Film review: Goodbye to Language 3D

Even those among us who have never seen a film by Jean-Luc Godard are familiar with the style he invented. Seemingly random shots of nature or neon signs or girls with voice-overs consisting of cherry-picked literary quotes have long been his favoured mode of communication and have also become the kinds of tropes parodists love to mock when taking off French arthouse cinema.

After a critically adored run of films through the early sixties, Godard abandoned the narrative in 1968 with his film La Chinoise, discovering in the process a passion for politics and experimental forms which has only intensified as the years have gone by. Upon the announcement of Godard’s first foray into 3D cinema, what on first glance appeared to be a strange decision on Godard’s part on deeper reflection actually makes perfect sense, even moreso having watched the resulting film Goodbye to Language.

The complaints most people have about 3D films – that it’s uncomfortable to watch, that it significantly darkens the images on screen, that the effect is more like a pop-up book than genuine 3D – actually suits Godard’s style. He is an audience abuser first and foremost, and no other medium has abused audiences in recent years quite like 3D. Godard’s imagery here is often set up in such a way that you can focus on different parts of the frame in a way that mirrors real vision. But other times he places his cameras so close to some objects that you actually cannot focus on them. And it hurts.

At the same time, it’s rather fascinating. He jumps between high quality cameras to cheaper models, but maintains the 3D effect throughout. A particularly unusual moment comes when one of the two cameras shooting a scene follows a woman out of frame while the other stays on the man she was talking to. This results in the ability to close your right eye and see the man alone lighting a cigarette, or closing your left eye and seeing the woman arguing with another man with a gun. Unsurprising that this has never occurred in any of the blockbuster films that have used the 3D format before because it is an effect that feels like your eyes are being pulled apart when it first occurs.

In terms of plot there is some story about two couples who are almost indistinguishable from one another and the adoption of a dog. But much of this is buried under reams of disconnected shots and quotes meaning the plot is rather insignificant to the experience of watching the film. What Godard is offering is as challenging as any of his works in the past five decades, something cinephiles will feel compelled to watch but makes no concessions to a general audience.

In cinemas 13 March 2015. Watch the trailer here.

Stephen Murphy

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