Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Feu Mathias Pascal


Opening sequence of Feu Mathias Pascal [The Late Mathias Pascal, Marcel L'Herbier, 1925] involves insert shots on a contract that the widow of a family will be selling as part of an estate. Her sister-in-law is nonplussed. Mathias, who is the son-inheritor, remains off-stage, only perceptible through a keyhole — he is “at work” and must “not be disturbed,” according to the chunk of slate hanging on his quarters’ door. He’s roused by the commotion, comes out, sees the contract, is disgusted. He’s played by Ivan Mosjoukine, the centerpiece of the Albatros film group. He flees outside to chide a cow. Outside is orange tint.

Shortly after, he returns to his chamber and work. He’s interrupted by an Oscar Wilde-looking man in a straw hat — “Mino,” a young Michel Simon.

Mathias, storming out, passes one Romilde on the street (in green tint). We’re told she secretly admires him (in orange tint) and she’s being dressed by her mother, a widow, Pescatore, who wants to marry her off to a rich man.

Mathias, back in his chamber, encounters a — ghost? — rising from beneath his tossed cloak. Of course we know it will be some kind of chum: it’s Mino. He folds Mathias into a plot to ask for Romilde's hand on his behalf at tonight’s fête. Mathias nonplussed, then plussed, as an iris closes in, then back out, and fade to black.

“The bonfires have already been lit in Miragno.” Submarine tinting. Mathias and Mino, one more aristocratic in bearing than the other. They spot Romilde. A slew of activity around Romilde and her mom as Mathias approaches. It’s clear the two will fall in love. Mino watches from a distance. Naturally the two abscond while a jaunty tune begins among the crowd and Mino throws Romilde’s chunky mother on a carousel.

Green tinting. They sit like virgins on opposite ends of a remote park bench. He divulges: “A charming but shy young man has instructed me to tell you that he… loves you.” Needless to say, Romilde interprets this as an approach on Mathias’s part. Donning white gloves: “May I ask for your hand for him?” Timidity, as the carousel whirls in orange tint. “So it’s me you…?” starts Mathias, back in the green wash of the park. Chaste move: he presents her with his glove as the revelers carry on with pyrotechnics elsewhere. Mathias and Romilde embrace as the goings-on play out. Their dance is somber. Dissolve to a gold tinted revery where rings are exchanged between the two. And then the couple are back in her workaday salon. This is all too silly. “And the most heinous of mothers-in-law.”

So far, a sad entertainment for audiences. Hours to go.

Mosjoukine’s made-up Russian face, peck-bickering at the air in close-up, to salvage things with Romilde, loyal to her mother, running up a loft-cage like that of the family in Grémillon’s later Le ciel est à vous. Mother says she won’t live under the same roof as this “good-for-nothing” who has not yet expressed scintillae of character. Suddenly an intertitle alerts us of Mathias’s forthcoming fatherhood.

He also doesn’t want to leave his mama, whom he rushes off to visit in an attempt at fresh atmosphere. Amber tinting. She sits bedside him and it’s clear that she’ll probably die at some point in the movie. “HIS MOTHER! the only real love in the world left to him except for the child that would soon be born…” Yes, mother must die.

Her sister-in-law has knitted ten white baby-booties which please Mathias and his mother to no end. With one on every finger he clouds the camera from her face as he kisses her on the mouth then presses himself to her breast while she rocks him. Iris out.

Baby-rocker covered in linens like cobweb and moving at a chunked rhythm. The baby is a girl. Mathias, wiping his hair with a comb while ropes attached to his hips move the rocker, has fully adopted a disgusting habitué. His midsection swaying to the rock of the ropes, he dons a tie, regards himself in a mirror, all perversion of the poverty-fatherhood to follow in ‘30s Ozu. A stuffed pigeon tcotchke eyes his tweeded groin. An intertitle informs us Mathias is now an adjunct librarian, off to start his first day on the job.

He unties himself from the bedroom apparatus and tries to caress the daughter-baby, now held by Romilde, who rebukes him to stop pestering her — past words from her own mama towards the husband too. Superimposition of both their faces! The Russian storms off to a presumable library that in long shot resembles a factory’s maw. An intertitle reads: “Mathias arrive plein de zèle — ‘Le travail, c’est la liberté’,” a prophecy of the similarly arched entrance to Auschwitz.

