theo, Karamakate and Manduca travel up river, against the current, and eventually come across a Christian mission, in which children orphaned as a result of malpractice within the rubber trade are looked after by a Catholic priest. The priest chooses to beat them when they misbehave. Later, when Richard and the older Karamakate stumble across the same place, it has become overrun by plants and trees and serves as the headquarters for a religious cult, where psychedelic substances are taken and suicide is encouraged by the cult leader; the inference is that many of the young boys from the earlier thread are now brainwashed members of the cult. In every way imaginable the film presents the indigenous people as being worse off in 1940 than they were in 1909, or – rather tellingly – gone completely from the banks of the Amazon. Karamakate is the link between these two periods, yet despite all the differences Guerra’s structure also highlights how certain things have stayed the same: the bends of the river, the foliage, the sound of water and the sounds of the jungle, the belligerent westerner.

Guerra develops many interesting themes – the effects of colonialism, the western desire to ‘teach’ and ‘educate’ without necessarily being open to teachers and educators themselves, the process of aging and reflecting on life that has been lived, the concept of knowledge and how it is affected by memory, the differences between cultures that write things down and those that pass on information and stories verbally – but the real skill is in the way that he weaves them all together (this within a film that – amongst other things – is often very tense and gripping). It’s filmed in black-and-white, although a psychedelic, colourful end sequence appears which is in-step with the mythology presented during the film (Karamakate believes his ancestors were carried to Earth by a giant anaconda, and that in some ways taking the yakruna plant allows one to return to ‘the embrace of the serpent’). The cinematography – by David Gallego – is magnificent, and I haven’t yet seen a film that looks better than this one in 2016. The acting is uniformly excellent, with no weak links among the small cast. In short it’s a fascinating, weighty and beautifully-rendered triumph.

Directed by: Ciro Guerra.
Written by: Ciro Guerra, Jacques Toulemonde Vidal. Based on the diaries of Theodor Koch-Grunberg and Richard Evans Schultes.
Starring: Nilbio Torres, Antonio Bolívar, Jan Bijvoet, Brionne Davis, Yauenkü Migue.
Cinematography: David Gallego.
Editing: Etienne Boussac.
Music: Nascuy Linares.
Certificate: 12A.
Running Time: 125 minutes.
Year: 2016.

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Given the critical praise it has received – Horse Money came third in Sight & Sound‘s Best Films of 2014 list – I was intrigued by the prospect of watching Pedro Costa’s latest film, but went into it with more than a little wariness; reviews and articles I had read beforehand spoke of its difficult nature, as well as the need to ‘surrender to its images’ rather than making any attempt to understand what was actually happening, which is of course shorthand for saying ‘give it up, dumbo, and reach for the Jason Statham box set you hide behind all the arthouse stuff’. Actually, despite being far too lost and confused to fully grasp what was happening during the film, I did latch onto the fact that it’s an elegy of sorts, concentrating on one character called Ventura (a semi-fictional version of a real man named Ventura), who is possibly a symbol of the Lisbon slum where Costa has set his previous films (Fontainhas, now demolished, once home to the city’s Cape Verdean community). In Horse Money Ventura, who also appeared as a slightly different character in Costa’s Colossal Youth as well as some of the director’s short films, appears to be ill (or dying, or already dead), and for much of the running time he’s holed up in a hosptial or asylum of some sort; this place – like most of the locations and settings here – is grimy and dimly lit, though throughout the actors are placed within bright patches of natural and artificial light, ensuring stark contrasts with the darkness. Friends and family come to visit and Ventura interacts briefly with the staff, but this sliver of realism gradually gives way to a series of dream-like sequences in which Ventura and others reflect upon their past lives in Cape Verde and Portugal. Perhaps Ventura is in the afterlife already, or – given that much of the final sequence takes place in a lift before he appears to leave the hospital – he is on the way there. A woman named Vitalina (Vitalina Varela) appears regularly to stoke Ventura’s recollections of the past and, somewhat cryptically, to whisper about the journey ahead.

