French New Wave royalty Jean-Luc Godard has over the years reinvented himself through cinematic collages and visual mosaics, dismantling traditional narratives to tease intertextual meaning through assembled imagery. And at the tender age of 88, he hasn’t yet hit the experimental breaks. His latest, The Image Book (Bildbuch), sees him splice altered fragments from cinema classics with news footage, stills of hands and trains, as well as his thoughts on the modern Arabic world and some heady musings around the notion that “society is based on a shared murder”. Oblique and maddeningly elusive by design, the film is laudable in that Godard seeks to spark intellectual debate; it will have many chin-stroking cinephiles hatching sophisticated theories about how Jean-Luc is instigating a metaphysical commentary on human cruelty, trumpeting his latest feature as a late-period stroke of genius. The 2018 jury of the Cannes Film Festival certainly thought so, as they saw fit to create and bestow upon The Image Book an entirely new award, the “Special Palme”.
While I’m usually on board for some experimental deconstruction, this confounding essay film left me cold and with my eyeballs aching. The imagery, as rich and compelling as it often is, is delivered via a stream-of-consciousness form which features oversaturated stills, jarring jump cuts, and unsynchronised sound cues. It’s a full-blown sensory assault created to instigate a dialogue between content and form; or perhaps, if you’re less inclined to give Godard the benefit of the doubt, to childishly and pompously provoke. If you’re keen for more approachable but equally thought-provoking cinematic collages, seek out Guy Maddin’s The Green Fog or last year’s underseen Terror Nullius; both less lofty in their intent, granted, but both far more enjoyable than this punishing filmgoing experience. Non merci, JLG.
The Image Book | Directed by Jean-Luc Godard (France, 2018). Starts April 04.
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