“Set up in a deconsecrated church, the library was a strange place.” Doors are three times the height of humans, as in all movie sets of the era. Mathias (green tinting) is confronted with piles upon piles of dusty paperbacks and rats. The rats violate his person. He eyes “le bibliothécaire en chef” who hunches over his givens like Scrooge or that guy in Nosferatu. We are to understand him as the poring Jew. He ignores Mathias who gets to work with an arbirary removal of bookstacks, before a segue to gold-tint leads us back to his home where he plays with his daughter, she lighter than the books. Romilde and her mother are caught up in housework. A message comes through by a caller, Mathias’s mother’s sister-in-law: “Madame Pascal is very ill. She would like to see her granddaughter…” The fat elder refuses, stating it's too late, and as the movies of the period will have it, the sister-in-law won’t grab the mother to shake her into the semblance of human sense with any “THE FUCKING WOMAN IS DYING YOU COW,” but rather starts a dough-throwing fight, which on second-thought is perhaps even more satisfying if not effective.

The next morning at the library Mathias, unaware of the previous night’s showdown, gives two kittens — tied to his person by filthy lengths of frayed rope — a lesson in rat-hunting. His aunt enters. “Your mother is very ill, and you didn’t come.” Mathias rushes home to his mother’s bedside. He learns she was forbidden from seeing the baby, and promises her he’ll bring her back. He stalks from the room with a face of determination like Bela Lugosi’s. Back home, the baby has gone ill, and Romilde has left to fetch a doctor. Mathias lifts and lets drop the child’s hand. The doctor arrives and cautions: “It’s difficult to diagnose… there’s nothing do… but wait.” He rushes to his mother’s house. Just outside he sees the bedroom light change to dark. Mother is dead.

He thinks of his daughter in close-up and takes off toward his own home, where a small group has converged with rosaries around the child, and Romilde lies unconscious on the floor next to the baby. Nearly a minute of contortions from Mosjoukine’s face, semitones of emotion clumsily played. He lifts the swaddled child and shuffles out of the bedroom into the night. A fearsome wind wracks father and child. Dazed he enters his mother’s room, mourners gathered around the deathbed. He rests his child’s corpse upon his mother’s breast and kneels. Iris in.

Orange tinting: railroad tracks. Mathias, aboard a train, reading “Histoire de la Liberté,” he is asked for his ticket by a porter. An intertitle explains that he’s getting away from a miserable homelife, torn asunder by mourning. Superimpositions of Mathias outside his home, Romilde, rail tracks… He arrives in Monte-Carlo. ”Still grief-stricken, he saw everything as if in a dream.”

That night: an enormous gambling hall. Mathias timidly investigates the tables, but eventually feels compelled to join in. By midnight, neophyte gambler Mathias has achieved a winning streak at the roulette wheel. “1:55am. Five minutes to closing, Mathias has broken all records.” At the final bet of the night, Mathias goes all in on the number “12” — suggested to him by a fellow player during his first round, Mathias ignored, going with “13” on his own instinct, thereby initiating his streak. This same fellow player, overcome at the neophyte’s run, has now stumbled out to the palm trees, and when the winning bet is called — “12” — he blows his own brains out with a snub-nosed pistol.

Newly rich, he boards the train to Miragno. Shock: a newspaper entry reads: “By wire from Miragno: Last Saturday, the body of a man in a state of advanced decomposition was found drowned in a millrace. The body is thought to be that of the librarian Mathias Pascal. Cause of suicide: grief and financial debt.”

At the next stop Mathias leaps from the train to send a telegram: “Not dead. Home tomorrow.” — has a vision of his sneering mother-in-law… and thinks twice. — “être mort, c’est être LIBRE.” He shreds the telegram, tears the monogram from his inner hatband, and prepares to take a different train. Intertitle: “ROME.” Here Mosjoukine will start life anew, and undergo the literal émigré experience in character that Mosjoukine the actor has already undertaken in Paris.

