Since his early days of bombastic directorial freedom shook the world of cinema with instant classics such as Breathless and Pierrot le Fou, Jean-Luc Godard has only sped up in his quest to be at the forefront of radical, pure cinematic expression. His 2011 effort Film Socialisme is six years old and still miles more modern than anything to have happened in the last two years.
To describe a Godard film in terms of story has been a futile exercise since his work in the mid 60s, and the topic of this film is, as has been his favoured topic for many years now, the nature of cinema itself as an art form. Godard’s main characters aren’t coffee shop workers or businessmen, they are attitudes, themes, concepts of art, and perhaps most importantly, the audience itself.
The ideas Godard explores are not explored to definitive ends, the spectacle of his films is not one of contemplative learning, or one of questioning, but the spectacle of the exploration itself. Whether the audience understands anything new over the course of his films is not a question of whether they learn anything about love, about life, or even about themselves, but about cinematic perspective. About ways to see, ways to understand rather than specific topics to understand. Godard goes on this exploration with a freedom present in almost no other filmmaker working today, with wild and unkempt imagery blending with some beautiful scenery of the ocean and iconographic historical imagery from the Mediterranean countries the film adopts as a setting (along with a cruise ship).
As a viewer, the films of Godard can present a challenge. They are certainly not classically entertaining, and provide no narrative that the average filmgoer is able to cling to, however there is an excitement and unpredictability present once you find your feet in his singular vision. There are fascinating lines of poetry philosophy given away like candy, stunning visuals flashed before your eyes, some of the most daring camerawork ever committed to cinema.
There is a technique Godard has seemed to invest in his work this century, alongside his newfound enthusiasm for digital photography. He is beginning to deliberately make his editing as jarring as possible, providing not only consistent Brechtian reminders that you are witnessing a piece of art and not a classical narrative, but also deliberate disruptions to any effort the viewer might be making to understand any passage of the film.
You are positioned not to understand, but to watch, to be a voyeur into the outer and inner lives of the people on the camera, to watch them, often in the act of watching others, which makes us feel as though we are an audience to the performance of being an audience, watching ourselves by proxy, and judging accordingly.
Godard is elusive, however he has his obsessions as we all do and these are still clear in Film Socialisme. He is fascinated by the passing of time, what effect this has on culture, on art, on society at large; he is fascinated with the attempted quantification of art and the possibility of the soul. What is unique to his own style, is how we see not any meaningful inquests into the meaning of these topics, but we witness his fascination with these topics, and by proxy, our own.
To say I enjoyed Film Socialisme, and that you will too, is a promise I am not willing to make, however if you can throw out all pre tense of what a film should be going in to the experience of this film, I have no doubt you will experience, if only briefly, the thrill of imagination being translated directly to celluloid from one of the true masters of the form.