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With "Goodbye to Language," Jean-Luc Godard Goes 3D

Photo of Sam Adams By Sam Adams | Criticwire May 21, 2014 at 2:40PM

The 83-year-old Godard shows James Cameron and co. a whole new way to use stereoscopic photography.
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"Goodbye to Language"
"Goodbye to Language"

Every year, there are several questions that hang over the Cannes Film Festival. This year, one of the most intriguing was "What in hell is Jean-Luc Godard doing making a 3D movie?" What could the director of "Film Socialisme" and mortal enemy of Steven Spielberg have to say about, and with, a technology now deployed almost exclusively as an add-on to megabudget blockbusters?

With the initial reactions to "Goodbye to Language," we've got an answer and it's: Quite a lot, actually. Based on the first notices to come in off the Croisette, the director doesn't use 3D to lure viewers into the world of the movie but to poke out at them, (mis)using the technology to slam images into each other or to broadcast different information to each eye simultaneously. Post-Godard reactions are always polarized, with the director's acolytes inevitably hailing yet another masterpiece and his detractors lazily slagging off another impenetrable tract, but even those left cold by "Goodbye" concede that the 83-year-old Godard is using 3D in a way no one has before -- and they've got the headaches to prove it.

Reviews of "Goodbye to Language"

Donald Clarke, Irish Times

Godard has made the most striking use of 3D since that unlovely medium came back into vogue. Forget all that rubbish Pixar and James Cameron spout about being “subtle” and “immersive”. JLG turns up all the dials to 11, causing fruit bowls to float and seaside bollards to lunge sickeningly into the auditorium. In several extraordinary sequences – sure to become key in all future Godard studies – he offers us entirely different shots in either eye. Nothing in Avatar is quite so dumfounding (or headache-inducing). 

Peter Bradshaw, Guardian

An uncompromising and exasperating 70-minute cine-collage placed before us on a take-it-or-leave-it basis, composed of fragments of ideas, shards of disillusionment. 3D allows Godard to overlay words and phrases on top of each other, yet it sometimes looks like a problem with the electronic subtitling. You can see the camera-crane shadow in one shot. Yet it is all deliberate. It is there to jolt, to challenge, to disrupt: the old Brechtian imperative.

Barbara Scharres, RogerEbert.com

"Goodbye to Language" is in 3D, and a very challenging 3D at that. The film is structured in numbered sections that repeat themselves with different or overlapping content, and there are brain-scrambling superimpositions, texts, clips from old films, solarized images, and footage shot with low-res cameras. The sense of experimentation is extravagant, and the 3D effect achieves such notable depth of field that this little movie puts mainstream mega-bucks productions like "The Great Gatsby" to shame.

Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

Some of the images are wondrous. There’s a shot of Godet from the top of her head down, in 3-D, that is beautiful enough to make you cry. It’s a few seconds of everything Godard ever did for the movies, crystallized: We sense the desire behind the eyes of the man behind the camera, but it’s not merely salacious. It's sad, a human moment captured just so.

Peter Labuza, Film Stage

The 3D flip camera. It can spin in any direction; it can pop reality. Zoom. It can float in and out of the world. 3D does not limit; it expands reality.The gaze can reach a totality. In one moment, 3D creates not one image, but two. How to see the image at once when it is two images. Look left, look right. Close one eye. Close the other. Gaze toward the center and the eyes pop. Finally, they return to one.

Eric Kohn, Indiewire

Aside from its critical perspective, "Goodbye to Language" packs plenty of innovation into its brief running time—particularly with regard to its use of 3-D, which highlights a dissonance between thought and imagery that has been exacerbated by our technological resources. In an early scene, Godard pretzels viewers' eyes by overlaying one shot over another as a woman walks off-frame—and into a shot superimposed over the previous one, then returns to her original location as the images merge once more.

Todd McCarthy, Hollywood Reporter

There are the bold, abrupt titles, in 3D sometimes superimposed over one another. Very loud blasts of music abruptly assert themselves and are as sharply cut off. Some of the technical work, specifically some deliberately blurred horizontal sliding effects and sudden drop-outs of sound, will prompt momentary fears that there’s something wrong with the projection equipment. Certain shots featuring objects in the extreme foreground are also extremely jarring and unpleasant to behold.

David Jenkins, Little White Lies

As complex a film as this is, it is one that offers a bounty of simple pleasures, many of which derive from its innovative employment of 3D and a cut-and-paste soundboard of classical music excerpts. Indeed, the perpetual alteration of image styles works to sustain the optical razzmatazz over the entire length of the film, and there are scenes later on which are as breathtakingly disorienting as those at the beginning, when the optic muscles are still limbering up. There are two scenes where the duel images momentarily part ways and you're allowed to observe two entirely separate actions occurring at the same time.

Zach Lewis, Sound on Sight

Its ambitions come to an audio-visual presence through Godard’s formal process of 3D framing and visual trickery. In two separate instances, the cameras split, the 3D maintained, covering images of tranquility and disaster, man and woman. The total image is a distortion based purely upon how our eyes behave, but the separate images can be gauged through closing one eye or the other. No longer is the cine-image confined to the frame, its power has been placed in its people — Godard’s politics are still intact.

Goodbye to Language

This article is related to: Cannes Film Festival, Jean-Luc Godard


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