The film’s second half begins with a fade-in to a dusky shot of an old fountain spewing an aerial stream against the skyline of the city. Moments out of the station, Mathias eyes a new fille, parting ways with her mother. He follows her for a bit, then, eyed strangely by both his prey and some policeman, stops into a haberdasher and buys a suit less “merry” than the one he presently wears, before heading into the Hotel Excelsior Palace. Upon check-in, he’s requested to fill out an identity form, required by the local authorities. Panicked, Mathias enters the restroom and leaps out a window, racing down myriad stone steps in a procession of shots throughout Rome. “There’s something bitter about Liberty…”

The film has by now taken the form of a walking tour of the Eternal City. He spots the girl from the station again, and follows for a bit before coming across a room for rent. The owner calls for his daughter Adrienne, who recages her pet dove on a sumptuous terrace and joins the pair in the much more austere and sooty interior corridor of the place. The room Adrienne leads Mathias to off the main hall is grand, thirty-foot high ceilings, fully furnished, walnut and marble appointments. She straightens some periodicals on a table: close-up: “REINCARNATION” by Marinus P. Ramanida. Adrienne asks him his name. “My name?… My name is.. actually… monsieur ADRIEN.. Does that bother you?” She shakes her head ‘no’ with an expression of delight. She walks away lazily, seemingly distracted, then returns to Mathias: “Don’t mind these books… They’re my poor father’s passion; I detest them, myself!” She walks off.

Alone, Mathias exults in the room, jumping on the dusty bed (while a fedora’d man quickly peeks across the edge of a lintel and darts back, in an apparent production snafu) and uncovering beneath the bedspread a copy of a book, close-up again, titled “SPIRITISME.” A subsequent close-up insert reveals a subtitle that had not appeared on its cover just prior: “How to Communicate with the Dead.” Trickshot double-exposures as two Mathias’s appear on a nearby duvet: one the ‘before’ version, the other the ‘after.’

A fat drunk woman tenant stubmles back into the house. Adrienne tells Mathias the woman is her father’s medium, Mademoiselle Caporale. They shuffle her off to her room.

And then Adrienne’s uncle arrives. He wants to introduce Mathias to his niece’s fiancé, “a distinguished archaeologist: Térence Papiano.” — a man who previously greeted Mathias at the door to the Hotel Excelsior Palace, and who foisted his card upon him. He arrives and they make one another’s acquaintance. Taking his leave, Mathias rushes down the staircase only to pass, now, the thuggish boy he saw accompanying the woman he eyed directly upon his arrival in Rome. He speeds up down the staircase, and nearly collides with Adrienne. They chat a bit, and he follows her up… into iris-in, and then an intertitle informs us that “Adrien” has taken a liking to “Adrienne,” that Térence is away, and that he is “odious.” Scipion, the thug, the half-brother of Térence, may intervene after his eavesdropping! Adrienne discloses to Mathias that her father has been using the medium Caproale as a means of enlisting spirit powers so that they might enforce her love for Térence.

The rest is total insanity.


Saturday, October 11, 2014

Ms. Turner on "Private Dancer"

INTERVIEWER: I’d like to touch upon some of the dark sexual themes in the song.

TURNER: Frank sexual themes.

INTERVIEWER: “You’ll be our private dancer / Our dancer for money / You’ll do what we tell you to do.” — How did this track come about?

TURNER: Years back, I had a Border Collie named Griff. Love of my life. Anything I thought I could do, he could do better. One day I noticed he wasn’t acting himself. His left rear paw was more swollen than usual. 41 hours later Griff was dead.


TURNER: Before we cast his ashes in the pool, I commissioned a, what do you call it, not an autopsy…


TURNER: Necropsy. I decided to place a bet on a necropsist I flew in from Kentucky who made his name on the biggest dead horses. After his examination he’d even brand them with one of those cigarette lighters you find in cars, what do you call them, but he had his sigil monogrammed on it. This way the authorities would know the horse, as was invariably the case, had been, authoritatively, much too pumped with performance enhancers or dehancers to make for what they call "safe second use.” You know, board-certified. And he was the board — judge, jury, executioner. You remember that show Luck?


TURNER: Right. Years later, my grandson, he’s a huge cinephile, big fan of Michael Mann. When they were on the verge of closing down production, I rang the necropsist — he was a consultant — to see what he could do, but it was already too late. My grandson was disappointed, but they did send him a hoof. The name “Ms. Turner” still means something in this town after all. [laughs]

INTERVIEWER: So this man flies in to LA to examine Griff.

TURNER: Yes. We take him into the dog’s room, and he lifts Griff’s paw with his tongs and straightaway says, “Brown recluse.” Naturally, I’m like, that’s all I fucking need. Until I got to thinking, and that was how “Private Dancer” was born.

INTERVIEWER: Can you explain?

