Disclaimer: Do not let reviews, including this one, discourage you in any way from seeing Jean-Luc Godard’s “Goodbye to Language 3D.”
Yes, there is an air of forbidding obscurity to it, especially for anyone looking for more conventional storytelling, but the film is also exhilarating, rewarding and gives back many times over whatever effort and thought one invests into it. While top-shelf filmmakers such as Martin Scorsese, Werner Herzog, Wim Wenders and James Cameron have all made their own striking forays into the format, this is Godard’s first feature-length film made in 3-D, and there are images and moments here quite unlike any brought to screen before. Anyone interested in the possibilities of the moviegoing experience — what can happen in a dark theater — owes it to themselves to say hello to “Goodbye to Language.”
To back up, Godard is the 84-year-old French Swiss filmmaker who in a career of now well over 50 years has reinvented many times over himself, his filmmaking practice and the conception of cinema along with it. It’s certainly become increasingly difficult to compare his recent essay-based style, densely packed with references to art, literature and history, to more, for lack of a better phrase, normal movies.
Having premiered at Cannes and opening in a few U.S. cities last year, in a way it’s a relief that this new work is opening in Los Angeles early in 2015 as opposed to amid the year-end crush of 2014 releases, as it allows the film a bit more space to exist on its own. The National Society of Film Critics named it its top film of last year, a judgment hard to argue with based on singularity of experience.
Working with a small technical team that includes cinematographer Fabrice Aragno, Godard oversaw a home-made digital system for creating 3-D, in essence by bolting two cameras together, and there are moments in the film that are rapturously beautiful and downright breathtaking. In what has become the film’s signature scene, the two images that overlap to create 3-D suddenly separate and cause a physical sensation akin to being pulled from your seat. (Honest!)
Storywise, the film intertwines two couples in uneven chapters of “Nature” and “Metaphor.” Playing off the eternal tensions of man and woman, the film examines the intersection of the personal and political, how one enacts larger principles into their everyday life, while also considering the stories we tell ourselves as we make our way through the world. (Or at least that’s what I took from it. Interpretations will vary.)
The film steadily moves toward the point of view of Godard’s own rambunctious mixed-breed dog Roxy — connoisseurs of animal acting, take notice — to shift to a consideration of the elemental in nature and consciousness. The movie also has a few fart/poop jokes, in case this all sounds too heady.
The credits list the camera models used as if they were part of the cast. The shifting, textured collage of images, the form of the film, becomes itself a character and an essential component of the storytelling. It has long seemed instructive that when Godard himself appeared in his 1987 film “King Lear,” it was with a makeshift dreadlocked wig of cables and cords, as if man and machine had melded into one.
Always looking forward, Godard remains remarkably capable of seeing the world and thinking about filmmaking with clear eyes and fresh ideas. Though there is something valedictory in this film’s title, Godard is reportedly already at work on another project. Just as he concluded 1967’s “Weekend” with a card reading “End of Cinema,” with “Goodbye to Language” Godard is thankfully not so much leaving something behind as heading, once again, somewhere new.
‘Goodbye to Language 3D’
MPAA rating: None. In French with English subtitles.
Running Time: One hour and 10 minutes.
Playing: At the Aero Theatre, 1328 Montana Ave, Santa Monica CA 90403