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Friday 24 February 2017

Film Review: Film Socialisme * * *

(Club, IFI)

Paul Whitington

It has always seemed to me that Jean Luc Godard's worst nightmare would involve encountering a chorus of agreement.

He thrives on controversy, which he attracts like clockwork with his old-fashioned and not especially coherent polemics.

A long time ago, he used to make feature films with a story (however tricksy), characters, conflict and even resolution.

All that bourgeois nonsense was thrown out the window long ago, and Film Socialisme, like much of his work in recent decades, is a kind of extended visual essay.

Furious ambivalence seems to be Godard's natural state: Film Socialisme starts out as a kind of coded lecture on the history of Mediterranean and European civilisation, but it's a lecture without subtitles, and viewers without reasonable French may get frustrated by the pidgin English semi-translations at the bottom of the screen.

The great man may have intended these bastardised subtitles in a sub-language he has called "Navajo" as a joke: he may even have decided to subtly exclude the Anglo-Saxon world from what he considers an essentially continental European debate.

In any case, the film is not rendered much more or less comprehensible by the leaden, terse, sometimes grandiose dialogue: the 'characters' (who include Godard himself) make elliptical pronouncements about Mediterranean history, recent and ancient, while puttering around the crumbling ports of civilisation's cradle aboard a tacky cruise ship.

After brief stops in Haifa, Alexandria, Naples and Barcelona, the film strikes land in southern France, where a couple and their children argue over the future of the family's petrol station.

The Martin family may represent the fallen dreams of France, or Europe, but it doesn't really matter, because this is the most redundant, tedious and pretentious part of the film.

The best moments come early on, when Godard brings his old mastery of texture and style to bear on his treatment of the ship of fools as it blunders ignorantly through the playgrounds of Odysseus and Perseus.

Despite its subsequent forays into tired Marxist cliché and mild anti-Semitism, Film Socialisme is worth sitting through for those glorious early scenes alone.

And you've got to hand it to Godard: at 80-odd his will-o-the-wisp leftie fury has not abated one bit.

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