Goodbye to Language (Kino Lorber, NR)

adieu 75I can totally see someone interpreting Goodbye to Language as, “Godard puts random stuff up on screen because he knows no one will call him on it.”


 adieu 500

At the 2014 Cannes Film Festival, two films tied for the Jury Prize: Xavier Dolan’s Mommy and Jean-Luc Godard’s Goodbye to Language. Other than their language (French), the two films could not be more different. Dolan’s film is fairly conventional (particularly in light of his previous work) and tells a straightforward, if somewhat transgressive, narrative, while Godard’s is a visual essay whose narrative is so obscure that you could easily miss if you didn’t know it was there. I think it has something to do with an unhappy couple, or maybe two couples, and a talking dog, but I could be wrong. I’m not sure what the title means either.

If you’re looking for a conventional narrative told in the invisible Hollywood style, you will quickly become frustrated with Goodbye to Language, which makes Breathless seem boringly straightforward by comparison. In fact, I can totally see someone interpreting Goodbye to Language as, “Godard makes fun of the audience,” or, “Godard puts random stuff up on screen because he knows no one will call him on it,” and there’s no point in arguing that one camp is right while the other is wrong. However, I think Goodbye to Language is well worth seeing. If you can become unselfconsciously absorbed in the images and sounds of this film, it becomes rewarding and fascinating in a way that can’t be equaled by a more conventional film.

The images in Goodbye to Language are gorgeous, often so self-consciously that it seems like you are watching clips from a random set of commercials for high-end products inter-cut with excerpts from an impressionistic nature documentary shot during an acid trip. There’s also a lot of clips from old movies and some even stranger stuff. Some sequences are amazingly technically competent, while some are deliberately distorted. You could get lost in any one of these images, and that alone will hold your interest for a while. However, as Noam Chomsky demonstrated years ago, humans are naturally disposed to make sense, in our own terms, even of nonsensical stimuli.

The sound in Goodbye to Language often seems even more random than the images, and include straightforward snippets of dialogue, ambient sounds that mostly match the images, and classical music (I hope you like Beethoven’s 7th symphony, because you’ll be hearing it a lot). Not all the dialogue is subtitled, so I hope your German is in good working order. On the other hand, language at times is just another sound, so maybe it doesn’t matter anyway.

Goodbye to Language was shot in 3D, and the Kino-Lorber Blu-Ray release includes both the 2D and 3D versions. I must admit that I haven’t seen the 3D version (I don’t have a 3D player at home), so I can’t speculate as to what is lost or gained from one version to the other. I can say that the 2D version on Blu-Ray looks and sounds great and provides a compelling watch if you’re willing to take it for what it is. Extras on the disc include the film’s trailer, an excerpt with Jean-Luc Godard, and an essay by David Bordwell in the liner notes. I really recommend the latter, by the way, because he makes sense about the film’s technique in a way that few critics can. | Sarah Boslaugh

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