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 Michael Bergeron
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Goodbye to Language 3D

Goodbye to Language 3D
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Back in the day, which is to say before anybody reading this was born, I played bass in a rock group. We managed to procure a gig at the local Bob Marley festival and played for a couple of thousand people in front of the downtown library (pictures and cassette tape recordings of the show on request). At the end of our set all you could hear was a chorus of “Boos.” Nobody in the group was named Bruce so I am pretty sure we were being summarily booed.

At this point the MC grabbed the mic and told the audience, “Give it up, people, let’s have a hand of applause. It’s not about what you like.”

It’s not about what you like goes a long way in explaining how people react to artistic interpretations of art, music and film. It’s not about what you like is exactly how one should approach a film by Jean-Luc Godard, the enfant terrible of French cinema. Godard has not made a commercially accessible film since 1980, and that title would be Every Man For Himself or Sauve qui peut (la vie). Even that film is a far cry from such iconic nouvelle vogue titles as Contempt, Masculin Féminin or Breathless.

The new Godard film Goodbye to Language 3D literally has six screenings in Texas, three in Austin and three at the Alamo Drafthouse Mason Park, which technically is in Katy but that’s close enough to Houston to count as a day trip. Godard and his cinematographer Fabrice Arango spent five years on the production of this film, the only 3D film Godard has made. Cameras utilized include the Canon 5D and the Flip Minos, and while the former camera is expensive both are still within the budget of regular consumers. Godard and Arango achieve a kind of anti-3D where some of the shots are double exposures and you can only focus on them by closing the right or left eye. Eventually the images merge into perfect 3D as they cross paths. There’s a parallax view experience going on that is better witnessed visually than explained verbally.842

Like many recent Godard films Goodbye to Language 3D occupies its running time with political references here exemplified by shots of helicopters and sounds of gunfire. Intercut throughout the 70-minute running time are a French couple, mostly naked, and a dog. The dog’s nose lunges out to the audience like a spear being thrown by a native in a 1950s’ 3D film. Likewise many of the angles chosen put the viewer askance with what is happening on-screen. Like one high angle shot from the top of a shower where the faucet head is in the foreground while blood seems to be pumping from an unseen source into the water below.

Traditionally 3D films, like Avatar or Hugo, are shot with 3D cameras but with a forced perspective. The director tells the audience where to look. Goodbye to Language couldn’t be less concerned with such formalities. Different shots in GTL are so sharp and in deep focus that your eyes are confused as where to exactly plant their gaze. The aforementioned double exposure shots will confound all but the most serious viewer.Jean-Luc-Godard-006

Godard may be the most idiosyncratic director to ever commit a film to the cinema. It’s like he’s only making films for anybody who can identify specific quotes from Claude Monet or Mary Shelley, or for those who can tell the difference between Jean Arthur and Miriam Hopkins, much less Fritz Lang (who appeared in Godard’s philistine look at ‘60s movie production in Contempt). The average bear on the street will not recognize a reference to Godard any more than a wink and nod to Alistair MacLean (Guns of Navarone, Ice Station Zebra, Satan Bug) who like Godard was a genre staple of the 1960s.

If there’s one character in GTL that sticks out it’s the dog. At one point we see the trusty canine bobbing its head above water as it’s trust down a river brimming with rapids. Of course, even the lowest budget digital film can afford CGI yet Godard never shied away from depicting animal cruelty (cf. Weekend). Who is to say that this is not a tip of the pork pie hat to the D. W. Griffith film Way Down East where Lillian Gish did death defying stunts in a similar icy tumultuous situation? Previously the dog’s pointy nose was projecting out of the screen and into my lap in true Godard style of frame-by-frame posturing.

Likewise a Parisian couple, rarely clad in clothing, have at least three scenes where the femme is in the foreground while the male sits on a toilet doing his business. There are some references to merde that would easily fit into a Farrelly Brothers film. I can’t recall Godard ever being quite so scatological. Perhaps in his mid-80s Godard is finding avenues of expression that have eluded him all of his life.

Goodbye to Language 3D unwinds one final time (in Houston yet in Katy) at the Alamo Drafthouse Mason Park on Wednesday, February 4 at 8 pm.

- Michael Bergeron