I can’t fake it, I don’t know enough about Jean-Luc Godard. I liked BREATHLESS. I kinda hated MADE IN U.S.A., but I have a Richard Stark bias.
I should see more of them, the earlier ones at least. I know his current reputation as a cantankerous anti-Hollywood zealot, so I knew I was on dangerous ground buying tickets to his divisive new one. It won a jury prize at Cannes and more recently was chosen as Best Picture by the National Society of Film Critics, but it was obvious from what little I’d read that it was not gonna be for everybody, or even mostbody. What attracted me, and the only thing I really knew about, honestly, was that it’s in 3D, and some have praised it for using 3D in innovative new ways. So as one of the last surviving 3D proponents it seemed like an event worthy of my time.
And it was, but uh… shit. What can you say?
So there’s this couple, the lady is naked most of the time and the guy is often on the toilet taking comically noisy shits, and annoying her with his pretentious commentary on stuff. And there’s this dog that walks around, sometimes he eats leaves, also he takes a shit in one part, or he is standing around. Sometimes there are other people, they quote Faulkner or have a little aside about the Russian word for such-and-such is so-and-so, or the Apache word for this is whatever. Just, the kind of insufferable people you sometimes hear on a bus or something and try to get away from so you don’t have to fucking hear it. In this case they’re in French, so I wouldn’t know anyway to be annoyed by them without the subtitles.
At the beginning I think there is maybe a point to be made about technology, because a guy is showing off some books on a little table outside and he snorts something about Google, and then looks at his phone. Or maybe it was a different guy. The book thing went on for a few minutes.
Mostly it’s shot in degraded home video, but 3D. Occasionally there is a nice cinematic kind of look to it, also in 3D, before going back to the camcorder look again. Alot of it takes place in Godard’s apartment with an old movie playing on the flatscreen TV.
At one point, the actress who is seen most in it, and therefore is closest to a character, says “I hate characters.”
At another point I thought she dressed up as Mary Shelley, but I guess that was a different person who actually was supposed to be Mary Shelley, according to the credits. They mention Frankenstein 3 or 4 times. Some sort of allusion I believe, to something about Frankenstein probly. Not sure.
Pieces of classical music are chopped up, they start to play and then abruptly stop, the sound frequently cuts out, kind of a random edited-in-camera home video style. It made me realize that I would like to see a 3D re-release of GUMMO.
That’s about it. Not much more to report until Godard does a followup that brings his dog into the AIR BUD/SNOW DOGS universe. SOCIALISME BUDDIES or something.
The 3D looks kind of cool sometimes, other times is literally painful to watch, on purpose. There are ugly, blown out video shots of leaves in misaligned 3D so it just hurts your eyes and doesn’t look dimensional. I know this is on purpose, but I don’t see the value of it. From what I’ve read, cinematographer Fabrice Aragno was trying to rebel against the rules by putting his cameras too far apart. “People say, ‘You can’t be more than six centimeters between the two cameras. If the background and foreground are too far away, it cannot be good.’ So I learned the rules, and I saw that it’s not very interesting with the rules.”
That quote makes it sound like he doesn’t understand that that’s not a subjective artistic rule, it’s a technical fact about how to achieve the illusion of 3D. He’s basically saying that it’s boring for 3D to be in 3D. Another one of these boring rules the establishment tries to ram down our throats is that if you don’t plug in your camera or have a battery for it it doesn’t record anything. Unfortunately Aragno doesn’t have the fucking balls to break that fascist rule.
The more impressive trick is when he has one lens pan away from the other one to break the 3D and show two overlapping images, then come back into alignment again, for a weird eyeball-punishing stereoscopic dissolve effect. If it had a story purpose or something I missed it, and I don’t see how it really could be applied as anything other than a way to fuck with people and annoy them, but it was pretty cool and different. I’ll give him credit for this one, but for an earlier, more effective use of doing 3D “wrong” for storytelling purposes I would point you to DREDD.
In a long Dissolve post just about that one shot, Calum Marsh talks about the crowd at the North American premiere gasping in astonishment and applauding. When I saw it in one of two sold out shows at the Cinerama people just kind of laughed in disbelief. According to the post you’re supposed to close one eye or the other to decide which angle to watch. I guess I didn’t get that, I just winced and squinted until the trauma ended.
One non-painful 3D gimmick I dug was when the subtitles appeared to be in front of the actress’s neck but behind her chin. Just tucked in there.
