Goodbye to Language 3D

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Friday March 20, 2015

Zoé Bruneau stars in 'Goodbye to Language 3D'
Zoé Bruneau stars in 'Goodbye to Language 3D'  (Source:Kino Lorber Inc.)

Jean-Luc Godard has some fun literally shoving our tech-enabled absurdities into our faces with this 3D movie.

"Goodbye to Language 3D" is packed with thorny meditations that don't slacken the pace to allow you to keep up. Don't expect much in the way of lifelines to ensure you grasp the filmmaker's meanings, either: If you get it, great, he seems to be saying; and if not -- well, that's also part of the message here. No one in this movie laughs or cracks a smile, and yet you get a sense that Godard is having a cackle. He's also taking the whole business of laughing at the human condition with intent seriousness.

The story (as described in the synopsis, anyway; you can read it as IMDB) is that a woman named Josette (Hlose Godet) begins an affair with a man named Gdon (Kamel Abdeli). Problems ensue when the husband -- an enraged German with a gun -- finds out. Gdon -- at least, we think it's Gdon -- ends up bloody, shot in the back, and face down in a fountain. His last words are to warn against "shattered memories."

But recollections of the past aren't the only thing being shattered here; so are the visuals and the narrative itself. The same scenario plays out with another pair, Ivitch (Zo Bruneau) and Marcus (Richard Chevallier). The stories infold in parallel, and are titled "Nature" and "Metaphor."

This doubling, dueling narrative structure is Godard gleefully experimenting with time and perspective in an authentically cinematic manner. He exploits the technology of 3D movies to the point of literally splitting the image -- not the screen, but rather the visual stimulus to each eye. While the left eye takes in a static shot of Josette, for example, the right eye observes as, suddenly, the camera seemingly divides and simultaneously follows Gdon across the room. When Gdon returns, the image seamlessly recombines. It's a startling effect, the motion picture equivalent of a lenticular image.

Godard uses this trick several times in this short film. He also retroactively three-dimensionalizes old black and white movies and video images, creating strange and beautiful effects in which grainy film and 3D rub up against each other, and the hard crispness of video is slightly smeared and softened, with colors jolted into a near-neon brightness.

Joining the illicit lovers is a stray dog, who adopts the couple(s) during the brief time they enjoy each others' caresses (which is to say, before the appearance of the jealous husband). As the lovebirds debate philosophy and occasionally snipe at each other, the dog remains outside the sphere of their existential angst (though resounding to their moods with occasional anxiety). If there are innocents in the world Godard depicts here, they aren't children; they are animals, who, like Adam and Eve in the Garden, know nothing of good nor evil nor even their own nakedness. Human beings, by contrast, wrestle with fears and conflicts to the point that Gdon, in one scene, is reduced to theorizing that human beings are only equal (and genuine) when they are involved in the basics of their biological functions. (He deliberates on this point while perched on the toilet; various brief scenes of sex and bloodshed follow.)

The audio mix is a storm of busy, over-stimulated sound effects; voices, conversations, rushing noises, gunshots. Often, Godard contrasts scrambled, intense audio with serene, commonplace visuals -- and vice versa. But his underlying points jump out: Godard is scoffing at our era of verbose information overload, an smart-phone enabled wallow in angst and ennui. It's not enough that we distort the world around us; we also distort the world itself, projecting our psycho, stressed-out mentality on nature and on that miasma of magical thinking and desperate self-soothing mythologizing we call God. With a third dimension in his cinematic toolkit, Godard can show more acutely than ever how we bleach meaning and sense out of everything we get our hands on.

There are plenty of recognizable symbols here; water plays a significant role, standing in for time and, by implication, history; metaphor and idea are dealt with in a more straightforward than usual fashion, but that, too, is in service of a subtler, more dangerous notion: That we may not have reached the limit of language per se, but we might very well have have reached, if not exceeded, our capacity to give a shit.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.