#NYFF52, Goodbye To Language: Really Seeing 3D For The First Time

September 22, 2014 | Rhett Jones

ANIMAL will be bringing you continuing coverage from The New York Film Festival, which runs at Sep 26 – Oct 12 at Film Society of Lincoln Center. Goodbye To Language plays Saturday, September 27th at 9:00pm and Wednesday, October 1st at 9pm. (Tickets are sold out, but there’ll be a stand-by line.)

“Thought regains it’s place in poop,” a man tells a woman in Jean-Luc Godard’s latest film, Goodbye To Language. He says this while sitting on the toilet, to the sound of exaggerated farting and pooping, and he’s reading a book about Rodin’s The Thinker. “Whenever I talk about equality, you want to talk about poop,” the woman remarks. “The only time we’re equal is when we poop,” the man responds.

This bit of dialogue comes up in the midst of a conversation about… well, I don’t remember. The characters in his films shift subjects constantly because they’re really just reading notes that Godard makes day to day — poetic thoughts about philosophy, history, film, art, and relationships. For many people, this dialogue and lack of coherence is unbearable nonsense. This scene about poop has the typical meta-text and philosophy Godard is known for, but it’s also funny in a childish way, a fitting example in a film that is, above all, about seeing like a child once again.

By slowly purging language, it’s like he’s teaching you how to see from the bottom up. Despite having directed 117 features and shorts, it’s his first time using 3D and it’s possible that he feels like an amateur. As an audience, we feel like we’re stepping from the gramophone to the nickelodeon.

As the title suggests, the legendary filmmaker is making a break from language. The language of two-dimensional film as well as text and dialogue. The film has a deliberate arc in which language literally becomes simpler over the course of 70 minutes. Early in the film, there’s one scene in which a woman’s voice-over is heard in French without subtitles, a man on screen is speaking in French with subtitles, a large text is overlaid in the foreground, a smaller text is printed behind it using 3D depth and the man on-screen is holding up a cell phone displaying text messages. By the end of the film, text and dialogue are sparse and we’re mostly watching beautiful images of a dog wandering an over-saturated countryside that is at once digital and natural. The final credits are scored by the sound of a whimpering dog and a crying baby.

Fundamentals of the language of film such as montage, establishing shots, dialogue are all present, but this is 3D that strives to create a vocabulary out of depth, and it often succeeds. You find yourself looking at an image that might seem pedestrian in 2D, but is fascinating when you see it projected large and it seems to have volume, coming out of the screen. One possible reason for this is that he’s rigged two small cameras together instead of using the standard, professional 3D cameras which are huge. He can go hand-held or use a child’s train set for a dolly. The result is a 3D that feels like it’s freely etching various angles rather than being anchored to a tripod.

It abuses 3D in a way that a Hollywood action film would be criticized for doing. It calls attention to itself and makes you flinch when it pokes at you. In a comic book movie, this would take you out of the story, but because the film is more of an experiential essay, it feels like you’re four years old, lying in the grass and just moving your head back and forth as the sun changes the various shades of green. I promise that at least twice you will close and open your eyes separately just to see what happens.

When I heard that Fox had picked up Goodbye To Language for distribution, I was a bit cynical. My thoughts were something like, “They will put out anything if they can jack up the price for 3D.” After having seen it, I think that it really will be a modest hit. Its screenings at the New York Film Fest sold out in two minutes. It begins a week long run at IFC Center on October 29th and I bet that week will be extended. You can expect an ongoing series of midnight screenings to trip out to for a while. It’s just that singular and enjoyable to watch.

I love Godard’s whole body of work. I don’t understand it all, but I usually find something to enjoy if not everything. What’s remarkable about Goodbye To Language is that it puts us all on an even playing field. The man in the film who says we’re only ever equal when we poop is wrong, equality also happens when we collectively feel, “I’ve never seen anything like that before.”

CHEAT SHEET: If you don’t manage to get tickets to the NYFF and you need to talk about it in conversation, here’s what to say:

–“If I hear one more mention of poop I’m going to scream.”
–“The shot that everyone says makes you go cross-eyed is actually more like going chameleon-eyed. Each eye wants to go out rather than in.”
–“Boobs in 3D. There’s something we could use more of.”