This obviously isn’t for me, and there were about 5 people at the Cinerama who awkwardly tried to get some applause going at the end, so obviously there are people who love it. I’m glad I saw it just to kinda get a look at it and see what it is, and God bless people who still want to make experimental films and – far more heroically – can watch and enjoy them. But it’s clear that none of the things I love about the medium of movies overlap with the things that Godard considers worth putting in them now. I can deal with no story, no characters, no coherent ideas, but I at least need more beauty than this. There are exceptions, but the majority of this looks like clips from a home video randomly cut with raw footage of backyard camera tests. And whatever it’s trying to communicate I guess I’m not on that wavelength.
There’s a motif of the naked couple watching TV, and it’s cool to see English subtitles on the movie screen over French subtitles on the TV screen. I think these scenes are saying something about cinema and… language, or… seriously, I think I had some abstract idea about it while watching, but now I forget. A friend told me this is Godard’s actual apartment, and his dog, and his yard. And I thought yeah, no shit, this is an old guy with a camera fucking around in his apartment, and now I’m watching it in Dolby Atmos on the first ever commercial Christie 6P laser projection system at the theater where I saw all the Star Warses and Batmans. That’s the best part about it. And that it’s a quick 70 minutes. But I still thought “oh, good” when I realized it really was over.
Please don’t take this as a hit piece, just as an honest reaction from the wrong guy to watch this thing. But I think it should be acknowledged within the praise that that’s really what this is, it’s a guy fucking around. It’s an old vet noodling. And if not for his legendary status from long ago there is no fucking way it would be showing on this screen and selling out.
But I see that as a good thing. He’s earned the right to fuck around, and for some of us to give it a look. See what he has to say. It can’t hurt.
If I may change the subject to a completely different one, I saw that movie THE WIND RISES recently. It’s the movie by Hayao Miyazaki that instead of his usual fantasy style is a historical drama about the designer of the Japanese Zero plane. It’s obviously very autobiographical, with the creation of the plane a parallel to creating a movie. This guy has his influences and his trademark style. He deals with the equivalent of producers and studio heads, and tries to navigate through the failures and the compromises, the technological limitations, the money men.
It also reflects Miyazaki’s distance from his family, his difficulty with balancing his passion for art and work with human relationships. This is a guy who thinks a man’s duty is to go away to earn money for his family back at home, so it makes sense that it comes from a guy who was estranged from his son that was directing movies at the same studio.
And also, because Miyazaki is obsessed with flight, and because most of the great advances in aircraft technology happen because of war, he shows us that contradiction, the irony of an artistic soul creating a thing of beauty even though it will be used for destruction. We might imagine a military vehicle designer looking for maximum kill power, but this guy’s way more concerned about the elegance of its curves. There’s a scene where he’s updating the suits on the plane’s progress, explaining that it flies well but can’t carry as much weight as needed. He jokes that one solution would be to not put guns on it. They laugh.
So it bothers me to read that there was some controversy around the movie for being about the designer of a vehicle that, when you think about it, killed people. The way they tell it, Miyazaki ignored and brushed over that these planes were deadly weapons. No, sorry pal, that thing you think you’re pointing out to us is what the movie is about, for crying out loud. This is that infuriating WOLF OF WALL STREET thing again: either they’re too dumb, or they believe the world is too dumb, for a movie that makes its points through inference, that trusts its audience to understand or interpret without characters coming straight out and saying in dialogue what you’re supposed to think or feel about it, whether you’re supposed to be fer it or agin it.
A buddy, playing devil’s advocate for me, pointed out that it’s WWII but it never shows Nazis or concentration camps. And of course this is a good discussion topic for Japanese citizens who believe their people have not come to terms with the country’s culpability in the atrocities. But from an American perspective it’s not a good argument because WWII is not some obscure chapter of American history that we’ll be misled about. This is nowhere near our first or last impression of the war. We all watch this knowing the larger context of WWII that the protagonist does not. We’re not dummies and don’t need all our movies to be dummy-inclusive.
The reason I bring this up now is that I feel like Miyazaki, after a long career of beloved classics, and now making what he says will be his last feature as a director, has earned the fucking right to make a personal, sometimes subtle film without a bunch of handwringing and fingerwaving about what you, with your superior morals, think it should’ve been about. And I don’t want to be that asshole for Godard either. It didn’t seem that much like a movie to me, but it’s not a failed attempt to be traditional or normal, it’s supposed to be like this. He’s experimenting. Let him experiment.
And it’s… interesting, I guess. I hope he keeps making them. Though I will not watch them.
Seriously though… sayonara, language. Don’t let the door hit you on the way out you dumb sonofabitch.
VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.