Image Book, The (2018): Jean-Luc 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 the 2018 Cannes Film Fest to show his latest film, The Image Book.

Even so, the film premiered to critical acclaim and lengthy standing ovation.

Despite naysayers who claimed that the film is too esoteric and confounding–sort of just for Godard’s hardcore fans–The Image Book is being released by Kino Lorber in limited pattern, beginning January 25.

The filmmaker, who is 88, participated in 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 real 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.

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

The film is a companion piece to Godard’s earlier work,  Histoire(s) du cinéma.

The film examines the inadequate depiction of what he calls ‘the Arab world’ and, in particular, the dearth of iconic movie images from the Middle East, which he presents as a failure of the cinema institution as well as of that of the world at large.

The film’s use of images from Middle Eastern cinema is aimed at deconstructing the Western narrative accorded to the Arab societies, and the Western influence on how the history of cinema is recorded and transmitted from one generation to the next.

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 the 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.

For Godard, the editing of a film is far more important than the process of shooting it.  His strategy reaffirms the notion that “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.”

Despite his advanced age, Godard is as feisty as ever, and still fully 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.”

End Note:

The Image Book turned out to be the final film of Godard, who died in Sep 2021, age 91.