Monday, November 19, 2018

SOMETHING’S NOT HAPPENING HERE AND YOU DON’T KNOW WHAT IT’S NOT

May 13, 2018 by · Leave a Comment 

The walkouts during the press screening of Jean-Luc Godard’s The Image Book (Le Livre d’Image) at the Cannes Film Festival began at about 15 minutes into the film. One by one, several critics and working journalists covering the festival began rising from their seats, hunching over so as not to block the view of others, and heading posthaste for the doors — utterly bewildered and stultified by what they had been watching: a pastiche of old-movie, newsreel, still-photo and YouTube images — hundreds, perhaps thousands, of them — many seemingly shot in front of a badly adjusted old-time color-TV screen. (Godard shot no original footage for this stream-of-consciousness jumble of clips.) Godard, in a gruff, weary voice, narrates the movie himself. There are occasional English subtitles that often don’t seem to be actual translations of what Godard is saying in French. And, like the images, the soundtrack appears to be purposefully eccentric, sometimes shifting, without apparent reason, from speaker to speaker, right, left and up, the volume at times rising to ear-piercing levels, leveling off for a while, and then falling off to a lull.

The relatively sizable walkout was extraordinary, and probably unprecedented at Cannes. After all, journalists in the auditorium were being paid to be there. Glancing around, one could observe dozens of remaining journalists snoozing, their eyelids simultaneously opening as if on cue as Godard punctuated scenes with an orchestral bang.

Reading their reviews later, it was difficult not to escape the conclusion that many of those who slept through most of the plotless film had no problem writing about it — and many of them did so in a sort of psychedelic prose in keeping with the motif of the film by the 87-year-old genius of New Wave cinema. The Guardian’s Peter Bradshaw (an eminent critic who probably stayed awake throughout) wrote that in this film Godard seemed to be asking, “What is the status of the image? Is it text? If it is a sign then what is its real-world referent? Just another sign? Another book? Can we empathize with the sufferings of others, the sufferings of oppressed peoples, if the news of such suffering is just an ideologically constructed text of images and words?” Nevertheless, Bradshaw concluded his review by conceding, “I’m not sure I understood more than a fraction.”

The next day, journalists filed into the press conference room, where Godard was scheduled to meet the members of the press who had seen his film and were eager to ask him about it. Except … he wasn’t there. At the long table where filmmakers usually are seated to meet the press, was the French film critic Gerard Lefort, who presumably is a friend of the filmmaker.

“He is not here but will take questions by phone,” Lefort announced. And he gestured toward a microphone and a smartphone on the table. Lefort instructed: “Come in pairs to the mic so you won’t be alone, and remember to be polite. Say hello, good morning, ask your question.” He repeated the instructions while the phone call to Godard was being placed. When the connection was completed and the filmmaker’s face appeared on the cellphone (it was held up high so that all those in the room could see that it was actually Godard that was taking the call) the remote-controlled press conference began, lasting 50 minutes.

However, it was unlikely that those in the room came away with any better idea of what The Image Book was about after their video chat ended than they did when it began. At one point during the session Godard remarked, “I’m not interested in showing what’s happening, because that we see all around us, and on Facebook, but in showing what is not happening.” Oh.