Entering the Desert: The Book of Film Socialisme

By James S. Williams

film-socialism-jean-luc-godard.jpegFilm Socialisme, 2010

Pas parler de l'invisible le montrer
(Not to speak about the invisible, to show it)
Film Socialisme

Film Socialisme (2010), Godard's "last film for the moment", offers the fascinating case of a filmmaker laying waste to his current method and style and attempting to redefine and recharge his practice. It is not simply that this is Godard's first theatrical release to be shot entirely on a digital format (and the 1.85 aspect ratio), or that the credits at the start are organised around a new set of terms: Textos / Tekhnos / Logos / Audios / Videos. With a title unanchored by any article, definite or indefinite, Film Socialisme is a blistering, at times tempestuous, virtually non-narrative magma of hybrid sounds and images. Despite familiar motifs and musical variations (Pärt, Kancheli, Pirchner, etc) intensively montaged with film and television extracts around the general themes of European history, war and culture (in other words, the idioms of later Godard, though here with an added emphasis on the circulation of money and gold), the film seems to unfold more like an unprocessed dream or nightmare than an extension of the painterly compositions of his recent elegiac and often melancholic film-essays. From simply proposing resistance to naïve notions of a united Europe and the encroaching uniformity of global art and culture, Film Socialisme sees Godard on the offensive with a violent experimental drive and urgency, notably in the first of the three "movements" set on a luxury cruise ship (prime symbol of Western capitalism) and bearing the open-ended title "Des choses comme ça". Here, the onslaught of saturated, phosphorescent hi-gloss HD exposures intercut with low-grade surveillance footage, mobile phone images and badly degraded video, all pushed at times to pixellated distortion, is matched by the grave, portentous chords and strings of Pärt, Alfred Schnittke, and the contemporary Israeli composer Betty Olivero (Neharót, Neharót), which alternate with the piercing diegetic sounds of the wind and other ambient noise captured on cheap camera microphones often subject to fading. The rage of this section is only intensified by the sudden switching of gears in the slow (though far from quiet) second movement ("Notre Europe") and the equally dramatic uprooting to Godard's more essayistic style in the third ("Nos humanités"), which focuses explicitly on the history and representation of Egypt, Palestine, Odessa, Greece, Naples and Barcelona.

From its opening image of two red parrots together accompanied by a high-pitched sync plop to its final frame of screen-text "NO COMMENT" – Godard's rebuke to the all-screen red FBI warning sticker, ACCESS DENIED, over which he superimposes in white: "Quand la loi n'est pas juste, la justice passe avant la loi" ("When the law is not just, justice passes by the law") – Film Socialisme mounts a searing attack on the idea of artwork as property ownership, and specifically the 2009 French Creation and Internet (Hadopi) law which aims to regulate internet access and prevent illegal downloading. Godard's creation for the internet of a series of six different trailers for the film exemplifies his desire to undermine and subvert the current terms of film advertising and distribution. Only the first, running at over four and a half minutes, behaves like a conventional trailer with snippets of sequences and dialogue from the film played at normal speed. The other five, of varying tempos and length (the sixth lasts just over a minute), are all variations on the theme of the super-speeded-up trailer, and each – a beautiful oddity in its own right – is a different work of montage, punctuated by the main captions of the film like "Des choses". [1] Within the film itself, Godard deconstructs conventional English subtitles with what he calls "Navajo English" whereby complete sentences are abstracted and compressed into their key words without verbs. This produces some arresting portmanteaus and wild-looking broken verse ("nocrimes noblood", etc.). As Andréa Picard rightly says, Navajo English subtitles function as "an aphoristic interpretation, adding an additional level of meaning to the already dense composition" (they have, in fact, been retained as an option on the French DVD).[2]

