Thursday, 4 September 2014

Goodbye to Language (Adieu au Langage) Review

Perhaps Jean Luc Godard's latest experiment in cinema, image, ideas and technology is impossible to critique. It is a piece of art after all; open to wildly differing interpretations and not designed in any way to be an easy or identifiable experience for the audience. Bursting with ideas but difficult to enjoy, I found it insufferable even at 70 minutes.

There is no real narrative to speak of; a dog wanders and a man and woman meet and spout frequently nonsensical philosophical mumblings. Divided into two sections (that seem to constantly overlap), Goodbye to Language explores nature, the image as metaphor, and it’s all in some of the most headache inducing 3D you will ever see.

Narrative and character are not important however and though the dog, a mostly naked woman and a mostly shitting man recur throughout the film, we learn little of them. The man talks to the woman while on the toilet with the sound of him shitting being about as inviting as the nonsense he spouts from his mouth. The woman is naked which we are helpfully reminded is not an issue in nature as to dogs there is no such thing as the concept of nakedness. Similarly when the dog decides to roll around in what is possibly more shit, you can't help but feel that by watching the film, the audience is doing the same.

Godard experiments wildly with discontinuous editing, abrupt sounds and changes in volume which should be in some way exciting but here comes across as simply annoying. While I'm certain Godard isn't after approval, especially from those who like their cinema with a good story and interesting characters, it is still difficult to see the artistic merit in much of the film.

However, there are some moments that are briefly interesting. The 3D in particular is used in new and at times bravura ways. Godard would make James Cameron squirm in his seat with ugly compositions with objects placed frustratingly in the foreground and assaulting the eyes. Even more daring is the placing of two separate images placed over one another so that each image can only seen by closing one eye behind the 3D glasses.

No matter how odd this all seems, there is occasionally a point emerging. One shot has the subject caged by the image and there is a reference to kamera meaning prison in Russian. The voices in the story hold a disdain for the image and while it flits between philosophical essay, the world's worst home video and incomprehensible poem, Goodbye to Language warns that people will soon need an interpreter to understand what is coming out of their own mouths. Warning: if this film is anything to go by, then I already need an interpreter.

As the film loops, repeats and uses some of the same techniques over and over, many will likely be desperate to say Goodbye to Language, to Godard, to cinema and even to life itself. Its musings on God, animals, sex, death and ... um... whatever are rarely mind blowing and the technical experimentation on display is more ugly than exciting.

Call me a heathen, a philistine, or anything you like but as one 'character' declares near the end: 'I hate characters'. I could not agree less. Goodbye to Language is so frustrating, so difficult to just enjoy or engage with, that it very nearly makes me want to say goodbye to art, hello Michael Bay... almost.

Goodbye to Language is screening at the BFI London Film Festival 2014 on Oct 13th at 6.30pm at the BFI IMAX. Tickets on sale from 18th September. 

More on the BFI London Film Festival 2014

More on the Cannes Film Festival 2014

Reviews of other films being screened at the festival:

White God


Wild Tales (Relatos Salvajes) 

The Blue Room (La Chambre Bleue) 

The Salvation 


Mr Turner

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