When it comes to (opens in a new window)Jean-Luc Godard, it is difficult to speak about a softening with age. He sides with the bomb in a quite literal, political sense. We might immediately expect the accusation of an «affirmation of terrorism», the well-known pattern of the political rhetoric of a hypocritical state ideology. Godard isn’t impressed by such reproaches. He sets free a joy in technical experimentation, which – confirmed by his authority – can make it all the way to the Cannes competition selection.
At the same time, his instructions transform a classic press conference into a performance act. Journalists line up to offer their questions to the master. His presence is limited to a small, handy screen. It would be easy to transfer the video of his communication to a big screen in the pressroom. But he has decided differently. Critics from all over the planet ask their questions into their smartphones, questions that resemble the ones you would ask an oracle, like those about the future of cinema and film culture.
His film The Image Book (Le Livre d’image) can easily be claimed to be the most radical esthetical proposition in the Cannes competition. Texts, sounds and images are permanently fragmented, transformed, transferred, segmented, and decontextualised. Different languages are used. Variations of sound volumes seem to be the rule; original sounds from film segments are mixed and voiced-over with commentaries. Modification of colours completes the palette of possible transformations.
«It would take a whole day to tell the story of one second, and it would take an eternity to tell only one day.»
Even in comparison with Godard’s 2014 Cannes-presented work Adieu au Langage – already a wild work drunk with associations, marked by permanently changing voices and perspectives – The Image Book is even less compromising, characterised by harder and quicker cuts. If in 2014 melodious sound sequences could sometimes be remarked, they are now abandoned completely. In Adieu au Langage Godard experimented with 3D-technology that offered a visual space experience. Now the sound gets the ever-changing treatment of an acoustic exploration.
A joyful celebration of anarchism
Surely Godard escapes all dead-end setting of meaning, but he produces a kind of sensory stimulation, which spreads out like a carpet consisting of impulses and zones. Travelling into such a fruitful chaos is of course refreshing in a highly structured place like the Cannes Festival. The viewer is also oriented by a motto: It would take a whole day to tell the story of one second, and it would take an eternity to tell only one day. Godard offers a consequential work overcoming simple representations of reality, a rare gesture in times of digital decoding, referring more to the intentions of the 20th-century-art movements like Dadaism and Surrealism.
Godard recognised that in the act of representation there is a doubtful dimension of violence. Is this the reason for his refusal to create new images? It seems there are already too many images, so a montage of existing archive materials and paintings – like those of Paul Klee and August Macke’s voyage to Tunis – is completely sufficient. No need for more.
The Image Book appears, over longer sequences, like a montage machine out of control. The concept of counterpoint, the counter-voice that keeps independent of the main theme, has been suggested as a model for a description of Godard’s work. But faced with its heterogeneity, the idea of (only) one counter-voice does not seem sufficient.
But even in this joyful celebration of anarchy there is some structure. First of all, Godard offers an order of chapters even though they will be decomposed again in the overwhelming heterogeneity. Maybe we could claim the appearance of «sense islands», which are able to stabilise focus for a short moment. One of the reflections, for example, concentrates on the hand as the most important sensory organ. The hand itself «thinks»; this is Godard’s first proposed concept fragment.
Another focus of images is rail tracks, trains, and travels accompanied by a philosophy of disappearing. Also, art cannot resist the passage of time, as we hear in the voice-over – followed by scenes of uprisings and rebellions. Godard’s voice demands a «revolution in the revolution» – requests of a liberation from prejudices. The subject must constitute his own law against society, which is nothing other than organised crime, according to Godard.
History finally is – as Godard suggests – the history of war, repeating itself. Many of the uprising film sequences are citations from the works of Sergei Eisenstein or Max Ophüls, but YouTube fragments of executions carried out by ISIS are also placed in the flow. All of them document an ongoing, permanent, millennium-old disaster.
One «intensity island» in Godard’s raving off-discourse is the evocation of a happy and self-contained Arabia – not touched by violence and terror – a lost, peaceful paradise, neither deformed by Islam nor dispossessed by colonising world powers. Melodies and dance resist here against the violence of images and representations.
«History finally is – as Godard suggests – the history of war, repeating itself.»
In this context the name Samantar is pronounced, a kind of hope figure representing a self-confident Arabia, which has refused to mix with power politics and resisted in the placidness of a thousand-year-old culture. His successful adversary Ben Kadem prefers the integration of Arabia into the world power system. This decision symbolizes the end of the powerless sovereignty. Ben Kadem appears as the tragic figure of the final subordination of the Gulf States to the leadership of the dominating colonial powers. Both figures quoted here by Godard are the protagonists of Albert Cossery’s only novel Une ambition dans le désert (1984).
At the end Godard offers a grand reflection in the form of a Brecht citation, namely that only the fragment is authentic. This is followed by an enigmatic prophecy: There will be a revolt, and then it will be crucial to speak to ourselves in the language of the other.
Godard’s work makes it evident: an advanced age is not only a limitation to produce a really radical semi-logical work, but quite helpful. To have nothing to lose is the best basis for creation. Also we can remember here the equally radical assumption of the philosophical psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan (1901-1981), to whom insignificant cuts in structures are the locations of the appearance of the real.