The many complex and provocative folds, loops and weaves of Film Socialisme will require careful unravelling and analysis, notably regarding the presentation of Arab-Israeli relations (the screen-text ACCESS DENIED is also used to question Israel's denial of Palestine's access to history). We will need to establish to what degree the deep social, cultural and political malaise depicted by Godard is potentially offset and reversed by the act and performance of montage itself which, as Nicole Brenez has noted, reveals an exciting development in Godard's organisational methods.[3] For the moment, however, I would like to consider the function and significance of another part of the project that appeared in tandem with the film's release in France and which has not yet been addressed. I am referring to the book of the same title published by P.O.L. The spunky provocation of its back-cover, which attributes a calculatedly offensive phrase "Dialogue, foutre!" ("Dialogue, fuck!") to Stendhal, complete with a date (26 November 1834), would appear to be in the same subversive vein of the film, puncturing its own status as an advert or blurb for a book that carries the subtitle: "Dialogues avec visages auteurs" (literally, Dialogues with author faces).[4] Yet this is perhaps just a literary tease, for upon entering the book one senses that the sound and fury of the film – its pushing of the limits of plasticity – has been flattened out and muted, as if Godard were perhaps beating a measured aesthetic retreat. The 108-page book certainly looks different from Godard's previous literary works, transforming the style of his texts for P.O.L. in a reduced format derived from his films of the 1990s and which he presented as "Phrases (sorties d'un film)". These took the form of a more or less uninterrupted poetic flow of short lines of text and dialogue distilled from the film in question (e.g. JLG/JLG, For Ever Mozart, Allemagne année 90 neuf zéro, Les enfants jouent à la Russie, 2x50 ans de cinéma français), and they included dutifully at the end a list of the authors and singers invoked. By contrast, in its larger, more conventional book-size format, Film Socialisme seems more prosaic, with all the lines of dialogue and small blocks of text standardised and justified (each line starts mechanically with a capital letter). There is no final list of references here, despite the fact that much of the film's dialogue is again typically a series of quotes. And, although a reasonably faithful transcription of what is uttered or heard in the film, the lines, lacking punctuation and indeed any indication of the character who speaks them, appear simply anonymous and make sense only if one has just seen the film. Moreover, there has been no attempt to translate the blocks of Russian, Spanish, Italian, Hebrew, Arabic, Greek and German, which are left raw and intact. In addition, many of the original typewritten captions are simply transposed onto the page as square frames of screen-text, including the entire sequence relating to the Martin family in the second movement conveyed by white captions over a black screen.

p96 and 97 of Film Socialisme

What is new and wholly unexpected, however, and which fills the textual void by opening up a completely new set of questions, are the black and white photographs and reproductions of paintings and engravings that punctuate the text at irregular intervals. These are not stills or frame-grabs, and indeed seem to operate on a different level altogether from the film. They are almost all portraits of writers and philosophers ranging from Goethe to Paul Ricoeur, buttressed by musicians and singers from Paco Ibáñez to Joan Baez and a young Patti Smith (different from how she looks in the film), as well as by the odd political figure such as Otto von Bismarck. In this highly eclectic mix which takes us out of the film's strictly European/Mediterranean visual context, there are, significantly, no filmmakers or actors except for Billy Wilder, but his function appears limited to the title of his 1964 film, Kiss me, Stupid, presented in a frame of screen-text onto which his small portrait overlaps and which is preceded by the word "Palestine" (p. 83). Again, all the photographs and engravings of faces are left unidentified and without captions. Any semblance of an artwork is either physically obscured by another image, or else reproduced in miniature to the point of indecipherability. This is the case with a barely visible and unrecognisable image on p. 82 alongside a short passage on Abraham and Isaac, as well on p. 63 with its small, underexposed reproduction of a detail of Jacques-Louis David's Le Serment du Jeu de Paume (1791). This overlaps with an engraving of the Abbé Emmanuel-Joseph Sièyes (circa 1780) that complements a series of lines of text on the founding moment of the Déclaration des Droits de l'Homme (we recall Godard's explicit citing of Sièyes's 1789 warning pamphlet, Qu'est-ce que le tiers état? during his engagement with Hitchcock in Chapter 4A of Histoire(s) du cinéma, Le contrôle de l'univers). Here, however, the visual images are shorn of their painterly value.  Indeed, the book has none of the haunting aesthetic beauty of the Gallimard art-books derived from Histoire(s) du cinéma, with their dazzling hybrid and electronically filtered colour plates. Instead, the cheaply reproduced and functionally cropped portrait images seem, with few exceptions, to be almost like mug-shots, as if Godard were merely acknowledging in perfunctory fashion the authors referenced in the film – a technique one might regard as at best academic, at worst purely sentimental.

