Jean-Luc Godard’s Film Socialisme unwinds with the visual panache only achieved by the best directors. But don’t mistake Film Socialisme for a four-quadrant film, this is strictly an experience for serious movie mavens and cinephiles and those not versed in the semantics of Godardian filmic essays will be hopelessly lost.
While the film looks stunning Godard makes a point of shooting in every format from high-def digital to low-fi camcorder complete with sound mixing that appears to the untrained ear to be cacophony but in reality is brilliant in execution. On old school video cameras the sound is always distorted when recorded at high levels but the way we aurally experience Film Socialisme makes sense; a discothèque on a cruise ship seems about to implode under the weight of its own lightness of being. If one could only smell Film Socialisme it would be sweet.
Film Socialisme was made as a television level essay in the manner that one should be able to freeze the frame. Each intro card has like a half-dozen names (or literary titles) in the Roman alphabet, as well as Cyrillic Russian and Greek (it’s easy enough to recognize Sergei Eisenstein and Battleship Potemkin with my limited Russian but the Greek title still eludes me). These authors and thinkers and doers range from Shakespeare, Bismark, Sarte, Bergson, Beckett, Levi-Strauss, Conrad, Goethe, Genet to movies like Cheyenn Autumn and Devil’s Tomb. They’re all signposts of what the characters are thinking or portraying throughout the movie. Other brief titles include one called “Tekhnos” that merely states: Canon, Sony, Panasonic, Samsung, DTS Dolby, et al. you get the picture.
These clues, if one can call them that, appear so briefly yet each viewer will probably pick one or two to focus on. Likewise the imagery flows fast even though the sea alternates between smooth and turbulent; after all, despite the multiple formats, we’re moving at the speed of film.
Once Godard gave us the image of a slaughtered pig (1967’s Week End). In Film Socialisme we see a femme lying on a bed playing on a laptop computer with a video of a cat talking, only the feline seems to be saying something along the lines of “meow.” Appropriately what the characters are saying isn’t what’s reflected in the subtitles, although said subtitles are a wealth of information. Godard at his height of fame could get Marianne Faithful to appear in a cameo at her pinnacle of 60s glam. For Film Socialisme Godard gets rock poet Patti Smith to make an appearance with the challenge being her anonymity. Eventually the montage turns decidedly political but in a way that makes history and socialism converge in a line. Film Socialisme plays this weekend at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. Note that because of the upcoming King Tut exhibit the screening will occur at the Glassell School of Art (5101 Montrose) adjacent to the museum’s parking lot.
— Michael Bergeron