Film Socialisme (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)
December 28, 2011 by Dennis Amith
Fascinating, intriguing, visually beautiful…but I admit, this is possibly the most challenging Godard film that I have watched by far. After four viewings and research done on the film, I found myself enjoying “Film Socialisme” a lot more, because of its overall presentation. It may not be the most accessible Godard film but for those who are familiar with Godard films, may find “Film Socialisme” to be entertaining and clever or frustrating and incoherent. Definitely a film worth watching!
TITLE: Film Socialisme
FILM RELEASE: 2010
DURATION: 101 Minutes
BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: Color, 1080p High Definition, 1:85:1, DTS-HD Master Audio, Subtitles: Godard’s “Navajo” English and a full English translation
COMPANY: Kino Lorber
RATED: Not Rated
Release Date: January 10, 2012
Written and Directed by Jean-Luc Godard
Produced by Alain Sarde
Executive Producer: Ruth Waldburger
Cinematography by Fabrice Aragno, Paul Grivas
Jean-Marc Stehle as Otto Goldberg
Agatha Couture as Alissa
Mathias Domahidy as Mathias
Quentin Grosset as Ludovic
Olga Riazanova as Olga – Russian Secret Agent
Patti Smith as herself, Singer
Lenny Kaye as himself, Guitarist
Bernard Maris as himself, Economist
Marie-Christine Bergier as Frieda von Salomon
Nadege Beausson-Diagne as Constance
Bob Maloubier as Himself, French secret agent
Alain Badiou as Himself, Lecturer
Elias Sanbar as Himself, Haifan Historian
Catherine Tanvier as Catherine, Mother
Christian Sinniger as Jean-Jacques Martin
Marine Battaggia as Florine “Flo” Martin
Gulliver Hecq as Lucien “Lulu” Martin
E. Anzoni as Catherine’s Friend
Elisabeth Vitali as France 3 Journalist
Eye Haidara as France 3 Camerawoman
Legendary director Jean-Luc Godard returns to the screen with Film Socialisme, a magisterial essay on the decline of European Civilization. As a garish cruise ship travels the Mediterranean (with Patti Smith among its guests), Godard embarks on a state of the EU address in a vibrant collage of philosophical quotes, historical revelations and pure cinematographic beauty.
As a cinema fan, it’s common to come across forums in regards to filmmaker Jean-Luc Godard, the pioneer of the French New Wave, met with comments from cineaste’s that the filmmaker has went astray since 1969.
I admit that when it comes to Godard, the majority of the films that I love are primarily his ’60s films. From “Breathless”, “Vivre Sa View”, “Pierrot le fou”, “Alphaville”, “Made in U.S.A.”, “Week End” to name a few films from Godard’s long oeuvre, there is no doubt that Godard became more politically vocal with his films.
Some may feel that he strayed too far from what viewers loved of his films, but to Jean-Luc Godard, he probably could have cared less. The man walks on the beat of his own drum, creating the films that he wants to make and whether or not they are popular or not, it doesn’t matter. As long as he is alive and is able to create cinema, it’s enough for him.
While viewers can always see Godard through his characters speaking about society and politics, from his 1966 film “Made in U.S.A.” and on, he has always had something to say about the state of a country or the world.
Has he really strayed that far from creating cinema that people love about his work? It’s always subjective but for me, I have always enjoyed his approach to being provocative in his films, “stirring the pot” as many would say. Granted, his films has literally challenged viewers within the last 45-years to the point that reviews have labeled his films “incomprehensible”, in fact, Godard has even alienated his own filmmaker friends because like his films, Godard changes and is able to transform himself to something that people don’t always agree with.
The legendary filmmaker is indeed complex and fortunately, unlike films of the past where people had to write about his films with what they viewed at a theater, we are fortunate in the fact that we can rewatch films and try to understand them more thanks to DVD and Blu-ray.
Specifically his 2010 film “Film Socialisme”, a film created by a then 79-year-old Jean-Luc Godard presented at the Cannes International Film Festival via Godard’s “Navajo” English and to give you an idea of how the film came across to various film critics. Here are a few quotes.