The impression of something inchoate or not fully processed is consolidated by the eleven pages of text that follow the dialogues. First, a two-page typewritten extract from what we must presume is an early script for the film, specifically about the real/mythical story relayed in the film's first movement about the gold doubloons which left the Spanish Republic during the Spanish Civil War and ended up first in Russia, then in Germany and France, via the International Communist Party. Here, though, "JLG" is himself part of the dense narrative in which he relates his own encounters following the war with Jacques Tati and the film-producer Louis Dolivet, along with asides to the communist political activist of the 1920s/30s Willi Münzenberg, the socialist politician Pierre Cot, and Orson Welles (in the film itself the wartime intrigue of backstage wheeler-dealings is evoked by the presence of Robert Maloubier, a French secret agent working for De Gaulle's Resistance). Moreover, Godard's trace is everywhere on these pages in the form of handwritten additions and crossings-out – a process of erasure and effacement that adds to the dense palimpsest of relations and memories of the period in question. These two pages are followed immediately, without any signposting (there is no "list of contents"), by the reproduction of a nine-page handwritten letter to Godard by the philosopher and writer Jean-Paul Curnier, dated November 9 2009. Curnier is the author notably of Montrer l'invisible: Ecrits sur l'image (2009), and he figured briefly as himself in Notre Musique (2004). His letter is a very personal disquisition on the links between "film" and "socialism" following his enthusiastic response to Godard's plans for the film and in particular its title (in interviews Godard has even credited Curnier with devising the title due to having misread the header of the presentational brochure originally sent him). Curnier positively runs with these two terms as he explores the politics of poetry, community and the élan vital; socialism and cinema as resources of the Unknown beyond communication and representation; invention and the fabrication of forms that subjugate reason and reorganise its means of judgement; and the need for unity in the face of solitude. Again, Godard does nothing here to edit or filter this highly individual critical response except to redact it in three places, thereby exacerbating the book's deliberately rough, samizdat feel. In short, with its emphasis on its own materiality and process, this book of images seems to take to a new level the minimalist, art brut style of the installations for Voyage(s) en Utopie, Godard's controversial exhibition in 2006 at the Centre Pompidou.

What is Godard doing here exactly? Let us look more closely at the faces. Some are more intimate and graphic than others, and often the links and associations between face and related text are easily deduced. For example, Bergson is located next to a paragraph on matter and the spirit (p. 37), La Rochefoucauld alongside one of his famous maxims (p. 77), and Shakespeare with "To be or not to be"; the American film critic Neal Gabler follows reference to Jewish influence in Hollywood, the beautiful image of a young Hannah Arendt sits below a passage about having friends not defined by either race or religion (p. 10), Fernand Braudel smiles between lines of text about duration and points of rupture (p. 89), and Bismarck  gazes out left towards the text suggesting the continuity of German expansionism (p. 45). Sophie and Hans Scholl stand side by side in two small separate photographs illustrating the idea that "Le rêve de l'Etat c'est d'être seul / Le rêve des individus être deux" (p. 62) ("The dream of the State is to be alone / The dream of individuals to be together"), Christa Wolf (author of the 1984 novel Cassandra) appears on p. 89 next to a reference to Cassandra, Samuel Beckett (who also wrote the short story L'Image (1959)) poses with a cigarette on p. 58 next to the phrase: "C'est fait j'ai fait l'image", the historian and novelist Zoé Oldenbourg stares out blankly on p. 83 next to a passage on the Crusades and Jerusalem, and a young, striding Curzio Malaparte instigates a series of lines about American's "liberation as conquest" of Italy during WW2 ("liberty costs dear") on pp. 90-1. Yet the levels of association are sometimes much more vague and oblique, and we have to take it on trust that the images of Charles Péguy (p. 28), Joseph Conrad (p. 55), Ossip Mandelstam (p. 57), the socialist activist René Dumont (p. 59), George Sand (p. 65) are, like many others, somehow linked, if only tangentially, to the minimal lines of text they border. Goethe, for example, presented in iconic form on p. 15, rests above a single, apparently banal line in German. Beethoven stands alone within text on p. 68, but he's there surely because his Pastoral Symphony 6 and Sonata Pathétique for piano are heard around this point in the film.

The sense that these diverse and decontextualised portrait figures are more the flashes of a highly personal process of free-association than the result of a concerted artistic strategy is accentuated by the fact that, despite first impressions, nothing is actually regular here. For on closer inspection the sizes and formats of the images (their depths, width and length) are never guaranteed or programmed. Indeed, some are acutely elongated. Similarly, the profiles and expressions, whether frontal, side, upward, downward or otherwise, are all very different. In addition, the layout comprising images, frames of screen-text and lines of text is consistently changing, with the latter even acquiring different font-sizes. What this produces are continually shifting volumes of blank space, between both the photographs themselves and the photographs and text. Hence, what at first appears a restricted palette of variables – text and image in gradations of black and grey – is actually a fluid process of experimentation and difference. Just as there is no one "right" trailer for the film, so, too, the book possesses no standard layout or design.

