Thu, Jul 14, 2011 - Page 14 News List

Assault on the eyes, brain and the buttocks

Jean-Luc Godard says the auteur is dead and the future of film is in cut-and-paste movie mashups like ‘Film Socialisme,’ the latest salvo in his 40-year war against Hollywood

By Fiachra Gibbons  /  The Guardian, London

Swiss director Jean-Luc Godard attends a debate when presenting his last movie Film Socialisme at the Cinema des cineastes in Paris last year.

Photo: AFP

Jean-Luc Godard has a solution to Europe’s financial crisis. It’s as simple and ingenious as one would expect from the man who, with all the young guns of the Nouvelle Vague, freed cinema from its studio straitjacket in the 1960s. “The Greeks gave us logic. We owe them for that. It was Aristotle who came up with the big ‘therefore.’ As in, ‘You don’t love me any more, therefore ...’ Or, ‘I found you in bed with another man, therefore ...’ We use this word millions of times, to make our most important decisions. It’s about time we started paying for it.

“If every time we use the word therefore, we have to pay 10 euros to Greece, the crisis will be over in one day, and the Greeks will not have to sell the Parthenon to the Germans. We have the technology to track down all those therefores on Google. We can even bill people by iPhone. Every time [German President] Angela Merkel tells the Greeks we lent you all this money, therefore you must pay us back with interest, she must therefore first pay them their royalties.”

He laughs, I laugh, someone listening in the next room laughs. Godard is, of course, against the whole bourgeois capitalist concept of copyright: He gives it the finger in a none-too-subtle gag at the end of Film Socialisme, the latest salvo in his 40-year war against Hollywood. Cinema’s enfant terrible may be 80, but he’s lost none of his genius for contrarian cheek.

Film Socialisme is vintage late-Godard in all its baffling glory: a numbing assault on the eyes, brain and the buttocks that takes liberties with your patience and mental endurance, but has an undeniable originality. There is no story of course, heavens no. Instead, we are at sea on a cacophonous Mediterranean cruise ship, a floating Las Vegas drowning in over-consumption, where a Greek chorus of actors and philosophers wander among the middle-aged passengers quoting Bismarck, Beckett, Derrida, Conrad and Goethe in French, German, Russian and Arabic.

It’s not an easy watch. The will to live frequently slips away as images of the last tortured century pass before our eyes — only to be revived again by Godard’s sublime shots of the ship and the sea, or some random quotation that hits its mark. “To be right, to be 20, to keep hope,” we hear as Patti Smith wanders the decks with her guitar, like a sullen teenager. So is this the future of film, as Godard’s supporters claim? I’m not sure. All I know is that no one else makes films like this. And what other major director would put the whole thing on YouTube, albeit playing at lightning speed, the day before it was released?

Godard’s diehard disciples see it not just as a metaphor for Europe — a ship of aging malcontents adrift in their own history — but as a manifesto for a “new republic of images,” free from the dead hand of corporate ownership and intellectual property laws. This new cinema will be cut and pasted together in a world beyond copyright, where droit d’auteur will soon seem as medieval as droit du seigneur. Until now, Godard has shed little light on his creation, having gone AWOL just as the film was premiered at Cannes this year, leaving only the message: “Because of Greek-style problems, I cannot oblige you at Cannes. I would go to the death for the festival, but not a step further.”

This is the kind of cartoon Godard we are familiar with, the Godard of the grand gesture, the Godard who has been a stock character of intellectual jokes ever since he veered off into Maoist obscurantism after rewriting the rules of cinema in the early 1960s with films like A Bout de Souffle (or Breathless). Egged on by Raoul Coutard, his brilliant director of photography, he shot on the fly with handheld cameras and no script to speak of, opening the way not just for the French New Wave but a whole generation of independent directors the world over. Scorsese, Tarantino, Altman, Fassbinder, De Palma, Soderbergh, Jarmusch, Paul Thomas Anderson — in one way or another, they and countless others modeled themselves on this enigmatic Swiss director with an inexhaustible line in snappy aphorisms that will keep film theorists in work for centuries: “Photography is truth. The cinema is truth 24 times per second”; “A story should have a beginning, a middle and an end, but not necessarily in that order.”

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