If you can get over the feeling of being all at sea – which I couldn’t, unfortunately – there’s clearly plenty to admire here: the crisply-rendered images are impressive and often beautiful, the film has a carefully-constructed atmosphere of quiet contemplation, while the sheer weirdness of some sequences makes for a sporadically-arresting experience: at one point Ventura walks along a street with a tank at his rear, while the aforementioned elevator scene includes a statue of a soldier in the corner (and just to confuse matters it seems as though Ventura has a conversation with this soldier within his own head, unless I’m wildly mistaken, and I freely admit I may well be). In amongst all of this there are segments that possibly serve to highlight the lives of those who lived in Fontainhas: some scenes show people wandering around or trying to continue their work in wrecked business premises; additionally, the film opens with a series of portraits of poor people in New York tenements by the social documentary photographer Jacob Riis, and Costa includes his own response to those mid-way through the film with a series of beautifully-shot living portraits set to music (I’m assuming that the people who feature are all former residents of the Lisbon slum). But how to interpret it all, and how far does one go in terms of trying to balance respect for uncompromising artistic endeavour with the general frustration experienced when baffled by the work the artist presents? Ultimately I suppose it’s good to take on challenging, unusual material from time to time, but this is an occasion where I just have to hold my hands up and admit that most of the film flew over my head. As a result I simply didn’t enjoy watching Horse Money all that much. Perhaps more context or historical information about Cape Verde’s independence after centuries of Portuguese rule or Portugal’s own Carnation Revolution would have helped. Perhaps I should have started with earlier Costa films, or at least watched Colossal Youth. Perhaps a second viewing would make things clearer (though I very much doubt it). Perhaps I should have relaxed and gone with it rather than spending my time trying to understand more about the migrant experience. Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps.

Directed by: Pedro Costa.
Written by: Pedro Costa.
Starring: Ventura, Vitalina Varela, Tito Furtado, Benvindo Tavares.
Cinematography: Leonardo Simões.
Editing: João Dias.
Music: Os Tubarões.
Certificate: 12.
Running Time: 105 minutes.
Year: 2015.

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This intriguing drama by Tom Geens revolves around a couple who are living in a hole in the ground, as the title suggests. Said hole exists underneath a giant fallen tree somewhere in the woods in the Pyrenees, and the couple in question are, somewhat unexpectedly, a pair of middle-class Scots who are surviving by foraging and hunting small animals, such as the unfortunate and soon-to-be-skinned rabbit we see at the start of the film. Immediately certain questions spring to mind: why are they living there, of all places? What has happened to them? Has there been an apocalypse, or a disaster that has forced people to vacate France’s towns and cities? Why is the woman, Karen (Kate Dickie), afraid to venture out into the daylight? Why is the man, John (Paul Higgins) throwing the gifts she makes him off the top of a cliff? To address any of these questions here would be to spoil the plot, or parts of it, but everything is gradually explained as time elapses, and the plot eventually involves a French couple, played by Jérôme Kircher and Corinne Masiero, who live nearby. The premise – once explained – and the woodland setting means that Couple In A Hole shares a little common ground with a few other recent European arthouse films, such as The Lobster and Les Combattants (aka Love At First Fight), both of which feature characters establishing new lives in the woods, though it’s far darker than either of those 2015 films. Perhaps a closer cousin is this year’s post-apocaltyptic drama The Survivalist; both open with a dialogue-light fifteen minutes that establishes the respective routines of its protagonists, both feature similar themes regarding hunting/being hunted, and both feature some excellent photography that’s primarily coloured by the lush greens and earthy browns of the environment (even if the two films eventually do move off in wildly different directions).

Scored by the sparse Bristolian trio Beak (featuring Geoff Barrow of Portishead), it’s fascinating to watch the daily life of this couple unfold while also trying to figure out what has happened to affect their relationship and their mental health so badly that John has taken to tempting Karen out of the hole using grubs and other edibles as bait. But no more details from me: you’re going to have to forgive me for being vague, because the less you know about this going in the better. The film features a pair of very good performances by Dickie – who recently appeared in The Witch – and Higgins, both of whom seem to disappear into their characters and manage to render the living situation that has been chosen completely believable, while Kircher and Masiero convince in their supporting roles. Geens – who also wrote the screenplay – successfully piques the viewer’s interest straight away, develops it further by dropping clues about the common link the four characters share, and delivers more than an hour of an arresting, finely-constructed film, which occasionally features a Malickian appreciation of the natural world. It’s a shame, then, that after such a sure-handed opening the events during the final act are not particularly credible, and that Couple In A Hole features a rather messy ending that comes close to undoing all that promising work.

