Monsieur Godard, qu’est-ce que la big idea? Literally, what is “Film Socialisme” about? Is it an indictment of the blasé bourgeois of the West? Sure. Is it an indictment of the frantic images of contemporary cinema? Yeah. But both of these prove tiresome terrain for Jean-Luc Godard, who has already (re-)visited that territory again and again throughout his career, from the New Wave sensation “Breathless” (1960) — which changed the heuristics of how we watch movies — to the listless inner lives of two libertines in “Pierrot le Fou” (1965) to the Dantean provocation “Notre Musique” (2004). And, of course, his myriad other films. It’s no doubt redundant to recite this guy’s CV. We get it, Godard. You hate things.
The lack of narrative in “Film Socialisme” isn’t the problem. Godard geeks should expect that by now. Loosely, the film is a series of images, both moving and still, of people of disparate backgrounds on a cruise ship traveling the Mediterranean. Godard revisits some of the same characters, one of which is a llama at a gas station (one of the film’s only memorable images). In its cryptic subtitles and garbled images, “Socialisme” manages to touch vaguely upon issues of globalization, race, Hollywood and a bunch of other stuff that gets gobbled up in Godard’s cinematic pidgin language of the unknowable, and the god-awful.
Formally, the film is a mess. The digital video has a murky look, which certainly doesn’t complement the already cheerless content. Whatever meaning lies behind “Film Socialisme” remains to be seen. Rarely does Godard explicate his enigmatic, and aesthetically smudgy, images with English subtitles (I failed to cobble together the narration or dialogue with what little French I know). A shot of a young woman supine on a bed meowing at a computer screen is accompanied by “Egyptian name cats.” The film features a number of women looking sad and pensive on beds, one who says something like “spanish civilwar Komintern.” What the hell are these words? These people all look like the lost victims of a pseudo-intellectual, indecipherable master plot.
The vague historicity running through Godard’s film, implicit in the title (I guess), suggests that he is content to sit atop his angry, smoke-filled ivory tower. He never addresses the “Socialisme” suggested in the title. And if he does, it’s unclear where or when or how. Some stock footage illumining vague notions of cultural deterioration gets close, until Godard bows out with the words “NO COMMENT.”
“Film Socialisme” is essentially a cluttered wonder cabinet — stripped of that intrepid “wonder” such a thing contains — that, when rattled, offers nothing but the clangor of empty signifiers that seem to say nothing at all. But as befits Godard, whom it behooves me to say has really lost touch with his audience, “Socialisme” prides itself on that nothingness. This isn’t pure cinema or even cinema verite: it’s cinema euthanasia.
The one thing Godard ought to be credited for is imagining a kind of communal cinema, because the film is incomprehensible, and we can all share that inaccessibility together. Even to the Godard-savvy, “Socialisme” is nothing but an arbitrary succession of images subtitled with disjointed nouns. Yet as with any tyrant, there will always be a few Godard loyalists who will find this entry, among others, a worthy addition to a controversial, if uneven career.
Sartre, another subversive French guy, said “Hell is other people,” but hell just might be “Film Socialisme” on a loop.
Ryan Lattanzio is the lead film critic.