– Spring 2011

Late, Latest, Last: Afterthoughts and Footnotes on Godard’s Film Socialisme

Herman Asselberghs

Jean-Luc Godard, Film Socialisme, 2010, various formats transferred to 35mm film, 102min. Courtesy Wild Bunch and Wild Side Video

Jean-Luc Godard, Film Socialisme, 2010, various formats transferred to 35mm film, 102min. Courtesy Wild Bunch and Wild Side Video

Moi je ne veux rien dire, j'essaie de montrer, ou faire sentir, ou permettre de dire autre chose après.
- Jean-Luc Godard1

By now I recognise that compassionate look students reserve for when they think I'm exaggerating. For instance, when I pause Psycho (1960) on the brief close-up of the plate on Marion's car and segue into an exposé on the obsessive-compulsive subtext of Hitchcock's oeuvre. Or when I wax lyrical about the vertiginous depths of the opaque surface after a full-length screening of Andy Warhol's Blow Job (1964) or Chantal Akerman's Jeanne Dielman, 23 quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles (1975). And, yes, also when I've come to Histoire(s) du cinéma (1988-98) in my crash course on Jean-Luc Godard. However, the tolerant magnanimity of these youthful film-makers-to-be - I can hear them thinking: Herman will switch back to Mad Men, YouPorn or Palestinian film soon enough - doesn't last much past a showing of Chapitre 1(a): Toutes les histoires, the first part of Godard's four-and-a-halfhour video work. Involuntary exposure to this radial, multiple and multilayered piece in an educational setting at times generates bafflement, boredom and resentment. In these students' defence, most were only just born when the French film-maker started his magnum opus, a year before the Berlin Wall came down. Yet that generational distance doesn't quite explain the vexation: Godard's films from the early 1960s do excite almost unanimous approval from the same target audience. The irked reaction to his later work - Week-end from 1967 seems to be the cut off point - seems to me rather due to its dogged pedagogy, which wags a finger without ever really

  1. 'I don't want to say anything, I try to show, or make one feel, or allow for something else to be said afterwards.' Serge Kaganski and Jean-Marc Lalanne, '"Le droit d'auteur? Un auteur n'a que des devoirs." Entretien avec Jean-Luc Godard', Les inrockuptibles, no.754, May 2010, p.xx.

  2. Quoted in Tony Judt, Ill Fares the Land: A Treatise on Our Present Discontents, London: Allen Lane, 2010, pp.227-28.

  3. 'Could this film be a "moment" of socialism? Without a single doubt.' Jean-Luc Godard, Film Socialisme: Dialogues avec visages auteurs, Paris: Éditions P.O.L., 2010, p.105. Ever since For Ever Mozart (1996), Godard has published the spoken text to his films in small booklets that look like mock poetry collections: dialogue lines and voiceovers appear after each other, undifferentiated, unascribed and uncredited. See www.pol-editeur.com for all seven titles.

  4. The opening credits mention the many sources, cheekily ordered under the headers 'Logos' (the names of the crew, including four cameramen and his partner and longtime-collaborator Anne-Marie Miéville), 'Tekhnos' (audiovisual hardware brands such as Canon, Samsung, Sony, Panasonic, Sonosax and Studer), 'Audios' (sounds), 'Textos' (texts) and 'Videos' (images).

  5. Jacques Rançière, Et tant pis pour les gens fatigués. Entretiens, Paris: Éditions Amsterdam, 2009, p.302.

  6. S. Kaganski and J.-M. Lalanne, '"Le droit d'auteur"', op. cit., p.xviii.

  7. 'In war one sees oneself as in a mirror.'

  8. Edward W. Said, 'Timeliness and Lateness', On Late Style: Music and Literature Against the Grain, London: Bloomsbury, 2006, p.6.

  9. Ibid., p.7.

  10. Ibid., p.12.

  11. Ibid., p.7.

  12. 'Nothing but the right hour.'

