Densely allusive and at times sensorily abusive, with sudden blasts of amped-up sound effects and a playful stop-start montage aesthetic, Jean-Luc Godard’s cinematic cutup comes complete with full frontal nudity and, in what must be a first for the director, poop jokes. As a consequence, it’s a good bit funnier, as well as freer in its rapid-fire associations, than the more strident and structured Film Socialisme. What’s more, Goodbye to Language sees Godard make the leap to 3D with jaw-dropping results. There are effects here that will beggar the imagination of your run-of-the-mill multiplex 3D offering, with polyphonic layerings and juxtapositions and plain wonky freak-outs that work not only to showcase the versatility of the technology in the hands of a true cinematic craftsman, but also to supply a rough-and-ready template for a new way of looking at the world. For, as much as a cine-screed this stacked with referents can be said to be about any one thing in particular, Goodbye to Language seeks to stretch the creative parameters of vision (cinematic and otherwise) as such.
“What they call images,” a character intones early on, doubtless cribbing from one of the 15 or so authors name-checked at the end of the film, “are murdering the present.” As evidence, Godard quotes the “Christian anarchist” philosopher Jacques Ellul on media and freedom, while also showing a character holding up an iPhone with an Ellul website on display. It’s an image that cuts both ways: Media like the Internet makes the ready dissemination of information, as well as its almost instantaneous acquisition, a concrete possibility. But, and this seems to be Godard’s broader point, they also provide such an inundation of anti-information and nonsense that it becomes nearly impossible to winnow the wheat from the chaff. Possessing knowledge isn’t the same as really knowing something, which probably explains a recurring scene where people pick up books, riffle through them, then quickly put them back in favor of something else.
Goodbye to Language’s other major through line concerns the animal—in this case a charming mutt credited as Roxie Mieville—as existential “other” to our human nature. An animal’s sensorium is not our own and so, while the dog frolics among hyperreal colors, the film’s human contingent bicker and screw and pontificate. By film’s end, the mutt has lit out for the territories, leaving behind the fractious world of human intercourse. Our only hope, Godard seems to suggest, resides in a sense of art renewed. (Art’s current status is illustrated by a man sitting on the toilet who mimics Rodin’s sculpture of The Thinker while noisily dropping a deuce.) More than anything, the film’s 3D works to make the seen world seem strange and new again, to scrub clean our doors of perception, as Huxley would have it. In a time when many artworks, especially films, wallow in the quotidian, in the muck of the merely actual, Godard, with a nod to science-fiction writers like A.E. van Vogt, seeks out new vistas (“strange new worlds,” if you will). To this end, Godard invokes Claude Monet: “Paint not what we see, for we see nothing, but paint that we don’t see.” With Goodbye to Language, he’s attempted to do just that.
The Cannes Film Festival runs from May 14—25.