Review: Goodbye to Language

goodbye-to-languageOr “philosophy and poop”, “sanctimony and shit”, “destabilization and, I don’t know, dingle-berries” in Jean-Luc Godard’s effervescent cross-stitch of deconstructive cinematic formal language and spastic human communication. At just a pinprick over an hour in length, Godard – ever the enfant terrible – dynamites the singularity and totality of visual communication, audio communication, and cinematic communication as expressions of understanding.

Even stripped of its 3D cinematic decimation, Godard’s film sacrifices surprisingly little of its decidedly tricksy exploration of the tangible realms of cinema. Sure, the visual metaphors for perspective don’t translate as easily without the third dimensional inclinations; notably absent is the film’s crowning gesture, the idea of filming conversations with two parallel cameras and overlapping the frames such that the audience must close the right and left eye to fully glimpse the male or the female in the frame, to explore their individual perspective in an argument where both of our eyes in unison disconcert and overlap the images till there are irreducible and indistinguishable. But the absence of the 3D, one form of formal exploration, like the absence of one of the human senses, only enhances the titillation offered by the others.

Godard’s cluttered, overlapping, polyphonic frames, still replete with ambidextrous overlap, nonetheless rivet and entice without the 3D; the frames remain post-coital and psychotropic in their employment of surreal stimulation, severing and reconnecting the tortured linkages between sexual fantasy and philosophical rambling. Gender still bubbles under the torrent. Godard’s married couple who vaguely constitute protagonists often occupy various shades of undress, vacancy, and revelation. Without the 3D, they are still pestered by a camera that implicates the film in its own voyeurism of the female form more than the male; the female is still pointedly subjected to stagnancy in the frame that the ever-roving male is freed of as he walks to and from in the images.

A daunting shot of cosmic radiance shuffles into a barren, wooly close-up of female pubic hair, which in turn diffuses into a deconstructed forest. The film is playfully, artfully interrogating its very objectification of the female form, its nimble, malleable distortion of female flesh into immovable object trapped under a gaze. Filmmakers for a century have turned to the feminine form for unconscious affirmation of the male gaze, and Godard’s cinematic ruse takes them to task.

The film also mocks the very nature of cinematic conversation, questioning whether the initially pregnant cinematic orgies of phallic philosophizing are instead nothing but pomp and circumstance, a sort of barrel-house barrage of shifting power dynamics between a man and woman who rudimentarily apply purple prose to overpower the other with verbiage and fallacies of enlightenment. Despite its formally articulate tempo, the temper of Goodbye to Language is fiery and whimsical, not solemn; Godard delights in slipping, say, a fart joke within thesis-primed philosophizing, denying us the stability of erudite language verbally while also dynamically fluctuating audio levels, or dropping audio entirely when it suits him, to deny his audience the very audio-visual harmony that has formed the backbone of cinema for longer than Godard has been alive.

Most admirable is how unfinished the film feels. It embraces an aesthetic of imperfection, providing roughed-up, circumstantial, temporary speculations while other films dogmatically declare theories with the gavel of gigantism. Godard’s cinema is the cinema of diaphanous distrust and deceit. He’s still lying to us after all these years, but his lies are not merely at the level of narrative or character; they tap into untold truths about representation and presentation, about how cognitive processes dialect with art itself. A bold lie, an earned one, and I suspect, not Godard’s final moment of cinematic treachery.

Score: 9/10


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