×
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

  • MADRID-CONTENT-CITY-RAUL-BERDONÉS

    Secuoya, Planeta Launch Madrid Content City, Site of Netflix’s First European Production Hub

    Spain’s Secuoya Studios has teamed with publishing giant the Planeta Group to expand Madrid Content City, the audiovisual complex that hosts Netflix first European Production Hub. Madrid Content City will multiply by a factor of seven its current operating area of 22,000 square-meters (236,806 square-feet). In total, Madrid Content City will span 140,000 square-meters (1.5 [...]

  • Imogen Poots

    'Black Christmas' Star Imogen Poots on Why Male Horror Fans Should See Slasher Remake

    “Black Christmas” is the second remake of the 1974 slasher classic, which centers on a group of sorority sisters stalked by an unknown murderer. While the original had the female protagonists (SPOILER) offed, in this one, the women fight back. “It’s been called a re-imagining of the original, and I think, in ways that the [...]

  • Imogen Poots as Riley in "Black

    'Black Christmas': Film Review

    “Black Christmas,” a low-budget Canadian horror movie released in 1974, was a slasher thriller with a difference: It was the very first one! Okay, there were more than a few precedents, from “Psycho” (the great-granddaddy of the genre) to “The Last House on the Left” and “The Texas Chain Saw Massacre” to Mario Bava’s “A [...]

  • David Benioff, D.B. Weiss. Creators and

    'Game of Thrones' Creators to Develop H.P. Lovecraft Movie at Warner Bros.

    Following their exit from the “Star Wars” universe, “Game of Thrones” co-creators David Benioff and D.B. Weiss have found their replacement pic, signing on to produce an untitled thriller based on the graphic novel “Lovecraft” for Warner Bros. It is unknown if they will also direct the project, but they’ve already set Phil Hay and [...]

  • Little Women Greta Gerwig BTS

    Greta Gerwig and 'Little Women' Crew Mix Modern and Classical

    Greta Gerwig wrote and directed Sony’s “Little Women,” a new look at Louisa May Alcott’s much-loved 19th-century classic. Eager to pay tribute to her artisan colleagues, Gerwig says, “It was a joy for me to work with all these people. It’s a movie that’s impossible to create without world-class artists. They killed themselves for me!” [...]

  • Honey Boy

    Shia LaBeouf's 'Honey Boy' Adds Unusual Twist to Oscar's History With Kids

    Hollywood has made many terrific films about childhood, and many about filmmaking. Amazon’s “Honey Boy,” which opened Nov. 8, combines the two: A movie with a child’s POV of the industry. That unique angle could be a real benefit during awards season, and the film’s backstory — with Shia LaBeouf as the main attraction — will [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content