Image Book: Godard’s Latest Feature–Confounding, Disjointed, and yet Always Intriguing

Jean-Luc Godard, the iconic director and the only male survivor of the French New Wave founders, didn’t come to Cannes Film Fest to show his latest film, The Image Book, which world premiered to critical acclaim and standing ovation.

I am delighted to report that, despite naysayers that the film is too esoteric and confounding and just for Godard’s hardcore fans, The Image Book is being released (in limited pattern), beginning January 25.

The filmmaker, who is 88, made an appearance at the Cannes press conference via FaceTime, speaking from Rolle, Switzerland, where he lives and works.

A richly constructed, multi-media essay, The Image Book combines scenes from old movies, footage of contemporary violence, and politics, this time around centering on the state of the Arab world.

By turns fascinating and frustrating, engaging and disjointed, The Image Book is typical of Godard’s latest works.

Godard was his typically gnomic self as he answered questions from journalists, who lined up to speak with him by phone.

“It’s a bit like machine gun fire,” the lion of the French New Wave quipped as the high-tech experiment got under way.

“The cinema should consist not so much in showing what’s happening,” he firmly stated. “Films should show what is not happening.”

Politics of Arab World

Asked about the politics of the Arab world, he said, “I think they should be left alone to deal with their own affairs.”

He also declined to speak about Trump and Russian politics. “I can’t talk about Mr. Putin because I don’t know him,” he said, adding that he doesn’t know France’s Emmanuel Macron or Germany’s Angela Merkel either. But, for him, “There is something in Russia today that touches me to no end. We have to be kind toward Russia.”

He further offered, “Democracy is shrinking in Europe.” Noting that Africans are having more children than Europeans, he observed, “It strikes me that there is perhaps more love in Africa than there is in Europe.”

Godard, whose 1965 masterwork Pierrot le Fou serves as this year’s Cannes poster, said that his famous pronouncement that, “a film should have a beginning, middle and end, but not necessarily in that order,” was a joke that he had once aimed at Spielberg and other Hollywood directors.

His current film, both aptly and ironically titled The Image Book, contains previously existing footage, which he manipulates with voice-over narration, and accompanied by alternating music and silence.

Which means that for him the editing a film is far more important than the process of shooting it, reaffirming one prevalent approach to cinema, namely, “movies are made in the editing room.”

 

He also said that, “A lot of actors today contribute to the totalitarianism in terms of the images that are filmed.”

In creating his new film, a montage of hundreds of images, Godard testified, “I watched more films during the past four years than Thierry Fremaux (Cannes Film Fest artistic director) has seen in his entire career at the festival.”

Speaking of the process of filmmaking, he said, “When you produce an image, be it of the past, the present or the future, you have to do away with two images each time to find the really good one.”

He then observed, “The voice is not the same as speech, and speech is not necessarily language.”  In the film, he claims that words do not necessarily form a coherent language.

Asked about the future of cinema, he confessed, “I find that the cinema as I conceive it is a tiny Catalonia, which finds it difficult to exist.”

And he predicted, “In the next ten years, in a very few movie theaters, which are quite avant-garde, they will screen my films and films in general.”

But despite advanced age, Godard is as feisty as before and still committee to cinema. Thus, asked whether he would make another film, he firmly answered “Yes, of course, absolutely. It doesn’t depend on me. It depends on my legs, it depends a lot on my hands, and it depends a little bit on my eyes.”

Running time: 87 Minutes

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