Directed by: Tom Geens.
Written by: Tom Geens.
Starring: Paul Higgins, Kate Dickie, Jérôme Kircher, Corinne Masiero.
Cinematography: Sam Care.
Editing: Alain Dessauvage.
Music:
Beak.
Certificate:
12.
Running Time:
100 minutes.
Year:
2016.

2 Comments

So you’re either interested in an Icelandic drama about a pair of fraternal sheep farmers who haven’t spoken in 40 years and must deal with the effects of degeneritive disease scrapie on their respective flocks, or you’re not. Those who take a punt on Grímur Hákonarson’s Rams will be rewarded with a fine film that serves as a touching character study as well as a fascinating glimpse into the travails faced by a rural community. It also sheds light on the bond that sheep farmers form with their herds, which is the kind of thing that will inevitably draw snickering from some quarters but Popcorn Nights is above such idiocy, so that’s one in the eye for ewe. (See also last year’s documentary Addicted To Sheep.) The two brothers in question here are Gummi and Kiddi, played by Sigurður Sigurjónsson and Theodór Júlíusson respectively, and they own patches of land that share a border but were once combined to make one family plot. The brothers fell out over something – it’s never really clear what, but it may have been to do with the way their inheritence was divided, or perhaps as neither have ever married it could have been over a girl – and their stubbornness has resulted in four decades’ worth of silence. When they do need to communicate it involves pointing or passing hand-written messages back-and-forth using by a sheepdog, although Kiddi – the more aggressive of the two who douses his own unhappiness with alcohol – has a penchant for expressing displeasure by getting absolutely plastered and firing a gun at his brother’s bedroom window.

As a result of their fractured relationship both brothers desperately want to win the annual ‘Best Ram’ competition that takes place in a nearby town. In the aftermath of one of these events it’s discovered that some of the sheep have scrapie, necessitating a culling of both men’s flocks and those of many other farmers in the same valley. These events gradually force the two brothers to address their long-simmering hatred, lest the family tradition be lost forever. Hákonarson, who wrote the screenplay, turns a fairly simple premise into an engaging and profoundly moving piece, superbly acted by both leads, that skillfully negotiates the fine line between comedy and tragedy. The link between head-butting rams and head-strong warring brothers is obvious but never overplayed during the film, while their personality differences are not simply manifest through shouting matches, and are instead carefully described through a number of well-observed interactions, both with other humans and with their own animals. Similarly the director doesn’t overplay the symbolic nature of the flock: when the sheep are gone there will be no reason for Gummi and Kiddi to remain living next door to one another, and given their old age it would be difficult for either of them to start afresh and carry on as farmers; the culling of the sheep will surely spell the end of this family, so Gummi’s actions in the film are informed not just through love for his animals but because of what these sheep stand for. Sturla Brandth Grøvlen’s cinematography is naturally informed by the landscape’s shades of green, brown and blue, which gives way to the white of snow and the black of volcanic rock as winter takes hold; the Icelandic countryside filmed is as spectacular as it is bleak. Natural light is relied upon for the scenes set indoors, and there’s something enjoyable about watching the men rattle around in their homes, which are cluttered with all manner of useful farming tools and objects. With sure-handed direction, a suitably morose soundtrack by Atli Örvarsson, a well-written screenplay and some fine acting, particularly by Sigurjónsson, who has the bigger role, Rams is well worth your time.

Directed by: Grímur Hákonarson.
Written by: Grímur Hákonarson.
Starring: Sigurður Sigurjónsson, Theodór Júlíusson, Charlotte Bøving, Jon Benonysson.
Cinematography: Sturla Brandth Grøvlen.
Editing: Kristján Loðmfjörð.
Music: Atli Örvarsson.
Certificate: 
15.
Running Time:
91 minutes.
Year:
2016.