claude-levi-strauss-jean-genet.jpgClaude Lévi Strauss, Jean Genet

Yet patterns and rhythms do slowly begin to emerge which pass without comment and serve to foreground the power and mystery of the image. First, a number of faces are repeated, and the images covering different periods emphasise disparity in time and age. These include Bismarck, Braudel, Genet, William Faulkner, André Malraux, Claude Lévi-Strauss, Georges Bernanos, Denis de Rougemont, Shakespeare, the Italian singer Gabriella Ferri, and the actor and playwright Roland Dubillard. In the case of the latter, it is a matter of textual irony that the first youngish image of Dubillard on p. 9, taken in his study, lies to the right of the line: "J'ai rencontré une fois le néant" ("Once I encountered the void"), followed by the words "Eh bien il [le néant] est beaucoup plus mince / Qu'on ne le croit / Jaffa 48" ("Well it [the void] is much thinner / Than one thinks / Jaffa 48"). The second image on p. 26 is of a slightly older and heavier, more crumpled Dubillard, with a change to the text that reverses the passage of time as well as place: "Une fois en 1942 j'ai rencontré le néant […] Eh bien il est beaucoup plus mince / Qu'on ne le croit / Casablanca Alger Le Caire". Here and elsewhere we are invited to make connections between the repeated human figures across time.

A typology of stylistic features can readily be established. I have already mentioned one: the odd overlappings of frames, both textual and visual, which replicate the Navajo portmanteau constructions in the film. But there are many others, notably the ironic juxtaposition of different cultures and generations. For example, the face of Heidegger staring out above that of Péguy on p. 28 (again, with varying sizes of image and croppings), while on the facing page is a single frame of screen-text that reads "Abii ne viderem"; Walter Benjamin as agonised modern Jewish intellectual almost leaning over the head of the dashing Romantic poet Friedrich Hölderlin on p. 87; and the ageing novelist Claude Simon nestled gently above the French singer Barbara in her prime on p.  39. There are also the small concentrations of text and image that stage mismatchings and divergences. For instance, on p. 47, Pirandello and Faulkner stare out directly towards the reader while wrapped visually around a passage about the Mother and the maternal blood-line – just four pages after the image of an older, sterner Faulkner looking down sideways to the right, introduces a short passage about the hatred caused by the paternal blood-line. The most complex and destabilising connections, however, are those that play on one of the film's structuring dialectical oppositions: that between the Hebrew and Arab language and culture. On p. 25, for example, to the left of an image of Lévi-Strauss as a young bearded anthropologist in the field lies a short untranslated phrase of Arabic in small font. Godard revisits this potentially charged interracial/intercultural configuration on p. 78 with the face of a young Genet smoking with, to his top-left, an epigraph about language and images from his confessional late work charting his experience with the Palestinians, Un Captif amoureux (1986). To Genet's bottom-left stands an oblong frame of screen-text containing a Hebrew phrase in black, superimposed over a phrase in white in Arabic (conveyed in the film as blood red over white). What follows is a reference first to the start of photography in Palestine, then to the politics of language in the region as perceived by Gershom Scholem in 1926. This network of Arab/Hebrew associations is extended further on the following set of pages (pp. 80-1): an older Genet is pictured top-left, while below him is the face of an older Lévi-Strauss, the two separated by a small square of German biblical script entitled "Biblia Sacra". Facing them, on the following page, is a strange assemblage of three images of varying size: Rimsky-Korsakov (author of the lines cited immediately above him about musical dissonance relying on common notes), a young unidentified Palestinian, a page of Jewish scripture, as well as snippets of Arabic and Hebrew script. In this novel variant of text-image montage that disarticulates the original set of superimpositions and disperses the different elements across the page, no one face or race or culture predominates. Opposition has been remoulded as difference, a process figured in the film by the sequence of overlapping male and female trapeze artists (an excerpt from Agnès Varda's Les Plages d'Agnès (The Beaches of Agnes, 2008)) where they superimpose themselves mutually against the background of the Mediterranean to the sounds of both Hebrew and Arab chanting – a scene which Godard brilliantly stop-starts. On the silent white page, the deconstructed montage appears all the more idiosyncratic for being so calm and understated.

rimsky-korsakov-palestinian-girl.jpgNikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, Palestinian woman

