Amazon Prime Video film review: Goodbye to Language
Ivan Radford | On 02, Jan 2015
Director: Jean-Luc Godard
Cast: Godard the dog
Watch Goodbye to Language online: BFI Player / Amazon Prime Instant Video / TalkTalk TV / Apple TV (iTunes) / Amazon Instant Video
“You know ‘kamera’ in Russia means ‘prison’?”
That’s the kind of throwaway remark you can expect to hear in Goodbye to Language, Jean-Luc Godard’s experimental film, which practically blew people’s brains out of their eye sockets when it screened at the London Film Festival last year. Why? Because Goodbye to Language just might be the greatest 3D movie ever made.
When Avatar first arrived in 2009, it was hailed as the groundbreaking movie that would change everything: the definitive three-dimensional film, created by James Cameron, the king of this new, uncharted realm. Whoever thought that, in 2014, an 83 year old French man would break into the kingdom’s back door and reveal himself to be the rightful ruler?
One could argue that it’s no coincidence Goodbye to Language closes with the sound of a baby crying: while plastic glasses have been a part of the cinema-going experience for a while now, this feels like the birth of the new technology. Godard revolutionised cinema when he first made Breathless, jump-cutting ahead of the crowd. Now, he may have done the same thing for 3D.
It’s hard to imagine a movie less like Avatar. Where that was an undemanding, formulaic, two-hour popcorn flick, this is a challenging, 70-minute experimental art project. Avatar had mechanised warriors and flying CGI monsters. Goodbye to Language has a dog.
In fact, it’s Godard’s own dog, who pops up every few minutes to wander through autumnal forests. It’s par for the course for Jean-Luc, who loads the screen with tiny details and absurd contradictions. People discuss economics, chat philosophy, debate Nazism. Meanwhile, a man and a woman continually fight, occasionally with no clothes on. It’s an assault that makes no compromises, daring the viewer to interpret what they’re seeing. To say it’s not for everyone is an understatement. But when was the last time you ended a film and your brain was still racing to keep up?
What’s so mind-boggling is the way he presents this collage of stuff. 3D requires the projection of two images, one for each eye, which your brain then places on top of each other to create the illusion of depth. Godard responds accordingly: by layering the heck out of everything. Immediately, we’re greeted by the word ADIEU in bright, red letters, sitting over the top of smaller text in white. Every shot that follows is pointedly composed to showcase the foreground and background. We don’t just see a house. We see a house with a wall in front of it, with cars passing by in front of both, all of those placed behind a bollard, cheekily poking out of the corner of the screen. Sometimes, this intricate positioning seems to be central to the message at hand: one repeated clip sees a bunch of people on their phones, swiping, texting, tapping, while a table piled with classic literature goes unnoticed under our noses.
“Soon people will need an interpreter to understand the words coming out of their mouths,” the film argues. Is it decrying the deterioration – or, as the title suggests, the departure – of language in a modern civilisation? Is it mocking the very idea that 3D can add realism to the language of cinema? Goodness knows. Everything is assembled with a lo-fi aesthetic that makes it like a battered VHS. Or is it a new video filmed on a smartphone? The structure, meanwhile, is divided into two chapters – Nature and Metaphor – perhaps framing human existence as a constant act of trying to reconcile these fractured juxtapositions. Nature vs metaphor. Foreground vs background. Humans vs dogs.
The most bravura moment, though, arrives when the bickering partners walk away from each other – and the picture does the same. Not through split-screen, but split-eyes: two different images are beamed into each retina, the woman in your left, the man in your right. The result is a disorienting experience that leaves you winking in disbelief, struggling to assemble the couple; a divorce literally captured on camera. It’s such a simple device that it’s hard to believe no one has done it before, the kind of lateral thinking that conventional Hollywood directors apparently don’t bother with. It’s a stunning reminder that 3D is a tool, not a genre or prescriptive format. If the future of cinema arrived five years ago, what, you wonder, have filmmakers been doing this time?
While it’s to be applauded that such a daringly un-appealing work should be released on Amazon Prime Instant Video so quickly – making it available to the masses on subscription, as well as pay-per-view VOD (it was released straight to 3-D Blu-ray in December 2014 – the problem is that its form is so integral to its content; the 3D experience is part of the effect. The kamera, to put it in Godard-speak, is a prison for the meaning. To stream Goodbye to Language in 2D, then, could become less a mind-blower and more a patience-tester, as the screen divides and layers at that key point, with no way to reconcile the contrast.
All the while, Godard’s dog runs around, apparently free of language, happily understanding what’s going on – or just laughing at the whole thing.
Goodbye to Language is available to watch online on Amazon Prime Video as part of a Prime membership or a £5.99 monthly subscription.
Where can I buy or rent Cuban Fury online in the UK?
(Available to buy – available to rent from 6th February 2014)