TURNER: Just the relationship between the spider and the dog’s foot. It’s always hard to talk about where creativity comes from. But obviously it took a more sexual direction, with this couple, and their dancer. I think part of it might have even come from those milk carton ads at the time.

INTERVIEWER: Weird Al even did a parody song, “Tiny Dancer.”

TURNER: The video where the dancer is extremely fat, right. Al Yankovic and I have gone back for years. I was very flattered.

INTERVIEWER: I’d heard that the lyric was originally supposed to be: “Our dancer for doubloons.”

TURNER: That was an early version of the song. I liked the consonance. “Our dancer for dollars” could have worked, but all the characters would have come off a little cheap.

INTERVIEWER: What was the initial reaction from your colleagues?

TURNER: Well, it was very touching. Mr. Spector sent me a stripper pole with a 24-karat handcuff attached, and a really sweet note. Michael Jackson sent over one of those Sony Aibos, years before they were in the market, but it broke, so I keep it in the garden. I know you shouldn’t hold on to old electronics, with the mercury and everything, but it was from Michael. And robotics were always so special to him.

INTERVIEWER: What’s your fondest memory of Michael?

TURNER: Well he was planning on building a 30-foot replica of himself that would roam Death Valley. If you don’t believe me, google it. It was going to run off solar power, and kind of stalk the desert for eternity. But that was the thing about Michael, he was always so childlike. I think in the end he only got the ankles built. He always had this sense of wonder and possibility — but, you know, he’d just get started on something and then one of the giraffes would get sick. And of course he loved Nintendo.

INTERVIEWER: Did you know Elizabeth Taylor well?

TURNER: Ms. Taylor was an angel. The first perfume she came out with, one of the members of the Saudi family threw a gala in her honor, $70,000 a plate with all the proceeds going to AIDS research. This was before most people even knew how to spell AIDS. All of Hollywood and the Middle East was there. During the prince’s speech, he announced he'd be picking up the tab for all of the plates. Six months later the Elizabeth Taylor Epidemiology Center of Riyadh opened its doors. They might have have done so much.

INTERVIEWER: Was her obsession with jewelry so all-consuming?

TURNER: Ms. Taylor had only one love in her life: it wasn’t any of her husbands, it wasn’t Monty Clift, it wasn’t Michael Jackson, it wasn’t David Geffen, it wasn’t Randolph Scott, and it wasn’t Merv Griffin. It was jewelry, plain and simple, jewelry, and Ross Perot.


TURNER: Honey, there would be no Apple Watch without Ross Perot. And if you don’t believe me you can google it. I think Ms. Taylor would have loved the Apple Watch. Never set an alarm clock in her life, but that’s what made Ms. Taylor Ms. Taylor.

INTERVIEWER: Among your contemporaries, who do you place in your same league?

TURNER: Oh honey I don’t look at it that way. This isn’t a competition, it’s a team sport. Ronnie Spector, Darlene Love… I know they had their experiences with Mr. Spector as much as any of us did, but he was a complicated soul. Very insecure beneath those wigs. Tended to wear his heart on his rifle-barrel.

INTERVIEWER: Bad place to wear your heart.

TURNER: Good place if you’re vulture-hunting. And Mr. Spector was always circled by more than his share of money-grabbers. Grifting little bitches, some of them. They’d see that ring on his finger that said “PS” and it was “I love you.” I know that’s a Beatles song, but you can see the pun.

INTERVIEWER: Years later he would work with The Beatles and, separately, John and George.

TURNER: Well John brought him in one day, and, to Mr. Spector’s credit, John said that Mr. Spector did the best he could with being handed the shittiest bag of shit, which you can google. Those were the Get Back recordings. Paul didn’t care for this. It was just another letter on the wall.

INTERVIEWER: Is there truth to the rumor that you recorded an album with Gil Scott-Heron?

TURNER: No. But we did run into each other once at a fundraising lunch for Dukakis. Despite being an event, it was fairly uneventful, besides the fact that we were both crashers, which we had a laugh about. He was very charming.

INTERVIEWER [laughing]: Gil Scott-Heron or Dukakis?

TURNER: Gil Scott-Heron was to Mike Dukakis what Dorothy Lessing was to Tupac’s hologram.

INTERVIEWER: That could have been an incredible collaboration, you and Gil.

TURNER: Well, you know, we did have a very nice conversation, shortly before he passed.

INTERVIEWER: Do you mind if I ask what you talked about?