Finally, and most strikingly of all, are the concrete formations of images in series, usually at an angle and sometimes distributed across two pages. Two examples will suffice. First, on p. 9, the faces of Curnier and Dubillard looking right off-frame from separate and differently sized frames are lined up together diagonally. The eye-lines are not exact, yet the approximation serves to reinforce the blank space now opened up on the page and which draws out the void circulating self-reflexively in the text ("Ce qui s'ouvre devant nous ressemble à une histoire / impossible  Nous voilà en face d'une sorte de zéro / J'ai rencontré une fois le néant" (p. 9)) ("What's opening up in front of us is like an impossible / (hi)story  We're faced now with a kind of zero / Once I encountered the void"). In the book’s last set of images on p. 92, three faces in varying size formats are lined up transversally across the page. Top right is an iconic heroic image of Malraux from the period of the Spanish Civil War; in the middle an elderly Ernst Busch alongside lyrics of his celebrated anti-fascist German song in support of the Spanish Republican cause; below left, a young de Rougemont (author of Penser avec les mains (1936), referenced extensively in later Godard). It might be tempting here to conceptualise the trio in purely historical terms as a demonstration of active political resistance, especially if one bears in mind that de Rougemont spent the war in the US lecturing to raise money for the French Resistance. However, what stands out above all, due to the acute layout, is their shared mien and countenance – the way each man stares out directly and squarely towards the viewer as if in empathy and solidarity. The emphasis on the concrete and physical is followed up immediately on p. 94 with another archetypal image of Malraux gesticulating intensely with his hands in a late portrait as the engaged public intellectual – a neat visualisation of de Rougemont's "thinking with one's hands" Hence, the photographs of the book Film Socialisme tell new and different stories of association and connection, both by and in themselves and how they are positioned and configured on the page. To invoke the two captions that link together and subtend both the book and film, these material images are, both simply and profoundly, "Des choses" / "Comme ça".

What Godard is proposing here, therefore, are not dialogues from the film interspersed with authors' faces, but rather, in a decisive change of emphasis, a series of dialogues with the faces of authors. Each face must be approached and appreciated on its own terms in relation to the other photographs/portraits and blocks of typewritten text and surrounding white spaces. An inter-subjective space is created between text, face, author, and reader/viewer – a space of discovery and surprise that resolutely avoids the special prioritising of art and painting which, as I've already indicated, is reduced here, quite literally, to the virtually unrecognisable. The result is a potentially all-inclusive and non-hierarchical network of new connections, alignments and filiations. After the denial of access in the film, a new kind of immediate access and dialogue is provided here, and it is summed up in the remarkable image of Sartre, the only photograph to be formally credited (to Bruno Barbey of Magnum Photos) and one of the few (almost) full-page images. Although it looks studio posed, it was, in fact, taken during one of the momentous debates at the Sorbonne during May 68. Sartre is presented in side-profile and extreme close-up as a lone face in the darkness, looking out towards the preceding page of text that includes a chunk of classic Sartrean dialectical thought. His mouth is drawn out into a wry smile while his left hand cups his left ear – a gesture of listening to the Other in order to engage in meaningful dialogue. Godard is revisiting here a hallowed moment of leftist debate and engagement as a means of reconsidering the whole notion of human dialogue and relations. We turn over the page and find another (almost) full-page portrait, this time of Stendhal, author of the charged epigraph about dialogue on the back-cover. Here he is looking out right of frame to the facing page with a benign half-smile. Two essential figures of freedom and individuality – two different ways of conceiving socialism and political resistance – are thus standing back to back, literally so, recto verso, across the centuries.

How might we define Godard's unexpected reinvestment in the photographic here? Roland-François Lack argues correctly that the film of Film Socialisme, preoccupied as it is with its own photographic form (photographs, the photographic apparatus, people taking photos, the stilling of the cinematographic image, etc.), extends Godard's previous work on the essential opposition and discontinuity between cinema and photography. Lack focuses in particular on Godard's intricate work on two images of Palestine which are also discussed by the Palestinian historian and poet Elias Sanbar (himself present in the film) in his 2004 book, Les Palestiniens: la photographie d'une terre et de son peuple de 1839 à nos jours. Lack posits the film's "mimicry" of still photography for the camera barely moves throughout, at most reframing or shaking slightly, and he argues that photography and its associated objects are presented as simply "'things here' (in Rossellini's phrase), there to be manipulated by cinema."[5] The primacy of the cinematic, and specifically montage, over the photograph is, of course, a central theme in Godard, notably in Histoire(s) du cinéma where it is shown that photography had to pass through painting in order to become cinema. In Godard's crucial move beyond ontology and cinema's photographic relation to reality, painting and film are connected by their pictorial qualities and also their capacity to judge. Yet removed from this particular aesthetic scheme, the photographs of the book Film Socialisme seem to carry an alternative significance and value. Rather than functioning primarily as a (negative) index of the real, they perform instead as (positive) emblems of difference. They may look confusingly similar at times: is that Roman Jakobson on p. 80 above mention of his linguistic lectures in New York, or rather Lévi-Strauss again? (Jakobson, a strange dead-ringer in his later years for Braudel, is, in fact, absent in the book.) But, as I've said, even when the figures are repeated it is never the same photograph because they are always from a different period and at a different age. Hence, to employ the Bachelardian distinction currently favoured by Godard between the implicit and explicit image: whilst the faces may appear direct and explicit in their signification, the process by which they are deployed – and which foregrounds similarity through difference – serves to make them implicit. We could perhaps make a link here with the practice of music in later Godard where, as I've suggested elsewhere, the same piece of music may sound the same, yet each instance of its playing is different and unique, for we always hear it as if for the first time. Indeed, unlike a textual quote, music cannot be replaced by, or substituted for, anything else. It is, as it were, irreducible, untranslatable and non-deconstructable, and for this reason it exceeds the linguistic, discursive and rhetorical, in particular the tricks of chiastic reversibility of which Godard is so fond. Music offers a valuable aesthetic model for Godard precisely because it enables him to step down from the cross of his chiastic thinking, imprinting itself in a much larger inter-subjective and inclusive process, that of memory, which relies on the recognition and respect of difference within the totality of the whole, specifically between past and present.[6]

