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Wild Bunch

Goodbye to Language (2014)

The unveiling of a new Jean-Luc Godard film always incites circlejerks among elitist cinephiles, who collectively muster as many pretentious fancy words and insufferable exclamation marks for the occasion as their copy editors will tolerate. Never mind that they've been punk’d — encore — by the biggest troll working in cinema. When Gaspar Noé splices in a gratuitous insert of hard-core sex, it’s the tantrum of an enfant terrible. When Mr. Godard does the same thing, it's poetry! Whatever, dude.

The plot to “Goodbye to Language” is largely irrelevant, and doesn’t make much sense anyway unless you consult the press notes: It has something to do with an unfaithful woman, her lover and a stray dog. They act out scenes from an adultery, but in place of normal human exchanges we find literary quotables taken completely out of context courtesy of the likes of Marcel Duchamp and Claude Monet.

One thing that does correspond, though, is the word “caca” recited by an actor sitting on the toilet. There are fart jokes, too, with a naked actress literally passing gas. Mr. Godard wants to differentiate between nature and metaphor, with expository scenes playing out at the gates of the Usine à gaz — literally a gas factory; metaphorically meaning something superfluous. In fact, all the dialogue here is useless despite the literary pedigree. Actions speak louder.

Working in 3-D for the first time, Mr. Godard pushes the envelope and — depending how you look at it — trolls the format for all its worth. At certain junctures we are simultaneously presented with two points of view on the very same scene, filtered separately through the right and left lenses of your 3-D glasses. The effect is oddly retro and low-tech, flickering like the magic lantern. The joke is not lost; but the joke is on whom?


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