  13. E.W. Said, 'Timeliness and Lateness', op. cit., p.24.

  14. 'Contemporariness is a singular relationship with one's own time, which adheres to it and, at the same time, keeps a distance from it. More precisely, it is that relationship that adheres to it through a disjunction and anachronism.' Giorgio Agamben, 'What Is the Contemporary?', What Is an Apparatus? and Other Essays (trans. David Kishik and Stefan Pedatella), Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2009, p. 41.

  15. G. Agamben, The Time That Remains: A Commentary on the Letter to the Romans (trans. Patricia Dailey), Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2005, p.61.

  16. Ibid., p.62.

  17. See ibid.

  18. E.W. Said, 'Timeliness and Lateness', op. cit., p.14.

  19. Serge Daney, 'Theorize/Terrorize (Godardian Pedagogy)', in David Wilson (ed.), Cahiers du Cinéma: Volume Four, 1973-1978: History, Ideology, Cultural Struggle (trans. Annwyl Williams), London and New York: Routledge, 2000, p.116. Originally published as: 'Le thérrorisé: pedagogie godardienne', Cahiers du Cinéma, January 1976, pp.262-23.

  20. Ibid., p.118.

  21. Ibid.

  22. Ibid., p.119.

  23. 'We have to start from scratch. But before starting over, we must first go back to zero.'

  24. The editing of Le Gai Savoir was not delayed solely due to the events of May '68, but also because of Godard's hectic schedule. In the course of that year, he was working on no less than four other film projects: the British shooting of One Plus One (filmed in London), the collective production of ten-odd Cinétracts (in Paris), the realisation of Un film comme tous les autres (also in Paris) and the American shoots for One A.M. (in New York and Berkeley). For a detailed chronology of this intensely productive period, see Colin MacCabe, Godard: Images, Sounds, Politics, London: BFI/MacMillan Press, 1980, p.21; and C. MacCabe, Godard: A Portrait of the Artist at 70, London: Bloomsbury, 2003, pp.353-55.

  25. See David Faroult, 'Le livre Le Gai Savoir: La censure défiée', in Jean-Luc Godard (ed.), Documents, Paris: Éditions du Centre Pompidou, 2006, p.109.

  26. 'In order to find the solution, whether for a problem in chemistry or in politics, one needs to boil the problem down. In chemistry, they dissolve hydrogen. In politics, they dissolve parliament. Here, we've got to dissolve images and sounds.'

  27. Peter Wollen, 'The Two Avant-Gardes', in Tanya Leighton (ed.), Art and the Moving Image: A Critical Reader, London: Tate Publishing and Afterall Books, 2008, p.178. Originally published in Studio International, vol.190, no.978, November/December 1975.

  28. 'This film has not wished to, could not wish to explain cinema or even constitute its object, but more modestly, to offer a few effective means for arriving there. This is not the film that must be made, but it shows how, if one is to make a film, one must necessarily follow some of the paths travelled here.'

  29. 'If you want to see the world, close your eyes.'

  30. For Agamben darkness is another characteristic of contemporaneity: 'The contemporary is he who firmly holds his gaze on his own time so as to perceive not its light, but rather its darkness.' G. Agamben, The Time That Remains, op. cit., p.44.

  31. 'That which unfolds before us seems like an impossible story. We find ourselves faced with a type of zero.'

  32. Film Socialisme's subtitling may well be its most adamant brain-teaser: the film's wordly blend of (mainly) French, Russian, German, Spanish, Italian, Hebrew and Arabic is translated by Godard himself in what he dubs 'Navajo English', conjuring up old-fashioned Westerns when Native Americans still spoke in condensed and choppy phrases or, more appropriately, nowadays global penchant for bad English.

  33. S. Daney, 'Theorize/Terrorize (Godardian Pedagogy)', op. cit., p.119.

  34. Film Socialisme premiered on 17 May 2010, in the afternoon, in the 'Un Certain Regard' section of the 63rd Cannes Film Festival. That same night and the next one (literally the day before its release in French theatres), the film could be seen in avant-première on the internet via Video On Demand.