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This debut film by Alonso Ruizpalacios is heavily influenced by the French New Wave, and it also brings to mind the episodic nature of Jim Jarmusch’s early films, with random oddballs dropping in to the easy-flowing story before exiting just as abruptly. At times the director struggles to keep his obvious cineliteracy in check, and Güeros feels achingly hip by dint of its nods and references, but it’s eminently likeable and doesn’t outstay it’s welcome, clocking off while the principle characters still remain interesting. We begin in 1999 with a focus on Tomás (Sebastián Aguirre), a Veracruz teenager whose tearaway tendencies are proving problematic for his mother, so she packs him off to live with his brother Federico, a.k.a. ‘Sombra’ (Tenoch Huerta), a student in Mexico City. Sombra lives with friend and fellow student Santos (Leonardo Ortizgris), but their university campus is currently a hotbed of strike action, so the pair seem to be doing little else other than sitting around smoking weed in their apartment. They have been part of a protest group in the past but, somewhat disillusioned, have turned their backs on the demonstrations.

The three set off on a road trip of sorts when they discover that an elderly singer idolised by Tomás is critically ill in one of the city’s  many hospitals. The film is split into episodic parts, the titles of which let us know roughly where the characters are (‘East’, ‘South’, etc.) as they try to find the
correct hospital in order to pay their respects. Eventually they stumble across the right one, but perhaps more importantly they stop by their university, which is so beset by trouble it actually resembles a city under siege. At this point the two older characters begin to reconnect (albeit only slightly) with the political issues that are directly affecting them, and we’re introduced to Sombra’s on-off girlfriend Ana (Ilse Salas), who is heavily involved in the protests. (The politics of the film is rooted in real life events, when the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México began charging students admission fees for the first time.) Ana joins the boys for the rest of their travels.

A scene from Alonso Ruiz Palacios’s GÜEROS, opening at Film F

Ana (Ilse Salas), replete with French New Wave outfit and haircut, in Alonso Ruizpalacios’ Güeros.

All four of these characters are interesting for different reasons, and their journey around the city is certainly an engaging one, but it’s the visual style of Güeros that makes the greatest impression. The callbacks to the French New Wave are obvious, whether it be Ana’s striped long-sleeve t-shirt or the rule-breaking playfulness of the director. In one early scene, for example, we see Tomás listening to music via headphones on the beach; the soundtrack is completely quiet until his mother takes the headphones off to talk to him, at which point we start to hear all the diegetic sound we would ordinarily expect: sea waves, birds, people, etc. It’s the kind of simple trick Godard was pulling in the early 1960s, and such inventive touches liven up proceedings considerably here. There’s a nice strand of experimentation with the editing and some of the insert shots, too, while it’s filmed gorgeously in black and white: tonally there’s a richness to Güeros that I haven’t seen since Paweł Pawlikowski’s Ida roughly a year ago; very little is obscured by the shadows, and each frame is sumptuously crisp. Additionally there’s the focus on social issues, the 4:3 aspect ratio and the general feeling of a film being made on the fly, without the need of big crews or cumbersome equipment.

Alonso Ruizpalacios’ film sometimes struggles to be more than just an homage, but its own, non-European identity is eventually forged via Mexican cultural references, the settings and the slang terms that pepper the script; a title card at the beginning explains that the word ‘güeros‘ is a derogatory term for light-skinned individuals, and it’s used to comic effect here (though rather bemusingly some characters with dark hair and darker skin colour are also labelled as güeros, which makes me think I’m missing some nuance or joke). The film offers some insight into daily suburban life in Mexico City, too, or at least Mexico City as it was at the end of 20th Century. Overall it’s a confident, alluring piece of filmmaking, but I’m already more interested in what the director does next, presuming he has now got some things out of his system. Still, it looks as good as anything I’ve seen this year, and this is clearly the product of someone who does not lack for ideas.

Directed by: Alonso Ruizpalacios.
Written by: Alonso Ruizpalacios, Gibrán Portela.
Starring: Sebastián Aguirre, Tenoch Huerta, Leonardo Ortizgris, Ilse Salas.
Cinematography: Damian Garcia.
Editing: Yibran Asuad, Ana García.
Music:
Tomás Barreiro.
Certificate:
15.
Running Time:
107 minutes.
Year:
2015.