jean-paul-curnier-roland-dubillard.jpgJean-Paul Curnier, Roland Dubillard

Viewed in this expanded frame, the photographs in the book of Film Socialisme capture some of the unlimited potential and resurgent mystery of the cinematic, despite – or perhaps paradoxically because of – the often very average, low-contrast quality of reproduction. For what is at issue is not the inherent "vertical" power and pathos of the unique photograph revealing, say, a Barthesian punctum, vehicle of irretrievable loss and non-catharsis, but rather a new kind of non-hierarchical, inclusive, and thoroughly materialist montage of images and text based around the commonalities and continuities of human expression. To return to the book's subtitle: "Dialogues avec visages auteurs", we need to take the photographic here as the very mark of the figural, for the figurality of the portraits, and the dialogues thus formed between figures across different times, cultures and generations, renders secondary the indexical accuracy or otherwise of the photographs. Without captions and thus an explicit meta-discursive level, these images work in a realm beyond language at the level of affect and the flash of recognition (we either "know" the face or we don't). Even if they can't be immediately identified (and it took this reader in some cases many long and fascinating hours trekking through the Internet, as well as some fortunate personal exchanges[7]), they each give face and invite comparison in their human expressions and the fundamentally generic ways in which they are formally organised and arranged. In fact, the way Godard deploys photographs here can, I think, be linked to what I have identified in the videographic montage of Histoire(s) du cinéma as those "horizontal" moments of confluence, contiguity, conjunction and coincidence that resist the vertical pull of his characteristic rhetorical and imaginary manoeuvres.[8] These constitute a counter-movement, a "minimal" moment of metonymy, whereby images are linked and moulded together by contour, outline, gesture, silhouette and profile. Such non-discursive moments of association, contiguity, and conjunction trace the interrelations of human form at the level of shape and figure and are thus more basic and spontaneous approximations – at once material, proximate, local, instinctive and intuitive.  Such play of detail operates as if in silence since it is never directly commented on or integrated or rationalised as part of an argument or thesis. Indeed, throughout Histoire(s) the non-linguistic resists any totalising conceptualisation or theorisation and thus remains a pure affective and inclusive moment of seeing and feeling rather than one of interpretation. It might even appear sentimental and naïve in comparison with the dense, more aggressive intellectual processes and rhetorical formations initiated elsewhere in the work. For in Histoire(s), as in the embodied images of the book Film Socialisme, the figural is above all the human figure at its most concrete and literal, and the work's meaning ultimately lies somewhere between the figural and the awesome reach of Godard's sublime – part of what I call the inherent struggle in Histoire(s) between sense and the sensible, the latter operating as a kind of resistance to the logic of Godard's own rhetorical manoeuvres by means of a collaboration of forms. To paraphrase Godard in Histoire(s): what is great is not the image but the emotion which it provokes, which is true because born outside all imitation, evocation, and similitude.

