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Goodbye to Language
There are few filmmakers who have had the level of prestige and importance in the history of filmmaking as Jean Luc Godard has had. As one of the leaders at the forefront of the French New Wave in the 1960's, Godard helped usher in a whole new style of filmmaking that has proved to be groundbreaking and influential for generations of filmmakers to come (with successes like Breathless and Band of Outsiders still being taught in film schools).
Even with all of the success that Godard has achieved over the years he remains a highly debated filmmaker who has received both ample adoration from film critics and some negative criticisms directed at him... mostly from audiences who have found his work to be boring, pretentious, and pseudo-intellectual. His latest effort, Goodbye to Language, isn't going to change anyone's mind about the filmmaker but it perhaps serves as the greatest example of how his filmmaking style has changed over the years. Godard began his career making narrative films which told their stories in new and exciting ways. Now, Godard's making non-traditional experimental films which almost entirely bypass the groundwork to even be considered "film" in a sense.
As someone who has admired and even loved many of Godard's films, I found Goodbye to Language especially frustrating. A lot of viewers divide his filmmaking between different periods: his early period works and his later, more experimental and essay-like creations. Everything about this film reinforces that this is the correct way to look at Godard's style development (or disassembly). Godard works with a form of post-modernism to try and completely overturn modern filmmaking standards (as if they are all too 'conventional'). Ultimately, this approach leads to films without a good emotional core in place for film audiences to respond to.
There is no real plot to Goodbye to Language. This might sound like a gross exaggeration. Surely, it must have some kind of plot? Alas, I am not exaggerating the issue. The film is infuriating for it. It tosses almost all cinematic conventions through a window as if every filmmaking element that came before is entirely meaningless to the way films are created, produced, and enjoyed. According to Godard's filmmaking approach, all of Hollywood (and almost all other independent filmmakers) have it all wrong. Rather than building on important key components of filmmaking to pursue his cinematic experimentalism he throws out the book.
Goodbye to Language runs less than 70 minutes long and it has essay-style narration and editing which interjects viewers with the likes of Hitler, Darwin, Plato, and an array of mathematicians and philosophers. You won't get to learn much about them, though: these are figures merely mentioned or seen in brevity with some (atrociously edited) clips which are delivered with a rapid-fire pace. What these moments even have to do with the rest of the film is an interesting question. Godard's film feels like a loosely constructed essay that rambles all over the place. It lacks focus and a clear thematic approach. It also lacks a runtime that would even allow for an adequate story. Even with such a short run time, Goodbye to Language feels about 70 minutes too long.
The rest of Goodbye to Language is comprised mostly of a couple arguing, bickering, having random conversations with each other, watching old movies on their HDTV, and wandering about aimlessly around their home. The couple has no real believability and the discussions largely feel like they were pulled directly from Godard's pseudo-intellectual art ruminations. There's no concern for plot or character development. It's all simply "in the moment" as seen through Godard's bizarro style.
Some of the topics discussed include the fact that characters are a burden to story (as if Godard is speaking through these characters to say to the audience "who cares if I didn't create interesting characters? Character development is burdensome to filmmaking"). Godard is not concerned with making a coherent and sensible film. One of the ideas more fully "explored" by Godard focuses upon a character's view on the way in which poop is the only way in which people and animals find "equality" through the "release". There is even a scene of the man on a toilet with frequent sounds of his pooping inserted into the sound mix. (Godard does poop jokes now?)
The ways in which this film frustrates and annoys doesn't end with that element. Around 1/3 of the film focuses upon Godard's own dog, named Roxy, who wanders about between seasons frolicking in the grass, playing in the snow, and walking besides river streams. So, all in all, maybe 25 minutes of the entire movie focuses on Godard's dog wandering around and goofing off or sniffing flowers. It's like Godard decided to interject a home movie of his beloved dog into a narrative film. Unfortunately, Godard ended up leaving out the narrative but audiences still get the home movie of his dog. Can you say 'Woof'?
Occasionally, the film also offers up other unnamed "characters" who sit in chairs in the middle of streets and read out-loud from works of philosophers and famous writers while doing... well, pretty much nothing else. Who are these characters? Why do all of them like to sit in streets to read philosophy? Why not read quietly at home? Then there's even a shooting that randomly happens at one point in the movie. To who and why? Who the heck knows! There is also an abundance of repetitive footage of an approaching boat and generic footage of flowers. It's befuddling what any of these things have to do with the other elements. It's just a random assemblage of gibberish.
As if the lack of plot, narrative, characters, and reasonable storytelling was not enough for this film to feel successful for Godard, he also decided to make this film in a unique way. He made the film with five different types of cameras. Each camera shows different weaknesses and all are horribly mundane. It's shocking to see such a smorgasbord of bad cinematography meshed together. Goodbye to Language delivers filmmaking with terrible lighting, blown contrast, bad color reproduction, inferior nighttime footage, varying ratios, and poor definition. I don't know who to blame more for these abundant faults: cinematographer Fabrice Aragno or Godard. This film looks terrible.
