It’s going to take a lot longer than a single screening and a day of contemplation to make anything out of Goodbye to Language 3D. Jean-Luc Godard’s latest film is … not an easy one. Despite lasting only 70 minutes and featuring very little when it comes to a discernible narrative, this is a dense film whose goals are not immediately clear. The hint might be in the title, but even “Goodbye to Language” isn’t immediately clear. It’s not like the film is lacking in language, both traditional and filmic.
If the film has a star, it’s Godard’s real-life dog, Roxy, who gets about a quarter of the film’s running time. Maybe a bit more. I’d estimate that Roxy is on-screen for about 20 minutes of the 70-minute film. He takes us around and experiences the world and the conversations held within it. One thread involves a married woman and a single man having an affair, discussing philosophy — often while the man is, um, on the toilet — and generally being naked. Why? I don’t know. I don’t know much of why things happened in this film. They just did, okay?
As I said in the opening, a single screening is not enough to completely understand Goodbye to Language 3D, and if anyone tells you that they “got” it after watching it just once, they are either a liar or read a great deal about it online. One a single viewing, you’re going to be overwhelmed by the visuals, audio, and unconventional storytelling. That’s it. It takes the entire 70 minutes to start to jive with what the film has to offer, and then it’s over. “What?” is going to be a common response by the time the credits roll.
The visuals are all over the place. One moment, you’ll have a crisp HD shot of the water, with the 3D perfectly in focus that makes you remember that Godard can shoot some beautiful scenes, and then we’ll cut to a grainy, oversaturated or undersaturated shot that looks like it was taken on the world’s first camera phone. The quality varies, the style changes, and there are often moments in which we’ll cut back and forth between all sorts of different shots. There is no consistency.
The audio is the same way. From what we’re hearing — sometimes nothing, sometimes classical music, sometimes dialogue, sometimes half of the dialogue, sometimes something else — to the way it’s mixed, the audio will always give you something different to listen to. It certainly keeps you awake.
The use of 3D is also unlike anything else you’ve seen before. Leave it to the 83-year-old to innovate. There’s one technique he uses in which a distinct image is dedicated to each eye. The camera pans away from one image, but it also lingers, meaning that the previous shot still exists, but the camera has also panned away to a second one. The initial image remains on the left eye, while the panned image gets the right eye. It’s like a 3D superimposition. And then, eventually, the two join up again. It happens, if I’m remembering correctly, twice in the film, and it’s something to behold. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything like that before.
Perhaps the real question you’ll have is “what’s the point?” and I can’t answer that. I wish I could. Having seen the film once, I was overwhelmed by the aesthetic and auditory experience. Many in attendance were bored; a few walked out, citing boredom, confusion, and not being able to find a “point” to it all. I’m sure the film has a purpose, but it will take time, multiple viewings, and perhaps a smarter person than I to figure it out. All I can say, for now, is that you should see it because you won’t see anything else like it, and it very well might be the last Godard film to be released.
Goodbye to Language 3D is a film that you won’t “get” on a single viewing, and that’s okay. You don’t need to understand its point or purpose to feel some sort of reaction to the visual and auditory experience that it will offer you — yes, even if the feeling you get from it is frustration or confusion. Or, if worst comes to worst, and you just hate everything about it, at least there’s a cute dog that takes up about a quarter of the brief (70 minutes) running time.