This is not to say, of course, that Film Socialisme lacks rhetorical structures. Both film and text end with the dynamic call for action already cited about natural justice versus the law: "Quand la loi n'est pas juste, la justice passe avant la loi". This supremely chiastic phrase actually goes back to Godard's 1970s work for television, specifically France Tour Détour Deux Enfants (1977-8), where it was similarly typewritten over the screen. The link between the two works runs much deeper, however. A series in twelve movements, France Tour Détour Deux Enfants explored in intensive close-up and stop-start motion the human body (that of children) as the paradigm of representation and expression. The new video technology allowed Godard to exploit, almost like a painter, the image's capacity to create and disclose feelings and emotions beyond language. It is no surprise that this earlier work is echoed in the surprisingly tender second movement of Film Socialisme, with its domestic family scenes conveyed in meditative long-takes and close-ups. For Godard is reengaging again here directly with the place and status of children within the world of adults, one that now involves rights. Before, the young children Camille and Arnaud were questioned by the reporter Robert Linard and pitted by Godard against the "monsters" of the adult system. Thirty years on the boy Lucien and his older, almost adult sister Florine (whose face is highlighted at one point in slightly slowed motion) are fired by idealism and question their parents directly on the real meaning of liberté, égalité, fraternité. They have their own voice and agency, demand to be recognised as citizens, and consider even replacing their own mother in her campaign for local office. Like Hans and Sophie Scholl, they also propose their own social programme based in universal terms on art and society (i.e. not the State), and which might just as easily be Godard's own: "Garder de l'espoir / Avoir raison quand votre gouvernement a tort / Apprendre à voir avant que d'apprendre à lire" (p. 67) ("Hold on to hope / Be right when your government is wrong / Learn to see before learning to read"). Florine reads Balzac's Les Illusions perdues and Lucien paints a Manet landscape and continually "performs" with his physical gestures to the classical and jazz music constantly forming inside his head and which we are made privy to (at one point he sucks loudly on a straw to the beats of modern jazz). We are subsequently told by means of a series of screen-texts that the Conseil d'Etat approved the children's right to seek election to the local council and that they are on the point of winning in their own – rather than their family – name. To invoke the title of the 1990 short Godard made with Anne-Marie Miéville, L'Enfance de l'art (an episode in Comment vont les enfants?) the hope here is perhaps of a new "childhood of art". Could it potentially provide the grounds for a new kind of Europe that does not simply reproduce the same tragic, fatal narratives and models from antiquity? A clear answer is left deliberately lacking. What is certain, however, is that the book of Film Socialisme develops and advances this extended theme of the cycle of human generations and the transmission of collective human traits and values through its visual focus on both the passing of time of the human figure and its insistency on continuity though difference.

ernest-busch-denis-de-rougement-andre-malraux.jpgErnst Busch, Denis de Rougemont, André Malraux 

For all these reasons, the book of Film Socialisme might best be regarded as the second stage of the same project. It is as if the profound chaos and negativity of the new visual sphere confronted in the film were a necessary step towards the creation of new aesthetic thinking about history and time. We are not far away from Malraux's central idea, propounded in Les Voix du silence (1951) and the trilogy La Métamorphose des Dieux of the transformative status of art which he defines as man's ambition over time to discover and reclaim what makes us human. Art, for Malraux, is a means of transcendence, an anti-destiny, and thus a revolt against man's fate. It is no surprise, therefore, that Malraux comes eventually to the fore in the book since he is a key figure in later Godard, especially in the opening key chapters of Histoire(s) du cinéma where, over images of the Holocaust, Godard endorses Malraux's absolute belief in the resurrectional status of art: "art is what is reborn in what has been burnt". The second image of Malraux in the book, which is also its final image, runs alongside lines of text about Barcelona and "[a] kind of immense hope after the Occupation" (a clear allusion to Malraux's own film Espoir, sierra de Teruel (released in France in 1945)). This is also, typically, an ironic inversion of time since the particular photograph dates from Malraux's later period as an art historian when he was attempting to connect everything. What is new and crucial in the case of Godard's approach to the aesthetic in Film Socialisme (book) is that he pursues it not through the history of art, but rather the usually demoted form of photography, and specifically the genre of portraiture. As we have seen, by putting to one side standard photographic concerns of likeness and identity, accuracy and knowledge, he allows us to trace new connections and types of human relationality and kinship beyond strict family ties and blood-lines, both maternal and paternal (compare Lucien and Florine's wish to use the French word "les parents" in an expanded sense of humankind and fraternity). In fact, the film, which progresses deliberately from the material ("Des choses comme ça") via the specific ("Notre Europe") to something more universal ("Nos  humanités"), is mapped out explicitly in terms of genre, with captions such as "Des animaux", "Des enfants", "Des paroles", "Des salauds", "Des légendes", etc.. The book allows us to understand exactly this emphasis on humankind as a species, to be contrasted with – yet never predominant over – other forms of species. In fact, the film is a veritable kinship bestiary of parrots, cats, Egyptian owl, camel, llama and donkey, all of which are presented at some point in their own frame like the human faces in the book. By concentrating on ourselves as humans and on what makes us unique and different from other species and "things", we can perhaps establish potential new affinities and proximities with the world (as one voice-over early on puts it gnomically: "on ne peut comparer que / De l'incomparable du pas comparable" (p. 22) ("one can only compare / what's incomparable, what's non-comparable"). To take an instructive example from the film: while painting with a donkey standing gently tied next to him, Lucien refers to his work-in-progress metaphorically in animal terms: "Il est passé à côté de / Belles choses cet animal" (p. 69) ("He passed by / beautiful things, this animal"). (This is, in fact, a phrase derived from the early silent filmmaker Ferdinand Zecca (pictured in the book looking off-frame to the right) with reference to Shakespeare.) To trace the different features, physiognomies, shapes and patterns in the ever-surprising lay-out and structure of the book of Film Socialisme is thus to experience not only the affective, intuitive capabilities of Godardian montage, but also the potentially limitless genealogies and universal "common notes" of the image.

