2010-2019: Best Films of the Past Decade–Godard’s Goodbye to Language (2014)

Watching Together While Apart

Alone/Together in the Dark

I had an interesting argument a couple of weeks ago with a cherished colleague and friend, who’s also a critic.  He claimed, based on his common sense, that during the Coronavirus pandemic, viewers wish to see escapist entertainment, sort of fluffy and undemanding fare, such as broad comedies, dazzling musicals, fast-paced actioners and adventures.

I have never fully subscribed to the escapist theory–in essence-, that in dreary times, audiences would opt for everything and anything that would let them forget for a few hours the surrounding grim reality.

When an international magazine asked for my choices of the great films of the past decade, I began to construct lists of films that have impressed me at their initial release, and have continued to linger in memory in terms of ideas, motifs, characters, images, and sounds.

For purposes of simplicity, my list 30 great movies of the past decade is presented alphabetically.  Obviously, the films reflect my taste as I look back and revisit them from a distance.  As such, they are inevitably singular and biased. No need to agree with my filmic hierarchy, but as a critic it’s my duty and privilege to expose readers to films they might not have seen upon initial release, or wish to revisit from a different viewpoint, and with the perspective of time.

Jean-Luc Godard’s Goodbye to Language

Essay written in 2014:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

At 83, with over forty films to his credit during six decades of unusual creativity, Jean-Luc Godard continues to impress and to surprise with his innovative approach to cinema.

The 43rd feature of the French New Wave leader, Goodbye to Language (“Adieu au Langage”), world premiered at the Cannes Film Fest (in competition) in May, where it won the Special Jury Prize.

The film had its North American premiere at the Toronto Film Fest in September, followed by the New York Film Fest, and then was released by Kino Lorber in 3D on Wednesday, October 29.

 

 

It was the only film to get strong applause mid-screening at Cannes this year, which is remarkable considering what its subject matter is.  It is not paradoxical to suggest that Goodbye to Language alights on doubt and despair with the greatest freedom and joy.

goodbye_to_language_11_godardThe narrative’s central premise is simple.  A coup is having an affair. The woman’s husband discovers the affair and the lover is killed.

Two pairs of actors portray the couple and their actions repeat and mirror one another.

Godard’s own dog Roxy Miéville has a prominent role in the film, wandering from town to country, and over the course of several seasons, he observes a married woman and a single man as they meet, make love, argue, and fight.

Like many of Godard’s films, what enriches Goodbye to Language are the numerous quotes and references to other artistic, philosophical and scientific works, including those of Jacques Ellul, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, and Mary Shelley.

Godard works as a truly independent filmmaker, unencumbered by all concerns (commercial and otherwise) beyond the immediate needs of his current project. He aims to create a singular artwork that reflects and embodies his own state of being at its precise time of creation, vis-a-vis the prevailing history, politics, technical aspects (light, color, and sound), and, at once revisiting and reinvening the language of cinema itself.

goodbye_to_language_4_godardThe artist’s beloved dog Roxy is the “star” of a film that, like most of Godard’s previous features, is as impossible to summarize in terms of conventioal plot or characters.

 

 

Goodby to Language featurs the apperances of Héloïse Godet, Kamel Abdelli, Richard Chevallier, Zoé Bruneau, Christian Gregori, and Jessica Erickson.

In many way, the film is faithful to its title, bidding farewell to words and the arbitrariness of languge.  But at the same time, the movie also represents a warm welcome of the legendary director into the world of 3D, a medium in which it must be seen and experienced in order to fully appreciate Godard’s singular and wondrous use of technology.

goodbye_to_language_5_godardThough it’s only 70 minutes long, the film is richly dense in text and subtext, multi-layered in meanings, offering a uniquely thrilling cinematic experience that cannot be compared to any film I saw in Cannes Fest this (or any other) year!

 

 

 

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Goodbye to Language includes film clips from Mamoulian’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Jean-Pierre Melville’s Les Enfants terribles, Fritz Lang’s Metropolis, Howard Hawks’ Only Angels Have Wings, Robert Siodmak’s People on Sunday, and Henry King’s The Snows of Kilimanjaro.

In the epilogue, titled “3 Memory/historical misfortune.” Roxy is again in the countryside, wondering (through a human voice-over) what the water is saying to him. Mary Shelley, seen in the country writing with quill and ink, is joined by Lord Byron and Percy Shelley  Roxy falls asleep on the couch, and Anne-Marie Miéville narrates his thoughts. The film ends with the sounds of a dog barking and a baby crying.

Godard continues his obsessive exploration of the impossibly complex web of the state political power and modern digital technology in the New Information Age. It is significant that the passages from Jacques Ellul’s famous 1945 essay, “Victoire d’Hitler?” (“Hitler’s Victory”), are read off of a smart phone. (In this essay, Ellul wrote “everything Hitler said, he accomplished,” and “everything that the State conquers as a power, it never loses”)