TIFF review, Day 1: Film Socialisme, the anti-socialism film

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Title: Film Socialisme (or Socialism)
Director: Jean-Luc Godard
Language: French and others
Year: 2010
Critical Reception: 2010 TIFF entry
Psych Index: Social Relations
In Brief: Godard's experimental film's real experiment is his audience, in this purposefully oblique piece of work. Subtitles are optional, and sometimes omitted altogether, depending on the screening. Be warned.
Comment (SPOILERS ALERT): This is not a proper review of the film itself; this is a rant about the experience of its first screening presentation at the Toronto International Film Festival. I could talk about what I saw but it is impossible for me to write a review on something I don't understand (for a very good reason, as you'll see from the following account). I've attributed its poor presentation to Godard when it really should've been directed to the organizers of the fest - I was mislead into believing it was Godard's wish to present it in this comprehensible fashion by the staff at the screening. I've since then been confirmed by TIFF customer relations that it was their error. I'm sorry for blaming Godard all this time. I'm leaving this rant up but please note that it was written in erroneous belief about Godard's intent. As a consequence, the film came off very poorly in the sections that required some understanding of dialogue and text, and it may change with proper screening later.

I chose Film Socialisme to kick off my 2010 Toronto International Film Festival because it was by an old master and it was unlikely to have a wide release. I was curious to see what it was like seeing the film with a live audience, as I've never seen a Godard film during its first run (or in a theatre, period). I knew going into the experimental film that it was going to be a challenge; I was prepared for the distance, figuring that I could always rely on images - the basic language of cinema - for a rich, if not cohesive experience. I understood that Godard was interested in the form of films. The experience was the show. Unfortunately, it was a frustrating show that served to highlight only how social cinema - unlike music - does not transcend verbal communication, especially when verbal communication was the only way to piece together fragmented visuals and make sense of dialogue.

The film was supposedly divided into three parts. The first section relied on images to tell some symbolic relationship between America and Europe, and maybe capitalism versus meowing cats. The second section cut to a drama involving reporters and a family at a gas station. There were some four legged animals thrown in for good measures. The final part broke lose of all structure and resembled a student film done with some serious intent.

Could I tell you that I gathered all that from my first screening? No. Did I care for anything that happened in the film? No. But it wasn't an actual failing on my part: there was no subtitle to be found on the screen. If it was a visual-focused film, I probably would have been able to deal with it much better. There was something especially grating about being presented with speaking parts and having their meaning withheld, literally. The only part of the film that came across fine without subtitles was the comedic showing of animals being, well, cute animals. I felt like I was watching an edited youtube video in French (a character who bore some resemblance to Anna Karina was shown looking at a youtube video of talking cats - metacommetary?).

With its complete omission of any subtitling, I had to wonder why I was made to endure a film in which I was purposefully prevented from understanding the basics of the film (I've never walked out of a theatre without finishing the film I was watching, and I was not prepared to make this an exception). Was it to experience what it was like to be a non-English speaker trying to see an English-speaking film? Was it to flaunt the French language's superiority? Was it a show of contempt towards the English-speaking North American audience (Canada has French listed as one of its official languages so I guess it's my own un-Canadianness that failed me?)? Or was it, as some sources claimed, an experiment that forced the audience to pay attention to other visual cues? Judging from his showing the most verbal section in close ups and more conventional dramatic framing, I'd beg to differ with this last point.

Art is meant as a tool to communicate expressions or ideas in whatever form. However, if one was to use cinema as a platform, it would be mean to just take away basic verbal communication without supplementing it with some sort of cohesive cinematic language (the visuals), as he did with the film for the most part, without warning. It probably would have been more effective to confine this part of the experiment to a section of the film only - it would still have made the point and not detract from other (possible) points of the film. Godard combined language and visuals in a way that eliminated the use of language for the English-speaking audience altogether. You don't learn what you can't understand. What I took away from the screening instead was severe annoyance - I should've been warned of something as basic as not having subtitles so I could make a choice to endure it. This act of bad manner was completely, absurdly unnecessary, and ensured the only message to be received was that films can be ridiculously alienating. Was this the point of Film Socialisme? I wouldn't know. I hope it was about camel love. At least that would have been a more social affair.



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11 Response to TIFF review, Day 1: Film Socialisme, the anti-socialism film

September 10, 2010 at 11:43 AM

Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

I've been attending TIFF for 10 years and wanted to see this film for the exact same reasons as yours. The lack of subtitles is pretentious bullshit especially since there were French titles on screen between scenes. I walked out of the cinema after 15 minutes, something I've never done before in my life.

September 10, 2010 at 1:52 PM

Thanks for your comment. I considered complaining but thought better of it, because I'm not sure the organizers would've done something about it (why didn't they just put their foot down and say 'we'd have to warn them'?) It was meant to alienate the very audience it wanted to serve. This was really odd, considering how English-speaking films would either be dubbed or subtitled in another language when they are shown elsewhere. It showed a complete disrespect for the audience. I doubt Godard saw it as such. Congratulations, Godard. I felt stupid and duped.

And you know, I bet that if he had given us small pieces of subtitles (it was shown with fragmented subtitles elsewhere), I would've enjoyed it a lot more. It's frustrating because I can't decipher a film I don't understand. I paid to see it in theatre, at a film fest, not a bootlegged version!

Gaston LaGaffe
September 11, 2010 at 8:10 PM

Hey everyone, don't get so upset at Godard; based on this review of an earlier showing, the film is meant to have subtitles:

http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/hr/film-reviews/film-socialisme-film-review-1004091838.story

It's kind of obvious, given the narrative and text-based elements of the film. So if you want to get mad, get tiffed at TIFF for showing the wrong version of the film.

Gaston
September 12, 2010 at 12:17 AM

The film played today (Sept 11) WITH subtitles; it appears the lack of subtitles was a glitch on TIFF's side. Whoever was in charge should have said something, explaining that they were unable to show subtitles, and/or offered an alternative screen date for the film but instead they said NOTHING and let everyone try to figure it out themselves. If you send an email to customer relations they will refund your money; I encourage everyone to spread the word about this because it was a completely inconsiderate and irresponsible act (or lack thereof).

September 12, 2010 at 2:26 AM

Hm, I asked people who looked to be in charge of the screening and they said it was meant to be that way. And other reviews mentioned strange subtitling. But I will send that email pronto. Thanks for the heads up.

Gaston
September 12, 2010 at 8:34 AM

The people running the screening may have said one thing, but the facts pointed to something else: it was 40 minutes late in starting (as they likely tried to fix a technical problem and then had to decide what to do when they couldn't fix it), and the film style demanded subtitles. That's what has me so upset; they tried to put the blame on Godard, and if I was that guy I'd be really angry too. He's 80, so he'll probably let it go, but I'm not!

September 12, 2010 at 11:08 AM

I emailed them with the complaint. I don't know what's going on with their subtitles because they messed it up for Little White Lies too. You'd think they would be prepared for this?

September 12, 2010 at 3:35 PM

Got a full refund from TIFF Customer Relations the day after the screening! Still a waste of a night but at least they're dealing with it.

September 15, 2010 at 11:26 AM

They've refunded mine too. Thanks for letting me know! This means I've been blaming Godard for something he had nothing to do with all this time. :\ I wish they'd make it known to his audience of the first screening.

Anonymous
October 19, 2010 at 12:14 PM

Thanks for good stuff

Anonymous
February 24, 2011 at 5:19 AM

hi, new to the site, thanks.

 

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