From Roger Ebert, “This film is an affront. It is incoherent, maddening, deliberately opaque and heedless of the ways in which people watch movies. All of that is part of the Godardian method, I am aware, but I feel a bargain of some sort must be struck. We enter the cinema with open minds and goodwill, expecting Godard to engage us in at least a vaguely penetrable way. But in “Film Socialisme,” he expects us to do all the heavy lifting.”
J. Hoberman wrote, “Film Socialisme is both timeless and timely. Nor is that its only paradox. This is at once the most essayistic of 21st-century Godards and the least interested in conventional communication, cinematic as well as linguistic.”
“Film Socialisme” is presented in three movements:
- Des choses comme ca (Such Things) – This is set on a cruise ship and we are presented with various people of different cultures. But among them is an aging Nazi criminal, a UN official, a Russian detective and more.
- Notre Europe (Our Europe) – This features a sister and her younger brother who have summoned their parents to appear before the “tribunal of their childhood” and want them to answer themes of liberty, equality and fraternity.
- Nos humanites (Our Humanities) – The third movement visits six sites: Egypt, Palestine, Odessa, Hellas, Naples and Barcelona
“Film Socialisme” is presented in 1080p High Definition (1:85:1) and the film is Jean-Luc Godard’s debut entry to HD video (shot entirely via digital) and also a Godard film shot in widescreen. The film looks absolutely beautiful in HD but also intriguing of how Godard incorporates various shots into the film. Some are crisp and clear, some are jarring and oversaturated and disjointed pacing at times but it’s all part of what we are used to Godard films. Experimentation, artistic and bold.
So, there are plenty of scenes that have different style of shots. Some that are clearer than others and some that were part of the digital experiment. But for the most part, colors are vibrant, black levels are deep at times and aside from certain scenes which were intentionally made to use various light filters, may they be hard or linear, the film looks great on Blu-ray!
But when you get to the final movement, “Nos humanities”, this is where the film tends to use a lot of older footage from films, news sources, etc. Including stock footage, so these footage tend to not look so great in HD and where you will see artifacts and so forth. But in the context of why this older footage was used, it’s understandable.
Overall, when focusing on the modern footage, colors are vibrant (especially reds), great detail on exteriors and for the most part, the majority of the film when not using older film sources, looks great on Blu-ray. But personally, it’s great to see Godard experimenting with digital filmmaking, especially what he tends to bring out when experimenting with color! The film is visually beautiful!
AUDIO & SUBTITLES:
“Film Socialisme” is presented in DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1. The dialogue is clear and at times there are some moments of experimentation but I heard no hissing, crackles, pops or any audio problems.
As for subtitles, it’s important to note that there are two. The film automatically plays with the Godard “Navajo” English which was used for the theatrical edition. This version does not translate the full dialogue, but fortunately on Blu-ray, Kino Lorber does feature a full English translation which viewers may want to switch on first before watching the film.
“Film Socialisme” comes with the original trailer plus Kino Lorber trailers and also a stills gallery.
“Film Socialisme” comes with a slipcase cover and included is an essay titled “E Pluribus Unum” by Richard Brody.
When it comes to Jean-Luc Godard films, I have spent quite a bit of time researching of what inspired him to create his film, what turmoil was going on behind-the-scenes in the making of a film because what people have to realize is that when you are watching a Godard film, you are watching a part of him. What he is experiencing in that moment. What goes through his mind socially and politically.
And while the majority of the films that we watch, we try not to let the outside influence of what happens behind-the-scenes influence one’s judgment towards that film, for Jean-Luc Godard, in some way, shape or form, I have looked at his movies beyond cinema, almost like trying to piece together a complex puzzle. Where “Breathless” was a film that made him internationally known, it was a film that he was not too thrilled of the attention he had gotten and in response, Godard created “Le Petit Soldat” which was controversial and was banned in France for several years.
You look at his film “Made in U.S.A.” and the words that are coming out of the character Paula Nelson (played by his former wife Anna Karina) is literally speaking the words from Godard and Godard symbolically kills himself in the film twice. That same year he creates “Two or Three Things I Know About Her” and although Godard is known for not having a script or script is manipulated real-time by Godard, the film which was considered socially and stylistically radical and we saw Godard challenge advertisers, show his dislike towards politics, the Vietnam war and also various industries.
