Title: Film Socialisme (or Socialism)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.
Director: Jean-Luc Godard
Language: French and others
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.
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.