CAPSULE: GOODBYE TO LANGUAGE (2014)

Adieu au Language; Goodbye to Language 3D

Beware

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Héloise Godet, Kamel Abdeli

PLOT: A squabbling couple who speak in philosophical fragments adopt a stray dog.

Still from Goodbye to Language (2014)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Godard might as well have called this one Film Socialisme 2: This Time, It’s Even More Inscrutably Personal. After a 55 year filmmaking career, Godard has earned the right to amuse himself with indulgent experiments. That doesn’t mean we have to like it.

COMMENTS: Random quotes. Snatches of flamenco tunes or classical music. Audio channels switching from side to side, turning on and off. Sudden explosions of abrasive noise. Clips of classic Hollywood movies. Brief slice-of-life episodes from a couple’s love life. Contextless voiceovers declaiming on historical, political and philosophical topics. Clips from the Tour de France in supersaturated color. A dog exploring the woods. Intertitles with words like “language,” “oh” or “la metaphore” flashing onscreen. Mary Shelley composing “Frankenstein” in real time, with an ink pen. No overarching plot, discernible conceit, or visible structure. Godard approaches Adieu au Language like a senior thesis film student, breaking narrative and cinematic rules with the glee of a budding avant-gardist who believes he’s taking cinema into bold new territories no one has yet imagined. But of course, someone has already created the radically fragmented anti-cinema Adieu strives to discover: Godard himself!

Godard’s dog is the third most prominent being (you could not call them “characters”) in the film. I wonder if perhaps Adieu isn’t Godard’s attempt to view the world the way he imagines his dog sees it: a non-linguistic reality where words are just part of the bewildering barrage of nearly incomprehensible sensory information, and the non-food bits are wholly uninteresting.

I should add a caveat: Goodbye to Language was originally released in 3D. Most of us will have to imagine whether viewing the film in pop-out format would have improved it. Since I don’t find this film visually spectacular—and I have never seen any film in my entire life, with the possible exception of Cave of Forgotten Dreams, that was improved by the gimmick—I doubt the extra dimension would have made a huge difference to my recommendation.

A former film critic himself, Godard has always deliberately aimed over the heads of ordinary people, making emotionless intellectual art for the theorist elites. I believe that Godard made this movie (at least partially) with the intent to annoy. I’m not sure I am part of the core audience he intends to annoy, but he hits the mark with me.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…the everyday world is made vivid and strange, rendered in a series of sketches and compositions by an artist with an eccentric and unerring eye.”–A.O. Scott, The New York Times (contemporaneous)

5 thoughts on “CAPSULE: GOODBYE TO LANGUAGE (2014)”

  1. This is an amazing film. I’ve read before in a brief write-up for the film at IFC in New York (I don’t know who to credit), that “watching it is something like encountering motion pictures for the first time.” This is exactly my experience, which is extremely rare. The last time I had a similar experience was when I first saw “Prospero’s Books”. Both films challenge technological limits of filmmaking to create experiences difficult to describe, other than the fact that it is very different than the norm. It’s a little surprising how dismissive the 366 weird movies review of “Goodbye to Language” is, given that so many of the films on this are aimed at providing a different kind of experience than the bland and formulaic films that get churned out of Hollywood all the time.

    1. If my review came off as dismissive, that was misleading. I meant to suggest I hated it.

      On the other hand, I too loved Prospero’s Books and gave it a “must see” rating. Both films were “different than the norm,” but that’s where the similarities end. Books was visually spectacular, like a series of Renaissance canvases come to life, and had a strong narrative and organizing structure. Adieu is fractured and too random even for me, and I found it mostly visually dull, and the vignettes uninspiring. But it is undeniably weird, which is why it deserves mention here. And I suspect Godard prefers a strong negative reaction to a shrug of indifference. Vive la difference!

  2. I love this site but regarding this film I disagree with your verdict quite a bit. I think Godard is the greatest artist ever to make films and find Goodbye to language to be an absolute masterpiece. It stimulates the mind like nothing else in terms of artistic expression.

  3. This review (and the following back-and-forth) has piqued my curiosity. I had the good fortune to study the French New Wave in my long-ago college years, and have so far maintained the position I adopted when first exposed to the “genre”: Resnais not only heralded its coming, he was also the most skillful of the many fine directors of the movement. He did not waste his time with heavy-handed moralizing (unlike Truffaut), and he always kept his hand on the tiller (unlike Godard).

    I’ve got this bad-boy queued up, and I’ll be interested to see if this is a “masterpiece” or just an “indulgent experiment.”

    1. This started out nicely, and then spiralled quickly into the realm of, shall we say, hyper-French-post-modernism. I think more could have been done with the pair of Germans — at the start I was hoping they’d swing by every time Godard was getting too esoteric and philosophical for his own good.

      Unfortunately I’m not fluent in German, and so I don’t know what things the main one shouted. However, I know enough French to have heard (with the aid of headphones) that, effectively, all the necessary subtitles are there. The main issue present is lack of a coherent structure — as if the (wonderfully) scummy protagonists of “Le Weekend” had continued their journey through filmic deconstruction. With “Adieu au Langage”, Godard is walking on the blurry line between having hidden meaning and having no meaning at all.

      I’m reminded of a limerick I heard about the auteur:

      A young Frenchy by name of Godard
      Sought all filmic sense to discard.
      Once admired by peers,
      He has over the years
      Been reduced to bombastic canards.

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