This has continued throughout Godard’s career since the ’60s and throughout his oeuvre, he has remained controversial among film critics, among viewers and he more or less has changed from being radical to less radical and more of a humanist than his earlier Marxist philosophy.
He is a complex man of change, a man that is learning as he lives but at the same time, still keeping to himself, doing things the way he wants and still entertaining audiences. No matter if people who are still driven to see his earlier films, whether you love or hate his films from the ’70s to the present, he still has been consistent of creating films that people either love or hate.
With his 2010 film “Film Socialisme”, we finally get to see Godard enter the digital age by shooting a film in all digital (his next feature “Adieu au Language” will feature Godard’s entry to 3-D filmmaking). And judging by the various critic reviews since it’s premiere in France, there are those who found the film to be too obscure and some who got it.
My first viewing of “Film Socialisme” was via Godard’s “Navajo” English that was from the theatrical edition. And through that version, not all is translated and unless you know French, a lot of dialogue goes over your head. And I can understand why some critics who watched this version, have found this film to be too obscure for their taste because it’s not a simple film that people will pick up and understand.
For my second viewing, I watched it with the full English translation and things started to make sense a bit more. But still, I felt a bit lost than any other Godard film because I felt I was missing something important.
So, I took to the Internet and one person I know who has done so much research on Godard that can best explain the situation of the film is the New Yorker’s Richard Brody. Brody goes into detail about an interview from “Godard on Godard” (which has yet to be translated) and Godard’s conversation with filmmaker Jacques Tati.
The discussion goes into gold that Stalin stole from the Bank of Spain and the Spanish Republicans, and with the film being separated into three parts, what is straightforward in the film is that a cruise ship is traveling various ports in Barcelona and Odessa. But we also are shown a variety of people. One is a former Nazi spy, another is a Russian officer, another is a young woman wearing a gold necklace (which I am assuming is related to the Nazi), we see an Israeli asking about the gold of the Bank of Palestine and a variety of other people who appear to have their own personal issues.
But the following is possibly the best explanation that Brody goes into about the featuring of these various people of different cultures and how it relates to a socialist society. It’s important to also note that if you are unable to access the link, the good news is that Kino Lorber does include a four-page printed essay titled “E Pluribus Unum” by Richard Brody which goes into more detail about the film.
Brody wrote, “The notion of the ship’s journey as a link between these ports of call—including Barcelona, Naples, Greece, Odessa, Palestine (Godard can’t bring himself to say “Israel”), Egypt, Algiers, and Casablanca—suggests the key idea of Godard’s film: internationalism and multiculturalism as the essence of socialism.”
Brody continued, “The immediate result of the post-1989 end of Communist regimes was the breakups: the U.S.S.R. (which of course was multicultural by force but intolerant of minority cultures) dispersed into small countries, and Yugoslavia also broke into its constituent republics, with the resulting wars and further breakups into ethnic enclaves. It’s a story that runs through Godard’s 1993 film “Oh, Woe Is Me” (“Hélas pour moi”); for Godard, a multi-ethnic society of the Mediterranean—Europe and Russia, the Middle East and North Africa—would be the crucial realization of the socialist vision.”
And possibly the most intriguing observation by Brody was the following that he had written in his article, “he cites the liberation of Italy by the United States during the Second World War (as described by Curzio Malaparte in “The Skin”)—with the suggestion that the U.S. Army symbolically brought the plague to Italy when it arrived at Naples in 1943—and offers, as a contrast, contemporary Barcelona, which comes off as a serene yet politically aware and socialist-mobilized town that owes its humane and political warmth and aesthetic grace to the fact that, despite having been under a right-wing dictatorship for four decades, Spain liberated itself without American invasion or interference.”
So, was the concept of “Film Socialisme” similar to a film like his past film such as “Two or Three Things I Know About Her”? An anti-American explanation of how Spain was able to liberate itself without American invasion or interference and how the America may have hurt the Middle East ala Iraq through its intervention? There is always a meaning behind Godard’s words and perhaps my personal feeling was a film that stirs the pot without being blatantly polemic.
