Goodbye to Language continues the master filmmaker's long tradition of cinematic innovation that goes all the way back to his explosive debut feature, Breathless, his work in the French New Wave style with such classics as Contempt and A Woman is a Woman, his challenging and provocative political films, and his pioneering use of video. Constantly expanding and experimenting with the limits of film form, Godard uses 3D to create stunning new visual effects, including separate images visible in each eye, which Scott Foundas in Variety said result "in a series of strange superimpositions that almost seem to enter a fourth, unclassified dimension."
Using 3D technology to mind-bending effect, the film follows a couple whose relationship breaks down along with the images, which in its second half takes a dog's-eye view of the world.
It is a meditation on history and illusion that creates 3D effects more spectacular than any Hollywood blockbuster, figures merging and weaving across the screen along with the film's ideas about romantic love and being-in-the-world. It has the feeling of a final statement, but knowing Godard's penchant for re-invention, hopefully it is yet another beginning to an extraordinary career.
Jean-Luc Godard's 'Goodbye to Language' is an astonishing film for many reasons, the least of which is the acclaimed directors use of 3D technology for the first time. The film is a sensory experience like no other, taking the director's techniques to surprising new places by eschewing the rules of filmmaking – especially as it pertains to the use of a certain technology. Rife with statements of the political, philosophical, and personal the film deftly rides the line between artistic and oblique in a way that is as compelling as it is challenging.
The film's style will be familiar to fans of Godard's work. Here, however, the filmmaker's tendencies seem to be taken up a notch. There is an elusiveness to what is presented onscreen that captivates by inundating the audience with what at first seems like a series of random images and collections of scenes between two barely distinguishable couples. These couples always seem to be going somewhere. Or they are on the verge of going somewhere. They are perpetually getting dressed, getting undressed. They are in their living room, kitchen, bathroom, always moving as if something waits out of frame, drawing them to it. The fact that Godard frames his shots so that the characters remain obscured – often filming them from the neck down, in silhouette, or from behind – adds to the experience. It makes these characters (if they can be called that) transitory, impermanent. It is an effective way of giving the audience an illusory experience.
And when you mingle in some of the most unique 3D shots in the history of the medium – two of which will beg to be re-watched again and again – then you have something truly remarkable. And, in that sense, 'Goodbye to Language' seems designed to play up the interest there is in 3D, by eschewing formula, breaking the rules of such technology. As Godard says in a lengthy and revealing interview included on the disc, he is interested in 3D technology because it is not interesting. It is as if the master filmmaker has taken it upon himself to discover out how the technology can be used interestingly.
Woven in among a fragmented narrative (or parallel narratives), of relationships seemingly on the verge of dissolution, the 3D is used to guide the viewer into recognizing the exploration of the parallel – occasionally presenting two scenarios layered over one another at the same time. While at other times it is used to push unexpected things into the foreground, often making the least important object on the screen stand out. But it is the disjointed nature of the film that truly takes center stage, rightfully moving the visual trickery to the background, making it a powerful accessory.
Music, too, starts like it is leading to something grand, only to be stopped short before reaching its crescendo, making the film as much a listening experience as it is a viewing one. In fact, sound may play an even larger role than that of the image. While many of the director's key uses of imagery are present –shots of nature, the space between couples – it is the sound (or lack of it at times) that layers the moment in such a way as to guide the audience's understanding of it. Never mind that the aural experience of 'Goodbye to Language' is unique in that specific scenes unfold with all the sound emanating from a single speaker (right, left, rear right, etc.), the way the sound is used often varies from moment to moment in startling and effective ways.
All of the techniques at the filmmaker's disposal make the nearly impenetrable plot of couples (two to begin with, and a third introduced near the end of the film) and the seeming banalities of their lives all the more captivating. The narratives of the key players, Héloïse Godot, Kamel Abdeli, Zoé Bruneau, and Christian Gregory splinter off of one another, like the breathtaking 3D image of one couple's split journey starting from a park bench, but remain intrinsically linked by their similarities (both visually and narratively).
At one point the distinction between the two narratives hinges on the arrival of a dog, that, much to the chagrin of the man, joins one couple at a gas station. This becomes the point of divergence, as the couples continue to live, fight, and contemplate, while the film increasingly focuses its attention on the itinerant canine. In fact, in the second half (again allowing the director to play with the idea of two in his stereoscopic masterwork) it could be argued that 'Goodbye to Language' moves away from its focus on the couples, to focus entirely on the dog, as the staccato scenes of nature, vibrant glimpse of vegetation and forests, rushing water, and even the footage inserted from other sources begin to feel as though they are interrelated from a distinct, four-legged perspective.