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goodbyetolanguage‘Those lacking in imagination take refuge in reality’ declares a title card, somewhat ominously, at the beginning of Jean-Luc Godard’s Goodbye To Language. This hyperactive arthouse film was met with critical praise upon release but will certainly cause many who see it to throw their hands in the air through sheer exasperation and return to their imagination-free diet of straightforward, conventional, easily-digestible films, presuming that’s what Godard is suggesting. If his latest is a challenge to cinema audiences – even those familiar with the ups-and-downs and abrupt about-turns of his career – then it is one that I took on enthusiastically, but ultimately its skittish, wilfully-difficult, abstract and experimental nature left me feeling weary, exhausted, irritated and resoundingly defeated. I must indeed be lacking.

At the end of 2014, somewhat predictably, angry accusations of pretentiousness poured in from one side while, on the other, a number of respected film critics queued up to laud Godard with dubious over-bubbly praise; Goodbye To Language topped (or came near the top of) many end-of-year polls in 2014, though the idea of lobbing this work into a chart rundown for comparison with other cinema releases seems somewhat pointless, as well as being rather amusing. Anyway: my own adverse reaction to the film means that I’m left scratching my head and wondering what exactly I’ve missed. Certainly I have little-to-no idea what Godard is trying to say by including the many clips nestled around the threadbare story, most of which were unfamiliar to me beforehand, while sadly most of the references to art and literature – whether oblique or direct – went right over my head. Trying to appreciate Goodbye To Language at home, on a normal TV set, also puts me at a disadvantage: many of the film’s fans vociferously cited its ability to make them think differently about the medium of 3D, whereas I merely struggled to make sense of the jumble of overlapping images, text and saturated footage.

At the heart of the film there are two similar stories covering the relationships of two couples, both of which are affairs (or perhaps it’s the same story … with the same characters … but played by two different actors … and shot from different angles). One is named “1 Nature” while the other is “2 Metaphor” and, amusingly, an epilogue is given the untypically rule-following number “3”. The stories are told in a non-linear fashion and I struggled to follow them with anything approaching success, though I suspect I’m not the first and won’t be the last. The couples are often naked and there’s a dog in there, too; Godard’s own, Roxy.

Meanwhile there are regular digressions: shots of water (waterfalls, rain forming puddles), sudden cuts to black with white dots in the middle of the screen, freeze-frames, brief orchestral interludes, a few lines of Byron, a spot of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis, archive footage of Hitler and Chairman Mao, all of which leaves me scratching my head and wondering why the exact same mélange gives other such pleasure (and that remains the case despite the fact I have read well-written, illuminating articles about the film such as this one).

My inability to get to grips with even the most basic content of this film means that I cannot offer anything approaching meaningful insight. I simply do not get it, although without wishing to sound patronising I have flickers of admiration for anyone able to make a film this challenging and different 50 or 60 years into their career. So despite my own apparent ignorance I don’t quite feel the same hatred toward Goodbye To Language as some but, equally, I don’t particularly feel the need to overly-celebrate Godard’s famed idiosyncratic, mischievous nature either. I’m more inclined to cling to the words of one respected filmmaker who often sails against the prevailing critical wind: Werner Herzog’s assertion that ‘someone like Jean-Luc Godard is for me intellectual counterfeit money when compared to a good kung fu film’ never seemed truer. I’m also left thinking about a cartoon I saw in a newspaper years ago, in which a serious-looking middle-aged white man wearing headphones sports an exasperated look. “Shhhh!” he exclaims to someone outside the frame, “I’m trying to appreciate Dizzee Rascal.”

Directed by: Jean-Luc Godard.
Written by: Jean-Luc Godard.
Starring: Héloïse Godet, Kamel Abdeli, Richard Chevallier, Zoé Bruneau.
Cinematography: Fabrice Aragno.
Editing: Jean-Luc Godard, Fabrice Aragno.
Certificate: 15.
Running Time: 69 minutes.
Year: 2014.

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