Film socialisme (2011)

I’m sympathetic towards those who found Film socialisme pretentious and incoherent, I certainly had the same experience with Jean-Luc Godard’s Weekend, but Film socialism is a provoking and profound work for those willing to tease out the why Godard’s latest feature is so flamboyant, dissonant and damn cryptic. It’s not simply pretentious dribble, but a bleak and fragmented postmodern clash of ideological flaws and corrupt media depictions.

And while the film is entitled Film socialisme, Godard’s freeform exploration of modern media branches out beyond just the world of film. How are we affected by philosophical thinkers, world dictators and the Internet in an age of an overwhelming sea of media? If Godard’s presentation is anything to go by, it’s a seascape of distorted and problematic depictions of a reality of our own creation.

Throughout the film, certain images are downgraded, glitches and warped, not because Godard couldn’t find a good cameraman, but because he’s suggesting there’s something corrupt, sinister and broken about our media depictions. There is not clarity and truth to these images, but fabrication, lies and deceit. The fact that these corruptions are coded as explicitly digital suggests a critique of the digital age as inherently problematic. Such malleable images make fabrications pervasive.

Likewise, throughout the film most of the dialogue in French and German is only partially translated, sometimes as a few snippets of words which male little sense in conjunction. While this might suggest utter nonsense, it could also be seen as a reference to censorship between countries that often restrict access and understanding from one another, only allowing bits of information to go out or come into the country.

Godard, as usual, is also interested in the broader social ideals that pervade our society. Perhaps his most bold depictions of society are ones in which issues of race are made explicit. There’s the inherent focus on the minorities serving the mostly white Europeans on the cruise boat, but there’s also some shocking lines in the film that suggest that there’s still a heavy social bias against Blacks.

And while these moments show an inciting side of Godard who isn’t afraid to broach social hot potatoes, Godard also has some fun by playing around a bit as well. There’s a folksy singer and a llama which likely aren’t there to convey anything profound but simply to provide some absurd humor to what Godard probably realized is an esoteric film on the verge of utter madness.

Of course, for Godard, it’s this cruise ships inhabitants that are mad, sailing amidst the see where their eccentricities festers, espousing the ideological current of our time. The question is where is this current taking us and how will it end? Thinking about it that way, the film’s almost a bleak, apocalyptic vision of a media infused society stuck in an ocean of information it cannot comprehend, an ocean that will forever keep it adrift and lost. [Note: only a day after writing this, the boat used in the film, the Costa Concordia, ran aground.]

Godard’s musings are a mix of profound and obtuse. His trains of thought aren’t easy to follow or necessarily something to comprehend on a first viewing, but I don’t think that lessens his accomplishments. I’ll admit not every moment in Film socialisme intrigued me, but there’s enough compelling material here to keep me thinking for a good while and it’s a film I’m likely to rewatch as I’m sure there’s more to get than can be caught in one viewing.

© 2012 James Blake Ewing