'Money,' 'Public,' 'Water.' These are the first three words we see as a cruise ship sails the Mediterranean, a mix of nationalities reflecting on WWII, commerce and the fate of the third world among other things. Then we watch a family-run gas station, its children rebelliously forging their identities. Last is a historical revisit to that ship's ports of call in Egypt, Palestine, Odessa, Hellas, Naples and Barcelona in octogenarian French New Waver Jean-Luc Godard's "Film Socialisme."
Like his last film, "Notre Musique," "Film Socialisme" is a triptych using staged drama, documentary-like footage, movie clips and word graphics which examines history, world politics and social injustices in a place where people gather from many locales and walks of life. Unlike his last film, though, "Film Socialisme," while never boring exactly, is also often needlessly impenetrable, as if its author is boasting intellectualism by making his audience work to connect his dots. It is a technically ambitious effort for such an aged filmmaker, with changing visual styles and disjunctive sound design, but its substance feels juvenile, as if merely throwing out a wide net of provocative constructs would form them into a coherent essay. Even more irritating, many of these provocations suggest anti-Semitic and racist beliefs are held by their author.
The first part is made up of scenes focusing on individual passengers (which include Patti Smith as kind of an on-board busker) and more general observations of shipboard exercise classes, buffet lines (consumption is an obvious theme), a geometry lecture and casino games. Many languages are spoken, French being predominant, without subtitles. Instead we get Godard's love of text which sometimes state concepts and sometimes act as subtitles - if they were supplied by semi-literates using broken sentences and run-on words. There is talk of how Jews 'invented' Hollywood and a Jewish passenger is associated with both big business and gold. A title of Palestine is followed by 'Access Denied' in big red letters. An Asian woman is titled 'Dollar' 'Eyes.'
The middle section shows a young Black woman trying to video a French family whose children's idealism is contrasted with parental compromise. The elder daughter ferociously defends Balzac (a Truffaut favorite). The younger son 'conducts' classical music wearing a red CCCP tee, falling asleep to jazz (a symbol of the U.S.? The device is used twice). The last third talks about the Holocaust 'avenging the death of Jesus Christ' and follows the announcement of Palestine with 'KISS ME STUPID,' the title of a film by Jewish director Billy Wilder used as commentary. Islam, the Middle East, Eisenstein's Odessa steps and the seat of civilization are contrasted with the Western World, clearly considered the decadent influence.
There are dribbles of humor here and there, such as the shipboard passenger who watching the popular Youtube video of two cats conversing, their 'language' as foreign as many others onboard or the gas station llama whose close-up is accompanied by overlapping dialogue. But for the most part, "Film Socialisme" is an experimental slog through Godard's political ramblings. And although many of the exterior cruise images are striking, for shipboard experimentation featuring female pop rock royalty, Matthew Barney's "Drawing Restraint 9" starring Bjork has a lot more to keep the eye engaged. This one is for uber-fans of Godard, or those who like their films difficult on principle, only.
Jean-Luc Godard has been making films, of various genres, since 1955. This 56 year career has produced some classics, like “Breathless,” a slew of other feature, shorts, documentaries and experimental films. He delves into his experimental roots and comes up with a three chapter work, “Film Socialisme.”
The film opens on a Mediterranean cruise with an array of European tourists speaking a multitude of languages, with only French given subtitles, and those only partially translated. This device, if you can sit through the film, forces the viewer to try to piece together the conversations, mostly in some European language or other, to make sense of what is going on. I finally started to figure things out just as this chapter ended.
Chapter two brings us to various ports of call in the Mediterranean – Egypt, Palestine (not admitted), Odessa, Hellas, Naples and Barcelona, but do not expect to get a travelogue look at these various exotic places. The disjointed camera style – some shots are crystal clear while others have the look of bad home movies. When this chapter ended, I had no clue of its point.
The last chapter is the most coherent of the three, if that can be said, focusing on only a few characters. This political treatise has overt anti-American tones but the various classical and jazz pieces are used well, here,
As I sat through the film, I had two questions: What is the point? And, who the heck is going to see it? All I can say is that Godard marches to his own tune and , here, he walks alone. One good thing about “Film Socialisme,” though. I cleaned my filthy remote while I watched and it is really, really clean, now. Only die hard Jean-Luc Godard fans could appreciate this failed experiment. I am not a die hard fan. I give it a D.
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