The Image Book (2019)
SHOULD I SEE IT?
No one makes movies like Jean-Luc Godard nowadays.
A rambling, free-wheeling visual essay of dozens and dozens of film clips, images, and scattered narration that eventually coalesces around themes of violence and how we interpret and process it.
Fans of challenging, experimental cinema, which defies categorization, will
I repeat - no one makes movies like Jean-Luc Godard nowadays.
Only Godard aficionados and high-brow cinephiles will have the patience to try and crack the code of what all these connections, clips, comments, and visuals mean. Most everyone else will check out.
Not every word spoken in French is subtitled. Clips cut off randomly. Images are color-corrected to blinding over-saturation and so on. I fear this was made for an audience of one.
For anyone who has not watched a film by legendary French-Swiss filmmaker Jean-Luc Godard, The Image Book is going to either fascinate you or drive you mad after five minutes.
At 88 years young, Godard has seen his career move through many manifestations. His groundbreaking films in the 1960s; namely, Week-end, Contempt, and Breathless (named by Alfonso Cuaron as influential during his recent Best Director Oscar speech for Roma), followed a decade spent as a film critic. His most heralded work from the 1960s remains celebrated as legacy for the French New Wave movement from the time period.
He has been dubbed a provocateur, an enfant terrible of the art-house film community. He has denounced his own work, then praised it. He narrates many of his films, sometimes credited as such and sometimes not. In the last decade, his films (Film Socialisme and Goodbye to Language) defy categorization – emulating a visual scrapbook or found footage-style collage of sound and audio that fails any linear test, but pushes hard against the conventions of storytelling and filmmaking as a medium.
Godard has produced, directed, and written as many as 40 films of varying lengths and purposes since 1990, with The Image Book the first film to ever receive a special award of merit (“Special Palme d’Or”) in the 71 years of the storied Cannes Film Festival.
And yet again, though Godard’s The Image Book is compiled with exuberance, urgency, and voracious intent, this is definitely a film that is made for those who can accept and be open-minded enough to digest a free-wheeling, rudderless critique of the violence which Godard argues is becoming more pervasive in society.
But let’s be clear: If two people watched The Image Book and one believed it to be incoherent nonsense, while the other thought it was a powerful visual poetic essay, both might be correct.
Godard works as curator, and one would think the entire history of filmed content was made available to him. The depth and expanse of film clips and footage he gathers is staggering. To say this is haphazardly constructed would not be wrong – however, Godard has chaptered his film in multiple sections, as if to provide at least some filing system or organization for the images he is splicing together.
In true testimony to how Godard’s recent output has been received, some critics have viewed this as his most accessible work in years, while others have found it a maddening, impossible puzzle to solve. Mixing footage from classic films, including his own, he seems to be mining memories both recent and old. A pattern of images begin to show various forms of violence, and the film’s last half incorporates more and more footage of murder – both fictionalized and real.
This barrage of images seems to reflect someone searching through their memories, trying to make sense of the world they have been witness to for so many years. Resting next to the violence, are over-saturated, color-corrected clips where the color is so vivid, we almost have to look away. A couple of clips of pornography sneak into the film. Classic film clips are in and out. The edits are out of sequence and the film purposefully fails to avoid any sense of rhythm.
And in true Godardian style, he narrates the film in French, choosing only to subtitle randomly and arbitrarily.
The Image Book is an experience that will excite and anger in equal measure. The contents of this visual essay are purposeful, for this I am sure. However, the film feels made for an audience of one; a fact that Godard and his dedicated legion of fans will surely see as of little to no concern I am sure.
CAST & CREW
Featuring: Jean-Luc Godard (Narration)
Director: Jean-Luc Godard
Written by: Jean-Luc Godard
Release Date: January 25, 2019