×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Cannes Film Review: ‘Goodbye to Language’

The title says 'Goodbye,' but Jean-Luc Godard says hello with a stimulating and playful meditation on the state of the world and the possibilities of the image.

With:
Heloise Godet, Kamel Abdelli, Richard Chevallier, Zoe Bruneau, Christian Gregori, Jessica Erickson. (English, French dialogue)

“Contempt” meets “Lassie,” sort of, in Jean-Luc Godard’s “Goodbye to Language,” a characteristically vigorous, playful, mordant commentary on everything from the state of movies to the state of the world from French cinema’s oldest living enfant terrible. Its title notwithstanding, Godard’s 39th feature-length work proves its maker has plenty left to say and plenty of new ways of saying it, from its freewheeling use of multiple video formats to its radical experiments in 3D. For 69 densely packed minutes that feel like an adrenaline shot to the brain, “Goodbye” continually reaffirms that no single filmmaker has done more to test and reassert the possibilities of the moving image during the last half-century of the art form. All but those who wish Godard had never ventured past what he was doing circa 1968 should take much pleasure in the result, which will be in high demand on the festival and cinematheque circuits following its Cannes premiere.

Godard’s first Cannes competition appearance since 2001’s “In Praise of Love,” “Goodbye” offers viewers a slightly more accessible entry point than 2010’s “Film Socialism” (with its famously obfuscated English subtitles), as it loosely traces the ups and downs of a couple in an adulterous relationship, a scenario previously explored by Godard in several ‘60s works, including “Contempt” and “A Married Woman.” As the director himself describes it in the movie’s press notes: “The idea is simple: A married woman and a single man meet. They love, they argue, fists fly.” But of course, nothing is so simple in Godard, including, by the end of “Goodbye to Language,” the question of whether we have been watching one couple, two couples, or two alternate versions of the same couple.

Popular on Variety

“Those lacking imagination take refuge in reality,” reads an onscreen text at the film’s start, and what follows might, in Godard’s own aphoristic spirit, best be described as a descent into the reality of the filmmaker’s imagination. In an opening episode, we find ourselves outside a gas factory where a used-book seller is peddling the likes of Dostoevsky and Solzhenitsyn while blase onlookers Google the names on their iPhones. Solzhenitsyn didn’t need Google, one onlooker observes, while another notes that the anti-technology French philosopher Jacques Ellui “saw it all coming, almost.” Other of the overlapping voices on the choral soundtrack muse on such favored Godard themes as unregulated state power and global economic imbalance, in a movie that more than once suggests the Western world has descended into a fascistic nanny state.

But that risks making “Goodbye to Language” sound like heavier going than is actually the case for a movie that devotes much of its second half to a dog’s-eye view of the world and features one character declaring that “thought reclaims its place in poop” whilst sitting on the john, complete with scatalogical sound effects. (Call it Godard’s “Dumb and Dumber.”) For while Godard is 83 and clearly heavy with melancholy about many things in the world, he hasn’t lost his prankster side, and “Goodbye” alights with visual gags and punning wordplay, including various permutations of pic’s French title, “Adieu au langage,” as “Ah dieu” (“Oh God”) and “Oh langage.”

Rhetorical provocations abound (“Is it possible to produce a concept about Africa?” “Is society willing to accept murder as a means to fight unemployment?”), as do literary quotations (Aragon, Darwin, Faulkner, Sartre), blasts of classical music (Beethoven, Sibelius, Tchaikovsky), newsreel footage and classic film extracts (Miriam Hopkins frolicking on a bed in “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde,” Gregory Peck and Ava Gardner staring at each other longingly in “The Snows of Kilimanjaro”). Interspersed throughout are extended domestic scenes showing the aforementioned couples in various states of love and betrayal, including what might be the screen’s most ambiguous offscreen murder since Michael Snow’s “Wavelength.” As if offering his riposte to the parade of biopics on Cannes screens this year, Godard even includes a detour into costume drama, depicting Byron and Mary Shelley on the banks of Lake Geneva during the writing of “Frankenstein.”

Using 3D for the second time (after his 2013 short “The Three Disasters”), Godard takes his already dense layering of images to new extremes. In addition to conventional stereoscopic effects, Godard experiments throughout with the placement of entirely different images in each eye, resulting in a series of strange superimpositions that almost seem to enter a fourth, unclassified dimension. The imagery itself ranges from crisp, color-saturated HD to intentionally degraded, pixelated consumer video, from formally ravishing compositions (including one unexpected, luxurious crane shot) to swooshing handheld nature scenes reminiscent of late Terrence Malick.

