While he’s without doubt one of the most important, influential film-makers of the 20th century and one of the fathers of the French New Wave, I have to confess, I would rather poke myself in the eye with an excrement-smeared fork than watch anything Jean-Luc Godard has made since he got into Mao.
Essentially what happens when you give an 80-year old man a video camera and a trip on a cruise ship, I can’t decide whether Film Socialisme is (a) an incoherent, childlessly hectoring, willfully po-faced, rambling dissertation on Western decadence and cultural hegemony, the Israel/Palestine debate, Hitler Stalin, art, Marxism, the Nazis, the Holocaust, mathematics, Islam, the Jews and Hollywood or (b) the holiday video of a senile elderly man. Worryingly, I’m leaning towards option (b).
Fragmentary scenes take place on a Mediterranean cruise, the truncated, almost non-existent, subtitles revealing nothing (possibly the only touch of the movie that I found exciting). Passengers amble around aimlessly, they stare off into the distance, they have heated arguments about Spanish Gold and are given to making statements like “Poor Europe,” the soundtrack cuts in and out as if recorded only on the camera’s built-in mike. Patti Smith wanders around playing guitar looking like a homeless bum who’s been kicked through a hedge. A bored woman watches kittens miaow on the Internet, theatrically miaowing back at them. A kid repeatedly falls asleep while listening to jazz, a device so obvious it screams “See…America bad.” Godard poses some of his passengers on the infamous Odessa Steps while cutting back and forth to Eisenstein’s celebrated scene in Battleship Potemkin.
The passengers get off the boat and wander around Naples, Barcelona, Odessa. A woman reads Balzac in a petrol station forecourt next to a lhama tied to a petrol pump. Why? Who knows? Who cares? The film is one big Gallic shrug, as much a joke on the audience as a condemnation of their petite-bourgeois sensibilities.
Having memorably declared at the end of 1967’s Weekend “Fin de Cinéma” (Cinema is Dead), Godard seems intent on proving the fact. But maybe it’s just Godard’s style of film that’s dead? Maybe there’s just no place anymore for the kind of sophomoric, self-indulgent, ranting that Godard has been permitted to indulge in for the last 30 or so years.
When Film Socialisme was screened at 2010’s Cannes Film Festival, ever the provocateur, Godard posted a four-minute long, accelerated cut of the film on YouTube. It’s just as incoherent as the longer version but at least that’s only four minutes out of your life. Seek it out. You’d be saving at least an hour and a half. You could do something good with that hour and a half. You could go for a walk. You could visit a sick friend. You could read Balzac in a petrol station forecourt next to a lhama tied to a petrol pump.