I have no doubt that others willl pick apart this film and find something intriguing or insensitive. Some may find the film to be anti-Semitic and its a title that some have looked at Godard most negatively (Godard has used certain racial remarks about Jews towards filmmakers and friends who tried to get paid the money owed to them, which is actually focused on by Richard Brody in his book, “Everything Is Cinema: The Working Life of Jean-Luc Godard”. To be fair, because this is quite hotly debated, the counter-point to topics of anti-semitism in Brody’s book is challenged by Cinema Scope’s Bill Krohn).
There are Jewish references in the film that made me raise an eyebrow and wondered what was Godard’s intention, but in an interview with Jean-Marc Lalanne of “Les Inrockuptibles” was that the film was inspired by “Le Voyage de Shakespeare” by Leon Daudet. Also, mentioned in an another “Film Socialisme” article by Richard Brody.
Thus this led me to looking up Leon Daudet and to learn that he is a French journalist which the Encyclopedia Britannica has called him “the most virulent and bitterly satirical polemicist of his generation in France, whose literary reputation rests largely upon his journalist work and his vivid memoirs”. But you read on to learn that Daudet was also a member of France’s National Anti-Jewish Federation and a member of the anti-Semetic journal “Action Francaise”.
I am not an erudite when it comes to European culture especially in the socio-political sense but one thing that I’m grateful for Godard’s films is that it had led me to do my own research and learn more of what was on his mind, to understand what he was communicating. So, I found Brody’s quote to be the most deepest and well-written explanation of the film yet by a film critic.
I watched it for a third time and once again for a fourth time but it was more of observance of dialogue between individuals and to understand the third segment “Nos humanites”. For me, it was a rather intriguing film of multiculturalism gone awry in some way or form. A modernization of culture but also I see a nod to Jacques Tati (if the story is true between the discussion of Godard and Tati), as we see animals at the gas station. As Tati would show the changes of society through his films, perhaps this is what Godard has seen in his long life… a society that has integrated but yet has problems understanding each other.
If Godard was inspired by Daudet and his goal was satirizing society, perhaps the polimicizing is a bit more restrained than what we have seen of Godard in film such as “Tout va bien” and “Made in U.S.A.” to name a few. And I found myself enjoying this film because it was so abstract at times, provocative at times but also very surreal.
There is no doubt that Godard adds his visual style, especially how he includes these layers of scenes in a scattered sense. It’s not a storyline that goes smoothly together. In fact, I tend to look at this film and make the correlation to an abstract painting. Enjoy the moment and see what you get out of these certain scenes.
As for the Blu-ray release, the picture quality is great, considering this is Godard’s entry to digital filmmaking. The majority of the film looks great, as the digital filmmaking really brings out the colors and detailed exteriors. But because there are also stock footage and older sources of film integrated into “Film Socialisme”, those sources tend to be the most problematic in HD but for the most part, those scenes are very short.
Audio is understandable but once again, when it comes to subtitles, I am so grateful that Kino Lorber has included the full English translation with this release, otherwise the default subtitles is Godard’s “Navajo” English subtitles which were used for the theatrical version and doesn’t not translate all discussions during the film.
This is probably the first Godard film in which I felt the storyline was not as straightforward but in a Godard-sense, it worked. And to see Godard’s use of HD filmmaking was quite intriguing, especially seeing him do something new and different is also intriguing for me because I do love his films, coherent and incoherent. It’s more of the experience and the journey of researching the film and seeing how every film critic had their own personal take of the film.
I have been asked if “Film Socialism” is a blind buy, an easily accessible film and I don’t think it’s easily accessible for those who are not familiar with Godard films, but if you have watched a Godard film, especially his later work, then one may find the film to be intriguing and enjoyable. Although, I won’t be surprised if others found this film to be incoherent and difficult.
Overall, it’s exciting to see Godard make a film digitally but also to watch a film that is audacious, intriguing, challenging but yet beautiful.
I recommend this film for those who are familiar with Godard’s work!
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