Godard also decided to make the entire film in 3D and uses 3D as no other filmmaker (that I am aware of) ever has. He purposefully uses the medium to agitate viewers with a cross of images. Godard uses a nauseating style so that audiences will feel sick and have headaches from the experience. Other filmmakers use 3D to enhance the experience. Godard? He wants it to be worse for audiences and for it to disorient. In my opinion, this is the worst 3D film made precisely because of this approach.
The sound mixing is one of the worst mixes I have ever heard for any feature film. Keep in mind, I'm someone who has watched a ridiculous amount of movies and has had to review many of them keeping the sound design and quality in mind. The sound mix used on this film is quite atrocious and downright unacceptable in quality.
Godard's film uses occasional classical music and edits it into the film by featuring a few seconds of the music. Then it stops with a brash, harsh cut. Then it picks up again for a few seconds. Then it cuts out again. Then it picks up again. The mix presents the music like this repeatedly (over and over again). It is distracting, agitating, and aids the disorienting aspects inherent in the filmmaking.
Meanwhile, dialogue is sometimes undistinguishable. You can't always tell what the characters say decisively. Then there's the way the various boom-mics and cameras with built in sound recording were used. Audiences will hear the severe harshness of the outdoor winds and the obnoxious scenic sounds of the environment in every outdoor scene. It's all with some of the worst fidelity imaginable. Godard also randomly interjects the mix with harsh sounds that feel almost as though they were interjected to either a) annoy audiences or b) wake them up if they fell asleep.
Is Goodbye to Language an elaborate prank by Godard on audiences? It almost feels like it could be one. On the other hand, the film merely seems to be the work of a formerly great filmmaker resorting to a gimmicky use of 3D technology. The film barely qualifies as a film with such a short run-time and the various ways in which it tries to ignore standards of filmmaking. This stylistic approach isn't successful at feeling innovative, either. The approach given is senseless. Godard has made masterpieces before. This isn't one. Goodbye to Language is one of the worst films I have ever seen: a train-wreck of filmmaking on every level.
Giving a rating on this presentation is a bit trickier than usual. Kino has done an exceptional job of releasing the film exactly as it was filmed and was intended to be seen. On that end, this is a presentation that I might normally award higher marks to. Certainly, if you already know you want to own the film it is worth noting that this release is the best the film will ever look. It's 1080p High Definition presentation preserves the 1.78:1 3D and 1.85:1 2D presentations as intended.
However, given the bad state of the video quality and it's various inconsistencies throughout the entire presentation, Goodbye to Language deserves a horrible score for its video presentation. It isn't the Blu-ray quality's fault. Rather, it's the poor decision of Godard to film using cameras of such poor quality and of such varying styles. The image is often soft, poorly defined, and lacks accurate color or depth. There is also a problem with night-time scenes and black levels. If you are someone who cares about demo-worthy discs: this one doesn't come even remotely close.
It's also worth noting that the 3D presentation is one of the worst to date. This is also no fault of Kino. Rather, it's directly a result of Godard's stylistic decisions (including a overlay of images) intentionally designed to cause disorientation. If viewed in 2D, these problems won't exist the same way but you'll be even more prone to noticing the low definition qualities of the source.
The release comes with both 5.1 and 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio. Unfortunately, Godard has created a film with one of the worst sounding mixes I have ever heard. Dialogue isn't crystal clear, definition and fidelity are altogether poor, and the stylistic decisions made in the film (which are often seemingly designed to frustrate listeners) are annoying. I would rate this as being the worst sound mix (creatively) that I have ever reviewed on DVDTalk.com to date.
This presentation is decidedly poor and underwhelming. Again, as with my video review, the blame is with the creative decisions of Godard and the way the film was made and not with Kino's quality of presentation. The presentation accurately reflects the audio style intended.
The English subtitles are generally good and are easy to follow. Although, they actually move around on screen somewhat (as placement differs between different scenes). Perhaps this was done to mesh with the style of filmmaking.
Please note that this is a two-disc Blu-ray release with both 3D and 2D Blu-ray discs.
Extras include a booklet featuring an essay on the film written by David Bordwell, an interview with Jean Luc Godard from Canon Europe (HD, 46 min.), and the original theatrical trailer for Goodbye to Language.
Tidbit: In the interview, Godard discusses how the title infers both a farewell and a greeting or 'hello' as different uses of the French goodbye can infer either meaning based upon the time of day or the language structure. So, which is it? Is this film a goodbye to language or is Godard actually saying "hello to language"?
I've heard some movie buffs proclaim that they love some filmmakers so much that they feel they could make a film with paint drying or a person reading a phone-book interesting. This theory seems to be put to the test with Goodbye to Language. If you can enjoy Goodbye to Language despite it's clear narrative and stylistic problems, perhaps said viewers are just significantly bigger Godard fans than I am.
Neil Lumbard is a lifelong fan of cinema. He aspires to make movies and has written two screenplays on spec. He loves writing, and currently does in Texas.