Published Nov 14, 2014Jean-Luc Godard's Goodbye To Language 3D, one of the most talked-about films at this year's TIFF, is a prime entry point for newcomers to late-period Godard and the labyrinthine challenges that come with the films he's made over the last decade or so. His latest film followed a popular trend for world cinema at this year's TIFF: the short feature-length film. Godard's latest clocks in at just over an hour, a structure that makes the film feel packed to the edges with ideas, much like Hong Sang Soo's festival entry, Hill of Freedom, which had a similar runtime, along with Matias Piñero's The Princess of France and Tsai Ming-liang's Journey to the West.
All four of these films challenge traditional cinematic notions of how narrative unfolds over an established length of time, and how information is delivered on a narrative level, using dazzling formal experimentation to push the boundaries of cinema. Godard's film takes these formal limits to their breaking point with his innovative use of 3D. Rather than use it as a cinematic effect, Godard employs it to radically alter the language of cinema in unprecedented ways. If the film's title is any suggestion, 3D is used here to transcend cinema as a language and suggests new possibilities for the formal elements of film.
Goodbye To Language 3D (the "3D" part of the title being emphasized in a stunning title sequence that creates a layered depth of field) is a raging fury of sound and bleeding colours, using contemporary technology to create near-abstract images that resemble dripping paint on a canvas more than digitally-captured images. This is best expressed in one sequence in which the two cameras necessary to filming a 3D image move in different directions, creating two images in the same frame. If you close your left eye, you see one image. If you close your right eye, you see another.
Like a lot of his recent output, Godard's film is intentionally vague on plot details and is more interested in the juxtaposition of sounds and images, rendered literal through his use of 3D superimposition. There are three separate stories that play out during the film. In the first, an affair plays out between a man and a woman; there are a lot of arguments, and time passes. Another narrative plays out between another man and another woman. Finally, Godard films his own dog and seems to imply that the dog is contemplating existence and the failure of language, intercutting scenes of the dog between his human narratives. The entire thing is gloriously obtuse, a dense text packed to the margins with references to other films and the relationships between them.
For fans of Godard, there are plenty of playful winks to be found; this is a late-period Godard film that's more self-consciously aware of his own iconography than ever before, cynically scoffing at his ever-challenged canonical position in a medium that has been proclaimed dead or dying since the very inception of cinema. The film plays like both a greatest hits parade of his career and a knowing subversion of the images he's established, from the "girl and a gun" thrills of his early work through to the boat from his recent Film Socialisme (which shows up three times, much like many other images in the film). In the film, Godard contemplates his own death and the death of cinema, but this is still perhaps his most playful work since 1972's Tout Va Bien.
It's not often that a film reinvents the wheel, but Godard seems to pull it off in Goodbye To Language 3D. This one comes highly recommended.