TURNER: Michael Phelps. [laughs] It may seem odd, but we had both been following his extraordinary run of swimming.

INTERVIEWER: Were you taken aback by the success of “Private Dancer”?

TURNER: Flabbergasted. Simply, incontrovertibly, flabbergasted. Those themes had never been explored before in the Top 40, let alone the Top 10. “Let me tighten up your collar”? Please.

INTERVIEWER: Do you wish you’d spent more time pursuing your Hollywood career?

TURNER: When the time comes to close the book, I’ll have no regrets. I’ve seen so many live so poorly, and so many die so well. And that was just at MGM. The movies aren’t the same as they used to be. The studio system, the glamor. I thought Orion Pictures had a shot for a while, but even then… Well, what can you do. What is it the kids say these days, that they’re hash-oil-blessed?

INTERVIEWER [laughing]: I think it’s hashtag-blessed.

TURNER: Well, honey, then I am hashtag-blessed a hundred times over. Hashtag-blessed, hash-brown-blessed, sunny-side-up or over-easy, side of rye and a rasher of bacon. It’s the big chef-in-the-sky’s call. It’s not for me to stock the chuck wagon. But I still take a certain kind of stock. When all the ships have sailed, what will remain? “Orinoco Flow”? Maybe. Bless Enya's heart. “We Don’t Need Another Hero”? Now more than ever. And we'll always have a certain “Private Dancer,” dancing for money. And when we crack that whip, you better damn well believe he’ll skip.


Friday, October 10, 2014

Adieu au langage: The Dog, the Territory, the Television Screen


This is my translation of Aleksander Jousselin's text on Adieu au langage, the third in a series following Arthur Mas and Martial Pisani's first two installments. Here:

1: The Form of the Interview

2: "Now What's All This?"


The Dog, the Territory, the Television Screen
(Imaginary Conversation)

by Aleksander Jousselin
August 8, 2014

The following was posted in its original French at Independencia here, where images have been embedded. My translation, which appears below, should appear at the same site soon.


— So it’s the first feature by JLG in 3D, non?

— More to the point, the first that one sees in 3D, and one has to keep their fingers crossed, since a certain Parisian theater had, a priori, the strange idea to project it in 2D, never mind that everyone has said it’s “impossible” to not see Adieu au langage in 3D, to forgo watching it with the glasses.

— For the first time, I have the impression that 3D is revisiting the other two dimensions. In any case, that it lets you see in three dimensions what might be called 1D and 2D. In large part, incidentally, it’s a film in two dimensions.

— All depends on what you consider the most prominent portion of Adieu au langage. There is, in effect, in the film’s domestic scenes an object, in the background, annihilating the depth effect or the relief effect, which when all is said and done isn’t what the film is aiming for in the first place, beside a few spectacular shots from this viewpoint. The first appearance of Roxy the dog, for instance, shows the dog sniffing at something so close to the lens that he gives the impression of searching for an object on the other side of the screen. As if we were in a crime film and on the one side of the fiction, the whole mystery would remain altogether, with all the clues being found on the side of the spectator.

— By the way, yes, Adieu au langage understands elements of police intrigue; the few brief gunshots demonstrate as much. But to return to an object which is quite visible in those interior shots, I refer mostly to a television set. In Adieu au langage, the television shows films in 2D; the history of the cinema reveals itself in the back of the room, as might a banal conversation, in a western, in the rear of a saloon upon which a cut on the axis suddenly attracts attention.

— Do we let the dog and the 2D remain on one side, you think?

— Between the dog and 2D, between the screen and the territory, there are a lot of things circulating. But what is 1D, for you?

— It’s the zero degree of cinema. A line, a curve in history, the narrative line, the arc of a character, as a Hollywood screenwriter would put it. This still is not the scenario of the Histoire(s) du cinéma, in which one shot gives birth to two or three images, all as the narrative line splits into two, thickens. There it’s the celebrated 2D — not bad, right?

— No, actually this is television. To tell the truth, the Histoire(s) du cinéma was a TV series. A serial stamped Canal +. A long time back, it was said that the cinema was citing the cinema here, that Godard made his history of the cinema here through films. Rather, it’s the small screen citing the big screen: in JLG’s first essay in 3D, Les trois désastres (in 3x3D), Godard actually cites films in 3D (Final Destination 5, Cave of Forgotten Dreams, etc.). But in Adieu au langage, the 2D of classic Hollywood films returns via the television set, the only object to resist the 3D effect. The order of things changes at this same moment; the small screen is also validated by the 3D — and around us, we even see apartments come into bloom with 3D projection; but up to this point, Godard has indeed seen things: on the television the history of 2D, of painting in the cinema while passing through literature, in the cinema, a history of 3D.

