Film Socialisme is less of a movie and more of an art installation. That’s not a fault, but merely a warning. The film is billed as “a symphony in three movements,” and in its simplest form, it begins with people on a Mediterranean cruise, followed by a family and a camera operator at a service station, ending with various depictions of humanity in Egypt, Palestine, Odessa, Hellas, Naples, and Barcelona.
The connections between movements are difficult to grasp. Though all three do visually and aurally craft an incoherent flurry of free-associating montages that tend to resemble a kid in the throws of a Ritalin withdrawal. So there’s that. The movie ranges in image quality from beautiful HD to stuff that was probably shot with a cell phone. The audio boldly captures wind gusts and isn’t afraid to drop out entirely, along with the video, on occasion. The dialogue is a hodgepodge of foreign languages subtitled in punctuation-less snippets that the director calls “Navajo English,” such as “old man young girl talk captain gold mountain.”
But chances are that if you’ve plopped yourself in the audience, you’re a fan of director Jean-Luc Godard, the pioneer of French New Wave cinema, who has a staggering eleven films inducted into the Criterion Collection and has been waging war on movie-making methods since the ’60s. His avant-garde approach in the last couple of decades has erected a middle finger as tall as the Eiffel Tower pointing in the direction of Hollywood.
In this new addition, Godard seems to mourn the decline of European civilization and assault the concept of modern communication. By mimicking the frenetic editing of YouTube, chopping the audio and video sometimes out completely, only showing pieces of spoken languages, etc., the film criticizes humans’ tendency to speak without conversing.
Film Socialisme gushes with enough technical know-how, symbolism and clever references to make T.S. Eliot blush, but the message feels forced and too pedantically cryptic to resonate.
In short, the film lacks subtlety, but Godard fans will have plenty to drool over.