Film Review: GOODBYE TO LANGUAGE (ADIEU AU LANGAGE) (Directed by Jean-Luc Godard)

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by Jason Rohrer on January 8, 2015

in Film


I have never enjoyed watching a dog roll in shit as much as I did in the middle of Goodbye to Language. Every other time, I’ve been as horrified as any anal retentive bourgeois. But this Jean-Luc Godard essay, which won the Jury Prize at Cannes and the National Society of Film Critics’ 2014 Best Picture award, makes the dog about the cleanest thing in a very dirty movie. What’s smeary and vaguely unedifying is not all the nudity and defecation, of which there are enough to start a German porn site, but Godard’s trademark obfuscation, used here to encode points that sharpen themselves in a Moebius strip of self-reflection. The film opens for an exclusive-engagement victory lap at the Aero in Santa Monica, Jan 23-29.

Goodbye to Language 3D Héloise Godet, Credit Kino Lorber Inc.

Like any great artist, Godard sometimes produces works that disdain appreciation. His experiments primarily reflect a personal journey, often in arcane terms. This time his thesis, the difficulty of communication (and even thought) in a culture drowning under conflicting notions of meaning and interpretation, lends itself rather sluttishly to a formal subversion of its principles: The only effective language is a stream-of-consciousness visual and aural Esperanto. Wink. Not really. Yes, really. Wink.

Goodbye to Language 3D, Héloise Godet, Credit Kino Lorber Inc.

Besides the dog, you watch some words on the screen; a boat coming in and going away; a few desultory book buyers; an angry gunman; some couples having affairs. The couples kind of look alike, even when they’re naked, and they all talk in quotation marks, hurling philosophy and feces in about a twenty-to-one ratio. The dog doesn’t speak, though; he hitches a ride with some of these confused and unhappy people, but he doesn’t like their water sports. He almost drowned in a river once. He’s better off in the woods, where he implicitly understands everything for what it is.

Goodbye to Language 3D, Marie Ruchat, Credit Kino Lorber Inc.

Godard says farewell only to literature whose words and gestures have relatively clear implications. The title’s all cheek; this language was invented in the 1950sby some like-minded French critics and practitioners, Godard very much among them. The Nouvelle Vague sparked an aesthetic revolution important to the history and future of cinema, but much of its vocabulary has not happily matured. Brutal jump-cuts abound; so do visual puns, odd noises, unattributed political ruminations and ironic aphorisms, truncated music cues, clashing video stocks, and acute self-awareness manifested in camera-shadow crane shots and characters who say “I hate characters” while dragging with ennui upon cigarette after cigarette in front of old movies on TV. Goodbye to Language never stops being clever, busy as a bee in a rampant garden. It seems to have been presented in the always-unsatisfactory pretension of 3D primarily to run two shots simultaneously, so that (twice only, thank Godard) you have to close one eye at a time, blocking half the image, to tell what’s going on in either moment. The road to joy is never smooth in France, unless Jerry Lewis is driving.

Goodbye to Language 3D, Hands, Credit Kino Lorber Inc.

Godard conjures many strong images, occasionally fascinating in his juxtaposition of idea and form. And inventing only enough story to abuse the very conceit of having a narrative, as he does here, is a reasonable paragraph in the dissertation on literary and political deconstruction he has written. That this sort of thing exists, and due to its surprising critical reception has found a little appreciation outside of academia, is a wonderful testimony to an educated free society. But if you’re going to play hard to get, you have to make someone want to get you. Many will not see the attraction in burying an interesting position in a grave of ingeniously arranged bad taste. Still, if you like Sudoku, anagrams, and other puzzles of the intellectualism-for-intellectualism’s-sake variety, this may be the fragmented shit-spray spectacle for you.

Goodbye to Language 3D Zoé Bruneau, Credit Kino Lorber Inc.

photos courtesy of Kino Lorber, Inc.

Goodbye to Language (Adieu au Langage)
Kino Lorber
France | 70 min. | 2014
in French w/ English subtitles
in limited release
for more info, visit

exclusive Los Angeles engagement
presented in 3-D by American Cinematheque
Aero Theatre
1328 Montana Ave (at 14th St) in Santa Monica
plays January 23-29, 2015
for tickets, visit or

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