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Cannes 2014: Godard’s ‘Adieu au langage’ posits cinema’s next magical step

Adieu au langage

Written and directed by Jean-Luc Godard

France, 2014

Godard has always been one for thinking of cinema in terms of the image itself, narrative itself, its history, its politics, his own place within it, and how any of those things can be denied, altered, and exaggerated. During the 1960s, his role as a film critic at Cahiers du Cinéma took shape via deconstructing his love for Hollywood, bringing out Breathless, still his most straightforward work to date. The 1970s saw Godard taking a stand for his revolutionary leftist politics in the Dziga Vertov group, his disposal of narrative being a message against bourgeois structure. From the 1980s and onward, a large period termed “late Godard”, Godard has taken his previous elements and fused them with the history of cinema, literary references, pauses on nature, and general incomprehensibility. They’re often confusing, experimental, and quick to divide critical communities and Godard appreciators of all stripes.

With 2001’s In Praise of Love, Godard was seen yet again as an inventor, a late Méliès or Lumière or Muybridge, as his film stock shortened and the new avenue of digital had to be used. He heightened the saturation to an ugly level, implemented slow-motion, and formed a type of aesthetic that’s fearfully odd but uniquely his own. This year, Adieu au langage again makes the climb toward this kind of inventiveness and controversy within the history of cinema.

adieu au langage - roxy

A man points to the subtitle of a Solzhenitsyn novel and asks it to be read aloud. “An experiment in literary investigation,” he notes, containing a hint of self-reference as his words bubble up again and again. Adieu au langage is an experiment in cinematic investigation, with all the pretensions that phrase could exhibit. The scene with the book is cut to cell phones as intellectuals now contemplate music and words through their pocket-devices. It’s a freeing from Godard’s own obsession with the archaic and his own place in cinema throughout the nouvelle vague days, and a full admittance to working with the cinema of the present. “The present is dead,” laments another character, not as conversation but as if a direct statement to the audience. The film itself acts like it knows how we’re trying to read it, playing one step ahead and admitting its own place as Godard from the future.

Its ambitions come to an audio-visual presence through Godard’s formal process of 3D framing and visual trickery. A pervasive problem within the high-production ambitions of major studios crafting in 3D comes both through an ignorance of working with a new medium and a love for taking away our precious images through quick cuts. An admiration of the image itself can’t be attained if we feel as if a normal movie is shabbily dressing itself in the clothes of another medium — the quick cuts even seem an admittance to this, trying its hardest to mask its embarrassment. Adieu is also a goodbye to this way of thinking, framing, and blocking such that the depth can be felt in each image, and that a switch from 2D and 3D can be viscerally apparent. A shot of a forest outside a window, the sun briefly making an appearance indoors clamors for an addition to the sort of image present in the deep-focus shots of Citizen Kane. Shots of the omnipresent dog Roxy, the visual metaphor for nature mirroring the lead couple’s nudity, again drown Godard’s world in some of the highest saturation possible until the universe is melted into light, then darkness, then digital.

adieu au langageIt’s a ciné-poem, full of characters who hate being called characters and a narrative that is only barely strung along through a series of sensory-overload images and ear-bleeding screeches only to be followed by beautiful depth and faint whispers. The credits thank the actors, Roxy, authors, philosophers, and, curiously, the different cameras used. This provokes a gentle laugh as it confirms the audience’s suspicion that the cameras are a part of the play, each with its own personality and ultimate role. In two separate instances, the cameras split, the 3D maintained, covering images of tranquility and disaster, man and woman. The total image is a distortion based purely upon how our eyes behave, but the separate images can be gauged through closing one eye or the other. No longer is the cine-image confined to the frame, its power has been placed in its people — Godard’s politics are still intact.

The narrative and dialogue are dense as Godard has filled it with philosophy and cinema references as always. Adieu au langage is a film that can’t be gauged through traditional means — thinking about it requires the language of experimental cinema. In that sense, it may takes years to fully digest and saturate itself into the new cinema. Yet it may be that the applause emitted from the Cannes crowd, during Godard’s most surprising and ambitious use of 3D, is this generation’s ducking from the train in the Lumières’ cinema tent.

– Zach Lewis

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