Cannes 2014: 'Goodbye to Language 3D' is Goodbye to Godard's Sanity
by Alex Billington
May 28, 2014
There was a film at the 2014 Cannes Film Festival that is so bad, so poorly made, so terrible, that it doesn't belong on any screen. It belongs in the trash. The filmmaking is amateur, there is no narrative, the imagery (and cinematography) is ugly, there is no coherent message or idea or vision behind it despite claims to the contrary, and it can't be called cinema; it can hardly be called a "film". It just so happens this film is directed by Jean-Luc Godard, a once-great French filmmaker who has lost his sanity at age 83. Is it art? No. Is it experimental cinema? Nope. The film is, both literally and figuratively, a piece of shit - and I'll explain why.
There is a point in the 1-hour, 10-minute long film titled Goodbye to Language, or Adieu au langage, shot and presented in 3D, in the later half where my jaw instantly hit the floor. Not because I was impressed by anything I saw, but because I was shocked that filmmaking this horrendous was being given a pass. There is a 3D shot, as disconnected and completely random as everything else in the film, of a parking lot. Why a parking lot? No (sane) reason. The shot is a crane shot, and centered in the frame is the shadow of the techno-crane they are using. It begins to sweep up and the crane's shadow blatantly flies across the screen, as the camera flies past parked cars. That's it. No people in the shot. Just a shadow of the camera and crane.
I have been professionally watching movies for 8 years, not long compared to some critics, but in that time I've seen at least 1,000 films at film festivals all over the world, in theaters, on TVs big and small; student films, first-time directors' first features, million dollar Hollywood movies, indies of all shapes and sizes. In those 8 years, across all those films, I have never once seen any filmmaker so blatantly, so idiotically, so carelessly let a techno-crane shadow or camera appear in a single shot. Even students, in their first year of cinema studies, painstakingly work to hide the camera. Only a few docs can get away with letting the camera appear. This isn't a "freedom" of filmmaking, this is an utterly baffling misunderstanding of film, as far as I can tell, and an unforgivable and incredibly amateur mistake. And this is only one of many amateur choices.
Somehow this film was playing In Competition at Cannes, which makes absolutely no sense. No actually, it does make sense - blind favoritism. Jean-Luc Godard is a French filmmaker who is beloved by cinephiles for his French new wave work in the 1960s/70s. His films from those days are indeed excellent, and his work today doesn't at all affect or speak to his work from the past (I'm not discrediting any of his past films). But it is absurd to pretend that he's still as capable and innovative as he was so many years ago. And it's even crazier to think that just because he was a great filmmaker once, he is still a great director now. Especially at this age. He's out of touch with cinema, and just because he had vision before, doesn't mean he has it now.
There is a belief that human life is a cycle: we are raised in diapers, and we die in diapers. When we're born, we rely on others, and we're smaller than everyone else; when we die, we must rely on others, and we shrink again in size. It is my belief that Godard has reverted to back this stage of cinema: his life has cycled from early experimentation, to brilliance and innovation, back to experimentation, and finally where we're at now - childish amateurism. Goodbye to Language is essentially the same film that a 10 year old kid makes when you give him a camera. It's a random collection of images, shots, people reading books, people pooping, people walking past each other, a dog running around a forest, guns, cars. Does it mean something? No way.
Give a child a camera and let him out with a dog, and he'll run off into the woods, following the dog around until it poops, excitedly filming the misadventures of a wild animal. That's not cinema, but it's the beginning of forming visual ideas, and it's often called YouTube trash by adults. But when Godard does exactly this, critics herald it as cinematic art. I call bullshit. This isn't art, this film is trash. There isn't a single frame of Goodbye to Language that is interesting, or exciting, or invigorating, or challenging, or thoughtful, or profound. It looks like shit, and often times actually shows someone taking a shit, which I suppose is the real truth behind this - it is shit. At the start, Godard asks the audience to free themselves of any thought; by the end that's how we all feel - not a single thought has gone through anyone's mind in the last 70 minutes.
The only idea Godard plays with that's remotely interesting is his 3D experiment with multiple perspectives. At one point in the disjointed human story, while focusing on a couple sitting naked (in 3D), the film splits the polarity and the two cameras break off on their own. Closing one eye, it's possible to see (in 2D) the shot of the woman; closing the other eye, it's possible to see (in 2D) the shot of the man. A few seconds later, they come together again and we return to full 3D. Out of all of Goodbye to Language, this the only original idea. And as much as I would love to give him credit for trying something new, I can't help but feel this moment came from an experiment rooted in a misunderstanding of 3D - such as, why not try pulling the two lenses (used to shoot 3D) apart, while subjecting the audience to a rather confusing superimposing of both shots.
That 3D experiment reminds me of the super-imposed images from The Shining documentary Room 237. In that doc, one of the crazy conspiracies presented involves playing The Shining forward and backward at the same time, super-imposing the two films on top of each other creating a dramatic effect where the imagery actually interacts. It's the most laughable segment and many viewers write it off as some insane conspiracy, something that is just too wacky and too ridiculous to actually make sense. Even if it was Stanley Kubrick. This is Jean-Luc Godard in 2014, at age 83 - his most impressive and original idea is the same as the most laughably absurd conspiracy in Room 237. It's the one segment many critics hated and couldn't stand from that doc, yet somehow some of these same critics lapped up every frame of this poorly shot Godard disaster.
I tried to enjoy it, I went into Goodbye to Language with an open mind as I do every film, hoping to find something there. Hoping that maybe Godard would present enough random shots it might make me seem curious about cinema. But it achieved the opposite - it made me realize how much cinema is being advanced by everyone else around him. Instead, Godard has seemingly reverted to pre-student, pre-experimental cinema, where throwing random shots of random shit and slapping a title card on it somehow makes it art. I don't buy it, and this film doesn't even deserve that identifier. It's trash, plain and simple, and belongs lost on YouTube with only 12 views and 1 comment: "why was this made?" Adieu to Cinema, Goodbye to Godard.
Alex's Cannes Rating: 1 out of 10