There is a philosophy behind a lot of film criticism stating that it doesn’t matter what the director intends, it only matters what he puts on the screen. For example if a director intends a long complicated sequence involving ice cream melting and sun’s rays to not be about the oppression of summer but of childhood lost, but all you see is images of summer than it is your right as a viewer to interrupt it that way. I usually think this philosophy is sound and I try to not read a lot of director interviews if they are talking about a film I haven’t seen yet. However this is not a blanket philosophy and for some directors you want them to explain what the f they put on-screen. They usually make very insular films that only sometimes include complex plots and vapid characters. I am obviously talking about Godard when I say that. Of course the one director who I need to do piles of research for after watching his films in order to understand what I saw on film is notoriously quiet about his oeuvre. He will talk about the state of filmmaking and utter Buddhist like sayings about politics, war and art, but he will not talk about his own films. He even put up a title card at the end of Film Socialisme (his latest film that just came out on DVD a couple of weeks ago) that says No Comment. So I am left to read several people’s reactions, interpretations, reviews, hate rants and try to decipher what I think from these alone. It is very frustrating.
Many questions bubble up to the surface when watching this film. Should I take this as pure visual feast and not worry about what people are talking about or should I stop the film and analyze every segment of the picture, every word people say? Should I treat this film as one big magnum opus or should I see it as three short films? Should I use the Navajo subtitles that was shown at various film festivals with or should I use the full english subtitles? Should I be frustrated with your bad sound on some shots and than dazzled by the perfection you achieved with certain shots? As you can notice, I had a hard time unpacking this film experience, just like I have struggled through his filmography.
I want to think as this film as really three short films spliced into each other. The first short film is about several people lost on this cruise ship. They talk about lofty things but no one seems to listen, because all they want to do is eat the shitty buffet food, gamble, swim and dance to techno music. Each one has an agenda of their own and each one is not very compelling. They travel to several ports which triggers the second short film which is the impressionistic history of each place they visit. It starts with Egypt, then they go to Odessa (there is a beautiful sequence in the last couple of minutes of the film about the Odessa stairs inter-cutting the monument with historical footage of them, Battleship Potemkin, young people experiencing and learning about them for the first time, and a pretty snow owl.), then Barcelona and several other places. This is what I found most compelling. The sequences sort of wash over you like the waves he concentrates on while shooting the boat. If this was the whole film I would feel satisfied with the message and the film as a whole. Alas this is not all he concentrates. The last short film (which is really the middle of the film) is about this political family who lives at a gas station. They discuss what seems to be Godard’s interpretation of Socialism (but isn’t really the textbook version of socialism) in stunted and incomprehensible sentences. Again the shots are beautiful, but in this part of the film empty because I don’t know what is going on.
As I reflect on this film, I realize that this film is a good allegory for his overall filmography. There are some films of his that I will go back to again and again and be amazed at his complexity, his use of the camera in a subjective manner, and his emotional resonance. There are others that I think will grow on me with time, but for now has left me cold to them. Then there are other films that have angered me beyond any measure. It is crazy to think that my journey with Godard has come to an end. Although I haven’t covered absolutely everything that he has done in his impressive filmography, I have tried my hardest. I will cherish the time I spent with him, getting to know his quirks, his philosophies, his political stances and his visual style. Although I was sometimes frustrated with him, I still respect him as an ever-evolving auteur. In fact I still love him like I did when I saw Breathless for the first time. He has given filmic experiences that most people will never have. And dare I say it, I loved being intellectually frustrated by him. I hope he continues to make films that will make me angry, frustrate me, bring me to tears, and love him more for many years to come.
Truffaut is the next film director that I am going to go through his whole filmography and study how much of an impact he made on film history. Truffaut and I have had a complex relationship in the past, so these reviews will hopefully make for some interesting reading. I hope you care enough to stay around and read my ramblings!