What does it all mean? Everything and nothing; that the world is going to the dogs or perhaps a dog’s world after all; that cinema is on its last legs or just maybe on the cusp of renewal. As in all Godard’s best work, precise meaning is subsumed in an exhilarating tide of sound and light, impish provocations and inspired philosophizing. “To make an end is to make a beginning,” wrote T.S. Eliot, and so in bidding “adieu,” Godard has only made another in his long series of reinventions and renewals.

Cannes Film Review: 'Goodbye to Language'

Reviewed at Cannes Film Festival (competing), May 20, 2014. Running time: 69 MIN. (Original title: “Adieu au langage”)  

Production: (France) A Wild Bunch and Alain Sarde presentation. (International sales: Wild Bunch, Paris.) Produced by Sarde, Brahim Chioua, Vincent Maraval.

Crew: Directed, written, edited by Jean-Luc Godard. Camera (color, 3D), Fabrice Aragno; costume designer, Aude Grivas; assistant director, Jean-Paul Battaggia.

With: Heloise Godet, Kamel Abdelli, Richard Chevallier, Zoe Bruneau, Christian Gregori, Jessica Erickson. (English, French dialogue)

More Film

  • Warner Bros. Pictures trailer launch event

    Lin-Manuel Miranda and Jon M. Chu Tease 'In the Heights' Movie

    Lin-Manuel Miranda, director Jon M. Chu and star Anthony Ramos took the train to the top of the world to offer a sneak peek of “In the Heights,” Warner Bros.’ big-screen adaptation of Miranda’s (other) hit musical. “I’m thrilled we’re here, and I’m thrilled we’re uptown,” Miranda rhapsodized to a packed crowd at a cozy [...]

  • One for the Road

    Wong Kar-wai to Produce 'Bad Genius' Director’s 'One For The Road'

    Wong Kar-wai is producing “One For The Road,” a new film that reunites the director and star of 2017 Thai hit “Bad Genius.” Production in New York and Thailand will begin by the end of the year. The film is a buddy drama and a road movie that sees two old friends who have been [...]

  • Jesse Eisenberg

    Film News Roundup: Jesse Eisenberg to Star in Indie Thriller 'Wild Indian' (EXCLUSIVE)

    In today’s film news roundup, Jesse Eisenberg is starring and exec producing “Wild Indian”; Jason Bateman is directing “Shut In”; “Saturday Night Live” veteran Paula Pell is honored; and the Palm Springs Film Festival sets its opening and closing films. CASTING Popular on Variety Jesse Eisenberg is starring in and executive producing the independent thriller [...]

  • disney d23

    Top 19 Media Trends of 2019: Disney's Box Office Dominance

    The domestic box office market share over the last 12 years provides a sobering reminder of how important franchises are to studio performance, especially for Disney. Although the 2019 box office looks to be falling short of the previous year’s total, Disney is ending the decade on the highest possible note, becoming the first studio ever [...]

  • Pierce Brosnan Cinderella

    Pierce Brosnan to Play the King in Camila Cabello's 'Cinderella'

    Pierce Brosnan will play the king opposite Camila Cabello in writer-director Kay Cannon’s new telling of “Cinderella” for Sony Pictures. Billy Porter, Idina Menzel and Nicholas Galitzine are also confirmed to star in the film, which will be released in theaters Feb. 5, 2021. Cabello, a multi-platinum selling and Grammy-nominated singer/songwriter, will be integrally involved [...]

  • John Boyega

    John Boyega: 'Star Wars' Fandom Conflict Is 'The Most Stupid Thing in the World'

    Unlike his “Star Wars” compatriots Daisy Ridley and Oscar Isaac, John Boyega enjoys a robust presence on social media, with nearly 1.5 million followers on Twitter and over 1.6 million followers on Instagram. He regularly engages with fans, and posts inside looks at his life inside the “Star Wars” media maelstrom. It’s meant that Boyega [...]

  • Yahya Abdul-Mateen II

    'Watchmen' Star Yahya Abdul-Mateen II Says He Would Consider Playing Superman

    Those who are caught up on “Watchmen” know Yahya Abdul-Mateen II knows how to strike the balance between understated and omnipotent. He’s also no stranger to playing superheroes, as Aquaman’s nemesis Black Manta in the DC Universe. But asked whether he would consider taking on another DC Extended Universe role — Superman — Abdul-Mateen told [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content