— Incidentally it’s an attribute of of modern TV series; I’d say since the end of the 1990s, citing the cinema’s and films’ abandonment. The Sopranos is a resounding example of this: we remember the episode of the death of Tony’s mother, that we both saw again recently as an autonomous medium-length film, at the start of the third season, in which the parallel montage engages beautifully with a television broadcast of William Wellman’s The Public Enemy. In this sense, the Histoire(s) are of the family, and Adieu au langage all over again makes the television screen the territory of the history of the cinema.

— There’s another territory, in which a route defines an outward appearance with a less great precision: that surveyed by the dog Roxy.


— We’re going to hold off a bit with regard to the dog and the story. The television screen systematically draws eyes to it. 3D accentuates the desire to bypass the stripped body of the man and the woman to be able to watch what’s at play behind them. We’ve talked how much Adieu au langage cited the scenario of two other films, Le quai des brumes and The Chase. Once more, the movement is logical; beneath the 3D bodies taking leave from the screen, we find the 2D of the flat screen showing films in the background, those films in which Godard for a long time impresses the framework for writing his own fictions, whether it’s a work of a writer or, for that matter, a screenwriter, like William Faulkner and his Wild Palms in À bout de souffle — or Donald Westlake, aka Richard Stark, and The Jugger for Made in U.S.A. Under 2D, in which the history of cinema played out, there’s therefore always this cinema that one terms classical calling the shots, — and here we rediscover 1D, the narrative thread, the almost secret thread guiding the images.

— 1D, 2D, 3D — you might as well be running through a nursery rhyme. This time, JLG assured the promotion of his new film via a coup of major interviews. Two sentences by the filmmaker come to mind: one anodyne, which pronounces a banal judgment on the work of Bill Viola; the other, a play on words: “Why do people buy des écrans plats [flat screens] to watch films en relief [that have depth / in 3D]?”. Of the American video artist, Godard says that his creations essentially rely upon “des idées de scénario” [screenwriting ideas]. The sentence is harsh.

Relief, écran plat, scénario, — yet everything is there in two sentences. In the logic we’ve sketched out, the flat screen, 2D, is an intermediary between 1D and 3D, between the scenario and le relief. As if films in 3D have only to do with their scenario, that the spectacle en relief is poorly accommodated by an intrigue. The citation regarding Viola, in this sense, is interesting. One of Viola's exhibitions, displayed at the Grand Palais in the first quarter of 2014, shows a series of screens lined up one behind the other. One can see here what was projected from both sides. The same action is revealed on each screen between them. The effect produced is quite similar to that of a 3D film; the scene seems en relief and at the same time it’s folded back again onto the screen, seized by it, — and which prevents it from escaping.

— This is actually, I’d say, in an accepted sense of the word, a “scénario” idea. In the end, it’s only the repetition of the same scene across several different supports, an unexpected link between the scénario and the relief. If one is on Godard’s side, one can say that it subdues an idea of the image on the basis of a scenaristic trick; otherwise, the effect remains transparent, though the stage of 2D is in fact such that it is unable to grow more ‘pregnant’. Once again, flat screens have the dimension of huge state-of-the-art television sets. Whichever side one takes, JLG’s phrase on le relief is irrefutable.

— Godard himself has never escaped contradictions. But Adieu au langage is the most recent challenge to paradoxes, its title betraying this program anyway. It’s no accident that JLG pronounced just such a sentence that places 3D cinema and the most modern television in opposition. The cinema en relief thus separates from the object that we view “while lowering our eyes.” In the same instance in which TV series, from the Histoire(s) du cinéma to The Sopranos, cite the big screen not out of deference but out of empathy for its equal-footing with the cinema — Godard again placing a distance between the two. If television is our daily, banal language, the one we share more than any, then this Adieu au langage could only be in 3D. The history of the cinema has on the other hand rejoined patrimony, the small screen and 2D.

