Friday, March 11, 2011

All at sea: Film Socialisme

When asked in a recent interview about the scene where Alain Badiou gives a lecture on geometry and philosophy to an empty auditorium on a cruise ship adrift in the Mediterranean, Jean-Luc Godard explained that he announced the lecture on the ship’s activities calendar but, sadly, nobody came. I hope there’s a better turnout when
Film Socialisme screens next weekend at Edmonton's Metro Cinema, but I can almost guarantee that any prospective viewer, regardless of their facility with either philosophy or geometry, would surely have had an easier time grasping the thesis of Badiou’s lecture than that of Godard’s latest bricolage. Abrasive and staccato, fragmented in image, music and language, its multilingual dialogues obscured by Godard’s choice to offer only partial subtitles, riddled with references to politics and art yet withholding of context or commentary, this tripartite Film seems founded on the conviction that the medium itself is corrupted by signifiers that collectively fail to provide meaning. Call it Babel at 24 frames per second. Except that, for the first time in Godard’s oeuvre, it’s all video.

‘Des choses comme ça,’ the first of Film Socialisme’s three sections, struck me in my single viewing as the most coherent. Perhaps because the cruise ship seems to lend itself most easily to persuasive metaphors. A sampling of global citizens, among them a Russian detective, a hunter of war criminals, a Jewish banker, an elderly man accompanied by a young woman, and Patti Smith, found busking in the lobby, are on board, sharing a confined, landless, mobile space constructed for leisure, inaccessible to the underprivileged, offering magnificent views (Godard’s images of pure sea, sometimes almost black, are breathtaking), and containing the possibility of large scale disaster. Crowds gyrate to crushing music in the ship’s apocalyptic discotheque, captured crudely enough to seem almost abstract on what would appear to be a cell phone camera. Models stroll the decks. (There are hot young babes—a Godard staple.) Europe is “humiliated by liberty.” Everything feels vaguely ominous. Or rather ominously vague.

‘Notre Europe’ unfolds on land, amidst a family, their gas station, their llama and his donkey. It irked me to see them let the water gush at full blast while casually brushing their teeth or scrubbing a dish, but otherwise they seem decent enough folks, and there are genuinely endearing moments shared by mother and son. A TV crew arrives. I’m not at all sure they get the coverage they need. ‘Nos humanités’ promises a return to the cruise ship but proves the densest, least grounded section, a travelogue montage of war and atrocity, with visits to Palestine, Egypt, Naples, Hellas, Barcelona, and Odessa, where a re-mix of the most famous moments in
Battleship Potemkin forms just one of countless flamboyant appropriations lining Film Socialisme. (Herein lies the title, perhaps: a property-dissolving collective creation, though helmed by a cinematic legend and rigorous anti-populist.) There are quotes from Shakespeare, Balzac, and Derrida, a French cover of ‘Flashdance… What a Feeling,’ and pieces of Cheyenne Autumn, if I’m not mistaken—and I could be, about many things here. My memory’s at sea. I’d need to see Film Socialisme several times to say more. But there are so many Godards to revisit, and several from the middle period especially that I still have yet to see. It might take a while to get round to this one again.

Film Socialisme screens at Metro Cinema from March 18 - 20.

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