Film Socialisme [Blu-ray]
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Jean-Luc Godard has always loved to push the medium of film outside the box. His work during the 60s helped propel the influence of the French New Wave into the mainstream. In his golden years, Godard still refuses to settle for convention. Instead his work has become even more heady, placing his newest film squarely within the realm of avant garde cinema. This categorical tag does not yet excuse it from its alienation of the audience and complete lack of any steady narrative. His gorgeous visual flare does not redeem the jumbled mess of political ranting and existential declamations that flow from the mouths of his many unlikable characters. Godard's aim was obviously to create an arty, leftist commentary on western culture with reflection on history itself, but he did so without a care if anyone was willing to sit through his discursive creation.
Aboard a cruise ship we set sail on the Mediterranean, visiting many of the main coastal ports while periodically visiting points of historical reverence like Egypt, Greece, Palestine, Odessa, Naples, and other various places, all meditating on weighty topics like art, socialism, nazism, cinema, and more. The conversations take place in various languages, but all are transcribed in what Godard has dubbed, Navajo English. Its broken phrasing and sporadic translation make you constantly feel like you are missing something as several people spout overlapping dialog, but only a few words appear on screen. At the midway point we are taken from the ship to a new cast of characters who gravitate around a garage and a llama. The general feeling of confused disconnect continues throughout the abstract collage.
The many pieces of this filmic compound are photographed in a variety of styles, some with the most crisp, natural beauty in composition, and some with distorted 10 year old cell phone photography. The chosen image quality works almost as a moral scale, as characters act out their day, the image quality seems to degrade if they are partaking in somewhat sketchy activities like gambling or taking advantage of women. Sound is constantly being overdubbed with snippets of literature or social commentary, while on screen sound is often left raw, the wind ravaging the mic, or club music completely overpowering its signal intake. These multiple tracks sharply cut between the left and right channels, mostly only one playing in each, while they occasionally switch places as new tracks join the mix. It's a bizarre attempt that actually seems to work occasionally.
Kino Lorber's Blu-ray package represents the film well, despite its flaws. It's hard to judge the many different styled images, but from the clean look of some of the more forthright footage I'd say that the transfer is top notch. Scenes on the boat overlooking the ocean are nothing short of breathtaking, but they just don't stay that way. The same notion can be said of the sound, which is presented in an DTS-HD 5.1 track. The extra channels don't seem to get much use, as the sound mostly rotates between the left and right mains, but I'd guess they sound as they were meant to. As mentioned before, Godard's Navajo English subtitles are included, as well as a separate subtitle set that translates everything as it is actually spoken in the film. Its bizarre how much the viewing experience changes by switching the subtitle display in this way. For extras we are only provided a set of trailers for other Kino Lorber releases and a still gallery. There is a pamphlet included with an insightful critical essay on the film by Richard Brody as well. The disc comes packaged in a standard Blu-ray case with a matching cardboard dust jacket.
This incoherent piece of work just doesn't function as a normal piece of narrative cinema. You'd be hard pressed to find an average film goer to sit through it, but Godard diehards and those willing to watch and rewatch to research each line might find something to like. For me, it's all just too pretentious.
--Jordan M. Smith
Release Date: January 10, 2011