Monday, 13 June 2011

Jean-Luc Godard's Film Socialisme: Quo Vadis Europa

Godard is one of those artists who have the ability of always finding another card in their sleeves when we think that their game is already finished.

Whoever said that he was spent as a film maker was wrong.

Film Socialisme is the proof.

This is a film like no other I have seen. It is a film of ideas that, for once, befits such a genre. A film which is in constant movement.

To embark in Film Socialisme is not only to embark in a cruise along the Mediterranean, as it is to embark in an intellectual and cinematographic cruise through a landscape of ideas and powerful images on a sea of “things” that defines Europe.

A film that questions Europe like no other, hence the second part is titled:


Translated as

Our Europe.

A film which could only have been shot by an European.

“To be or not to be”.

A Godard film.

A riotous visual, textual, auditive and intellectual tapestry of inventiveness and boundaries redrawing. Whilst Hollywood studios dabble with technological advancements such as 3D, Godard stretches the medium of cinema itself.


A luxury cruise ships sails from Algiers for a journey along the Mediterranean coast. On board, revellers embark in a series of conversations inspired by the ports that the ship docks in her travel: Racism, blacks, Jews (“The invention of cinema, the invention of Hollywood, is due to them”), French collaboration with the Nazis during the occupation in WW2, the stolen Spanish gold, Palestine (“Access Denied”). We have Alain Badiou, a French philosopher, an American singer, Patti Smith, a photographer, and a young girl with her thoughts, her brother, her father, on board

The ship is constantly moving, we see the sea at all times as it scurries along, the white crests filling our vision, meandering, the sound of the breaking waves filling our ears, her passengers wandering and wondering aboard; the ship being an enclosed world by itself, where conversations are entwined with the kitsch of such cruises, the passengers being like spectators of a vastly moving world passing though its ports as the cruiser docks along the coast in its voyage: Egypt, Haifa, Odessa, Hellas, Napoli, Barcelona. The sea is constantly there, in the background, in the foreground as the waves gently break under our eyes, yet it is also not only a human sea that populates it, a sea of breaking waves as they come out of a mass celebrated on board or on the disco floor, and, most importantly, a sea of “things” (“Des Choses”) that Film Socialisme travels through. The wind, the metaphorical and the actual wind always whistling in the background, as the sound of the sea is, or the sound of traffic (a sea of cars), a reminder of the forces that shape our destiny?

“La vida es bella...”

Which takes us to the donkey and the llama tied to a pump in a petrol station against the backdrop of an idyllic sky located somewhere in the South (le Midi) of France, the Balzac reading girl, the red car of a female journalist and her camerawoman, and, yes, the constant sound of traffic never leaving us, the vision of a sea of cars always flowing in the background.


“Ideas divide, dreams bring us closer”.

A dialogue between the girl and her younger brother (there is a fascinating scene where the boy is drinking from a cup with a straw, as if he were playing the saxophone, while we hear a saxo solo in the background) and the parents on the values over which French society was built after the 1789 Revolution: Egalité, Fraternité, Liberté. A dialogue that produces responses such as “Shit!” when his father starts talking about Equality. We are in the Martin family domain. The boy is as much interested in knowing if his sister is wearing a string as in such a concept as Egalité, or wondering if the kids should stand for the election instead of mum and dad (hence the interest of the journalist and her camerawoman).

“No longer thirsty the mouth closes”.

The film finalizes with a return to the Mediterranean cruise, exploring the lands where our humanity,


was generated, the lands of myths, true or false, this theme of a dialogue between the elders and the youngsters constantly present as we accompany Godard and his camera people to places such as the Odessa steps where Eiseinsten filmed the famous scene in “Battleship Potemkin”, or we delve into the prize paid by Napoli (“Freedom doesn't come cheap”) as was liberated by the American GIs during WW2, or we witness by viewing archive footage the savagery of the Spanish civil war. The skilful use of archive imagery, written text and the dissonant soundtrack keeping Film Socialisme without a closure.


Godard says.

Visually striking and complex, Film Socialisme imagery moves from the hyper realism of the waves to the shadowy backdrops of the dialogue and non linear broken discourses that defines it with the interpolation of text in big CAPITAL letters and fragmented pieces of soundtracks and imagery such as archive footage of Egypt, Napoli, Barcelona, and clips from Eisenstein's Battleship Potemkin in the chapter on Odessa, while the kitsch (or luxurious atmosphere as the travel agents would say in their marketing literature) of such an environment finds depicted by the use of heavily edited video footage, giving Film Socialisme the feeling of a constantly broken cinema reel, yet in constant flux. Godard's view is that of an Europe (“What is Europe? A German musician, an Italian singer, A French writer”) which is in constant movement, broken, where its apparent present calm and tranquillity betrays not only the heavy price paid for it (“Freedom doesn't come cheap”), but also the inner fractures underlying it, as we see not only on the conversation about the Spanish gold stolen by Stalin during the civil war and references to the tragedy of war (“Democracy and tragedy were born in Athens”), but a constant dialogue between the inquisitive young (“Egalité? Merde!”) and the elders. The film has a completely dissonant and radical structure, as far away as it would be possible from mainstream and Hollywood movies: definitely Film Socialisme is not a “movie”, is something uniquely different, almost impossible to grasp in just one viewing, not even if we were such polyglots able to deal with this multilingual, complex and striking work of cinematic art.

Film Socialisme certainly is not the cinematic equivalent of fast food. It cannot be consumed, it needs to be tasted and properly digested. Slowly.

We do not necessarily have to agree with Godard's vision of Europe (“Corrupted by suffering, humiliated by liberty”) to take Film Socialisme in. We may only be able to say


Read the English translation of the dialogue.

Film Socialisme will be released in the UK on Friday 8th July, 2011

Film Socialisme
a film by Jean-Luc Godard

A symphony in three movements

A Mediterranean cruise. Numerous conversations, in numerous languages, between the passengers, almost all of whom are on holiday...

At night, a sister and her younger brother have summoned their parents to appear before the court of their childhood. The children demand serious explanations of the themes of Liberty, Equality and Fraternity.

Visits to six sites of true or false myths: Egypt, Palestine, Odessa, Hellas, Naples and Barcelona.


Switzerland/France 2010 - 102 mins – HD - Certificate: tbc
Produced by Ruth Waldburger and Alain Sarde
Cast: Catherine Tanvier, Christian Sinniger, Jean-Marc Stehlé, Patti Smith, Alain Badiou, Robert Maloubier, Nadège Beausson-Diagne, Élisabeth Vitali, Eye Haidara, Quentin Grosset, Olga Riazanova

Read an article on Film Socialisme by Andrea Picard in Cinema Scope

Read an article by Amy Taubin in Film Comment

View Q&A in Arte: 2010, l'année Godard

Translated interview with Godard in Les Inrockuptibles published during the Cannes Film Festival

Read Lucian Robinson's blog entry on the recent furore over Godard's Oscar award.

Film Socialisme is distributed by New Wave Films.

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