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Keep Your Left Up

Film socialisme (2010)

Film Society of Lincoln Center

Jean-Luc Godard is finally showing signs of age after spending much of his career upholding his reputation as the enfant terrible of the nouvelle vague. With “Film socialisme,” he has succumbed to the cranky impulses of a septuagenarian, pretty much railing against everything wrong with the world today while sporadically lamenting a missed opportunity for us to do without capitalism.

As with Mr. Godard’s recent works, “Film socialisme” defies synopsis. It revolves around a particularly gaudy Mediterranean cruise ship that makes stops at ports of call in Egypt, Palestine, Odessa, Greece, Naples and Barcelona, exploring the cultural ruins of each. But that is the extent of any semblance of linear narrative. In fact, there’s no real dialogue. Characters only speak in sound bites, and the sparse English subtitles aptly reflect such.

Then there are a couple of children who apparently won some kind of election and are under the surveillance of TV journalists, while the children’s working-class parents toss about more big words while sitting around in a run-down service garage. Metaphorically speaking, kids are running things into the ground while hogging the media spotlight, while those who know better such as Mr. Godard wither in the background.

Mr. Godard’s stylistic strategy here is to increasingly pixelate the image and amp up static in the sound as what a given scene is depicting becomes more capitalist and crass. Pristine, high-definition digital images preserve historical ruins such as the Odessa Steps, here intercut with their defining moment in Sergei Eisenstein’s “Battleship Potemkin.” Conversely, blown-up cell-phone-quality footage captures the garishness of modern middle class excess as exemplified by the glitzy disco on the ship. It’s as if Mr. Godard is here stating his preference for socialism because he thinks capitalism is solely responsible for our contemporary cultural wasteland.

It’s surprising that critics have given Mr. Godard a pass so far on some of the seemingly anti-Semitic sentiments expressed in the film, from the rant against Jews in Hollywood to the fact that a title card that reads “access denied” represents the entirety of the Palestine leg of the voyage.

Since Mr. Godard continues to innovate the cinematic form and experiment with the digital format, it’s just really jarring to see some of the backward ideas in this film — even if they are consistent with the iconoclastic and anti-establishment preoccupations that have marked his career.


Opens on June 3 in Manhattan and on July 8 in Britain.

Written and directed by Jean-Luc Godard; directors of photography, Fabrice Aragno and Paul Grivas; produced by Ruth Waldburger and Alain Sarde; released by Lorber Films (United States) and New Wave Films (Britain). In French, with English subtitles. Running time: 1 hour 41 minutes. This film is not rated.

WITH: Jean-Marc Stehlé (Otto Goldberg), Catherine Tanvier, Christian Sinniger, Agatha Couture, Eye Haïdara, Marie-Christine Bergier, Nadège Beausson-Diagne, Mathias Domahidy, Quentin Grosset, Olga Riazanova, Maurice Sarfati, Dominique Devals, Louma Sanbar, Gulliver Hecq, Marine Battaggia, Elizabeth Vitali, Patti Smith, Lenny Kaye, Alain Badiou, Bernard Maris, Elias Sanbar, Robert Maloubier and Dominique Reynié.


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