I would like to return finally to the quote from Genet that I alluded to earlier, since I think it encapsulates Godard's general approach in the book of Film Socialisme: "Mettre à l'abri toutes les images du langage / Et se servir d'elles / Car elles sont dans le désert / Où il faut aller les chercher" (p. 78) ("Protect all the images from language and use them, for it's in the desert where one must go to find them"). Godard, who has consistently professed in dramatic terms that "Texts are death, Images are life", has responded to Genet's message here by actively plundering the image banks and archives and providing us with new and unexpected visual mysteries freed from the standard constraints and ideological presuppositions of language and discourse. Unlike in his previous literary experiments he succeeds here in creating an artistic work in its own right where, in the wilderness of white pages and black print, one has to learn to see before learning to read. In this respect, his aims also mirror closely those of Curnier for whom the image can serve as a way of thinking, which thinking itself – because based on language – cannot recognise overcome, or domesticate. It is only natural that the hand of Curnier is so visible in the book, since for both Curnier and Godard images, even when stranded in the desert of new digital media and global communications, can, once reclaimed, bring us back to the world – the same world which words, with their false transparency, would seek to draw us away from. As Lucien puts it twice in the film while painting, "J'accueille un paysage d'autrefois" ("I'm welcoming a landscape from the past") – an emphasis on passive receptivity to the world (and to artistic engagement with this world) that is underlined at the end with the statement (over a panning shot of the Sagrada Familia): "Mieux vaut dire Barcelone nous accueille bientôt" ("Better to say Barcelona will soon welcome us"). Further, Godard's radical commitment in both book and film to shared accessibility and open access carries social and political significance, inviting us as viewers/listeners/readers to do likewise by exploiting and creating the virtual archives. To connect and (re)combine new sounds and images is to stimulate new forms of thought and dialogue – part of our ethical obligation, Godard suggests, to our own humanity and creative freedom. Far from being an incomprehensibility now accessible to all, as some critics have dismissed the film, Film Socialisme, when grasped as an aesthetic whole, represents potentially a new form of figurative art and the seeds of a new and invigorating Arte Povera for contemporary times that resolutely disrespects property and propriety. Godard's next film is purported to be called Adieu au langage.


[1] The second trailer, for example, carries no music at all and offers instead a compressed soundtrack of screeching, inaudible sounds as if magnified static. Other trailers include intact the fragments of music, notably the first part of Pärt's In Principio Erat Verbum (2009), In Principio.  
[2] See Andréa Picard, Spotlight/Film Socialisme (Jean-Luc Godard), Cinema Scope 43 (2010); godard" target="_blank">http://www.cinema-scope.com/wordpress/web-archive-2/issue-43/spotlight-film-socialisme-jean-luc-godard. (Accessed 08.07.10)  
[3] See Nicole Brenez (2010) Liberté, fraternité, prodigalité, in Cahiers du Cinéma 657, pp. 26-7. Brenez argues that Godard is returning here once again to his revolutionary roots.
[4] One exception is Des O'Rawe (2010) The Fraternity of Metaphors, Kinema (Fall); http://www.kinema.uwaterloo.ca/article.php?id=475&feature. (Accessed 28.04.11.) However, O'Rawe presents the book simply as a continuation of Godard's earlier work for P.O.L and does not explore it in any depth or on its own terms. 
[5] See Roland-François Lack, A Photograph and a Camera: two objects in Film Socialisme, in the present issue.  
[6] My thanks to Roland-François Lack for providing several important leads.  
[7] See James S. Williams (2004) Music, Love, and the Cinematic Event, in For Ever Godard, eds. Michael Temple, James S. Williams, Michael Witt, Black Dog, pp. 288-311 (pp. 304-5; p. 310).  
[8] James S. Williams (2000) European Culture and Artistic Resistance in Histoire(s) du cinéma Chapter 3A, La Monnaie de l'Absolu, in The Cinema Alone: essays on the work of Jean-Luc Godard, 1985-2000, eds. Michael Temple and James S. Williams, Amsterdam University Press, pp. 113-139 (pp. 136-8).

James S. Williams is Professor of Modern French Literature and Film, Royal Holloway, University of London. He is co-editor of The Cinema Alone: essays on the work of Jean-Luc Godard 1985-2000 (2000), For Ever Godard: the cinema of Jean-Luc Godard (2004), Jean-Luc Godard. Documents (2006) (catalogue of the Godard exhibition held at the Centre Pompidou, Paris, in 2006).