As Godard has said, the lack of a screenplay was to escape from fixed rules of form, and to create without "too many ideas" or without "preconceived ideas". That means much of 'Goodbye to Language' was crafted in postproduction, where Godard was able to create form from all of footage he shot and collected. It is still oblique – sometimes frustratingly so – but it is also fascinating in its refusal to adhere to convention, and how from that refusal comes something new and imaginative and daring. Thoughtful and contemplative, and visually audacious, it really is unlike anything you've ever seen before.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Goodbye to Language' comes from Kino Lorber as a two 50GB Blu-ray disc set housed in the standard two-disc keepcase. The first disc is the feature film in 3D, while the second disc is the 2D version, plus special features. The set also includes a booklet featuring an essay from David Bordwell.
Godard used many different sources to film 'Goodbye to Language' and he has manipulated many of the images in more ways than putting the film in 3D. Many scenes are deliberately distorted, so that the image is very grainy, pixelated, or super saturated. Several instances show red leaves on the ground, and the red of each leaf is so bright, it bleeds onto the screen. Another example would be a ferry in the ocean, where the sky and the water are super saturated to the point where they match the blueness of one another, in a beautifully artificial way. Understanding that the image has been manipulated, however, will give the viewer a greater appreciation of the transfer as a whole.
When it is appropriate to the image, fine detail is present and looks tremendous. Facial feature, hairs, and clothing and background textures are all crystal clear in nearly every shot. Contrast and color work similarly. As mentioned above, the image is often times manipulated, which, at times, means the contrast and color will be altered. Although it is unconventional at times, the film still looks gorgeous, as blacks result in full-bodied darkness, and a wide range of shadows that go from smoky gray to full darkness without any hint of crush or banding.
Naturally, what most people will be curious about is the quality of the 3D image on disc one. It is without a doubt a startlingly good use of 3D. But be warned, this is not the kind of 3D wherein a giant CGI robot bursts out of the screen, or debris from an explosion comes perilously close to the viewer's face. Instead it focuses on objects like a chair, leaves blowing in the wind, or divergent plotlines like parallel universes. There is some deliberate ghosting that takes place and makes for another interesting rule-breaking use of the 3D. Overall, though, this is still a strong 3D image that upends many conventions of the format, while still making good use of the effect.
The 2D disc maintains the image's quality throughout, with the only distinction being many of the 3D images are layered on top of one another, so that the two visual tracks converge into a single double-image. This will be disorienting for some, but it as intriguing to watch, especially after having seen the 3D version.
Like the image, the French DTS-Master Audio 5.1 mix is as fascinating as the film's 3D (and in many ways, 2D image). Godard doesn't layer the mix, so much as shove everything into one channel and move it around to create a one of a kind listening experience.
Still, things like dialogue, sound effects, and music are all crystal clear and sound terrific. The many layers are balanced against one another very nicely, and, when possible, create a wonderful feeling of immersion. But the main thrust of the sound is the way it plays with convention. Sometimes the sound of traffic will emanate solely from the rear right channel, while the sounds of nature come directly from the center speaker. Dialogue may completely come from the front right speaker in one instance, and then be spread around all channels at once in another. The effect is startling at first, but it becomes an intriguing layer of the filmmaker's indirect intentions that is worthy of a much closer listen.
Canon Europe interview with Jean-Luc Godard (HD, 46 min.) – Godard gives a relaxed, but detailed interview discussing his thoughts on making film, 3D technology, and what he thinks about the role technology plays in our everyday lives. It is a circuitous interview at times, where the filmmaker is as prone to digression as his movies are, but there is still clarity in what he says, and the insight from such an influential filmmaker is priceless.
Trailer (HD, 2 min.)
'Goodbye to Language' is at times a digressive film that can be quite challenging to wrap your head around. In fact, after several viewings, you may still not have come to a conclusion as to what exactly is going on. But each time you take the film in, you will see and feel something different, and it will inform your opinion on a visceral level as much as an intellectual one. With its stunning and creative use of 3D technology, and its refusal to adhere to the conventions of filmmaking, 'Goodbye to Language' is a film you experience more than you watch. With its wonderful image, creative and powerful sound, and a fantastic interview, this comes highly recommended for those who yearn to see something wholly original.