— And the smartphone, on which Godard claims to have stocked up thousands of videos of his dog? He’s making the inverse of television. He goes from smaller to bigger: Film Socialisme consists of a few shots made on a telephone, on the ocean-liner in the first section. A smartphone, despite all its innumerable useless functions, allows the sending of a message to one exact person, or to everyone you know. It’s more precise than the televisual signal.

— It’s like the dog — it has a sense of smell.


— Yes, the dog that’s going to go find a stick comes back to the one who threw it out there. It responds with the message that it’s retrieved it, and is never mistaken as to whom it’s supposed to be going back to. We talked about the crime scénario, — that’s exactly it: responding to a master (a vocalist) sending letters.

— And as in a film noir, you don’t see the one who does the chanter [vocalizing]. At the same time, the territory of the film is very precise, so much more reduced than the Mediterranean and the coastal landscape of Film Socialisme.

— There’s also a sexual intrigue, and one about deaths. Always the film noir. And yet Godard’s synopsis announced something else: the attempt at reconciliation of a couple who gets to the point they’re no longer able to speak to one another, who are only best off communicating through a dog. Here there has to be some question of mathematics, of Wittgenstein.

— Oftentimes, films or sequences in Godard could be written out as equations. It’s simple reduction: in the course of one of his seminars, Georges Didi-Huberman elaborated on it a bit evoking a passage from Ici et ailleurs. It’s the famous moment where Golda Meir and Adolf Hitler share the image. Earlier on, the photo of Hitler occupied the entire screen: we heard a discourse from the Führer where one word resounded over and over again: “Palestine.” The equation was the following: N/J = J/PN standing in for Nazis, J for Jews. P for Palestineans.

— We’d mention a ridiculous slogan of the anti-Le Pen demonstration: “F for fascist, N for Nazi.” This equation is pretty weak. At least this one, in particular. Adieu au langage, if one has to speak in the scientific sense, instead evokes biology. Its subject, to adopt Godard’s word again, is not an equation.

— It’s a history, a natural history. Sex and death rather than zero and infinity. Territory is not, at this exact point, there for the provision of its exact coordinates.

— Mostly those of the town of Nyon, which you know, I think, is the place where the major part of the film takes place, between the cultural spot named “L’usine à gaz” and lac Léman. Nevertheless we recall several times in the same places, the fenced-in lake shore, the house with its television, its toilets, its shower, its bed, “L’usine à gaz,” the forest. Still clichés of crime films, though the dog is the first to take Adieu au langage down this route. If he picks up a scent, it’s on the screen — if he wanders and thinks, that’s of the image. He never takes up the same path; he takes short-cuts. He is associated with children, of course — those who innocently, in a suspense intrigue, would be delivered from the fundamental clues about the identity of the guilty, but that have been seen here gambling (three) dice [trois dés / 3D]. The wordplay lends an idea of what JLG is doing with 3D, but the scene also says that, like the dog, they are guides of humanity. They deliver humans, like the filmmaker does with le relief at random with evolution (technical, biological).

— Technique, which has always fascinated Godard, has thus essentially been linked with biology. I heard JLG say it on France Inter: the two sequences that incite the viewer to alternately close the left eye and the right, to create a shot/reverse-shot, only to recall that we have two eyes. 3D isn’t the armed arm of the gaze, it’s only the confirmation that we are able to serve ourselves with two eyes.

— By the same token, the dog is neither a tool, nor a guide for the blind, nor a sniffer-dog for cops. If he’s a guide, it’s because he brings two things to our minds: we’ve always only been guided to think when the other no longer awaits us, and although he doesn’t know it; we also only love others more than those who love ourselves. These are two phrases that accompany the solitary promenades of Roxy, in which reveries turn into thoughts: one says that Roxy thinks, but as he’s always thought; the other says that the dog is the only animal “to love you more than it loves itself.”

— These words are themselves selfless, — they don’t take part in a mathematical demonstration. We never see Roxy save himself such as he is, to testify his love of others.

— To speak mathematics, then, it’s an axiom. Adieu au langage really speaks from zero and from infinity; these are its two limits. A beginning and an end which take the form of the horizon: blocked while we say that, behind us, life goes on.

— Between the beginning and the end, there’s a natural history, that of a divergence: between two sections of humanity distant from one another (dogs and children on one side, men and women on the other), between Godard and language, between 3D and the world of shadows.

— It’s at once the story of a girl and a boy, a girl and a boy after a girl and a gun, du nombre et d’une ombre.