To talk of Godard is not easy. To talk of Late Godard seems almost futile. The 83-year-old director’s films of the last decade or so have moved into another realm, one all the master’s own, in which his works shouldn’t be called “arthouse” as much as straight up “museum pieces.” For instance, his latest, Goodbye to Language, is pretty much impossible to follow and almost jokingly esoteric. To “get it” doesn’t even seem to be the point. Yet, it cannot be denied that Goodbye is jarring, visually electrifying and probably has more fun with 3D than any movie ever made.
So, yes, this isn’t for everyone. On the other hand, Goodbye is just over an hour long, keeping the film from being totally exhausting. Although Godard grants us that mercy, he does not care at all if you can keep up or not. Nor does he care if you get the visual and literary references he’s constantly throwing at you. The story — something about a married woman having an affair with a guy, and the adventures of the director’s real-life dog, Roxy — is depicted in a visual collage, a mix of gorgeous film, home video, old movie footage, news stuff, and YouTube-quality dog videos. The drama takes a back seat to the idea, and the images push you, challenging whatever sense of cinematic beauty you might hold. The home video clips are supersaturated, disturbingly brilliant. And then there’s his 3D stuff.
The first thing you notice in this realm are his text experiments. Godard has long had fun with text in film — he’s a master of puns — and he does the same stuff here. The difference is that he’ll have you reading two things at the same time. He’ll overlap messages, in dynamically different colors, pulling your gaze between the two. He does this, amazingly, in the film proper as well. Being the badass he is, Godard uses 3D the way you aren’t supposed to, and gets away with it. In an incredible sequence, the film shows two people standing, and then seemingly splits their actions and desires with 3D. It works like this: The image of them standing stays the same, while another is projected on top, showing the two walking off, naked. Visually, the trick takes an immense toll on your eyes, as it totally divides your attention, yet it produces this glorious effect, in that it seems to show what the characters are thinking. Trust me, you’ve never seen anything like it.
But what’s it all about? After seeing Goodbye just once, I don’t think I can quite say. Language is certainly at the heart of it. Some bits seem obvious, such as scenes showing the changes technology has made to the way people communicate. (Goodbye books, hello cell phones). But then there’s a lot of stuff about the difference between concept and reality, and the failure of language to adequately describe reality to other people, as well as to ourselves. Then again, Godard also has the repeated gag of a man farting on a toilet before a naked woman. Is that an insight into the way men talk to women? Or is that just Godard being funny? I don’t know. And this is probably why, in the end, Goodbye is worth seeing. Films like that demand to be mulled over, discussed, seen this way and that. For just as Godard’s 3D tendencies rip apart your eyeballs, his metaphors do the same thing to your mind. And while it doesn’t feel healthy doing battle with Goodbye, it probably is.
Goodbye to Language is playing at the Walker Art Center on Friday at 7:30 p.m., Saturday at 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.
Force Majeure is an entirely different beast than Goodbye, but it’s a beast nonetheless. The Swedish drama bears the mark of the country’s cinematic titan, Ingmar Bergman, in that it masterfully takes a totally pedestrian situation and twists it, like a kaleidoscope, to bring out the dark, ambiguous emotions at the heart of the human condition. If you loved a classic like Bergman’s Scenes from a Marriage, then Force Majeure would be a shame to miss.
The story centers around a Swedish family’s ski trip to the French Alps, and the drama proceeds chronologically day-by-day. At first, they are the model family: two kids, rich, almost boringly beautiful as they nap together in matching long underwear. But during an outdoor chalet lunch one afternoon, an avalanche cascades down a nearby mountainside, gains momentum and appears to be coming right at them. Eaters scream. People run. General terror.
But it was just cold smoke. Wipe your forehead and laugh it off, right? No. Not for the mom, played by Lisa Loven Kongsli, whose cat-like face can project an aspect of terrible closterphobia. See, during that avalanche episode, she took her kids under her arms, to protect them, and watched her husband (played by Johannes Kuhnke) run off in his ski boots. And when her husband later denies that he did so, she can’t believe it. At incredibly awkward dinners, she tearfully recounts the event to other couples. This move all but ruins the idyllic vacation, and the ensuing conversations/fights/breakdowns between man and wife threaten to unravel their marriage — even as their children cry in another room.
Yet, writer/director Ruben Östlund doesn’t just focus on the wife’s struggle. He lets you feel for the husband, who has to confront the possibility that he might be a coward, a poor father. Inevitably, the film asks the viewer: What would you do if an avalanche was about to smash your family? Would you be a hero? Or run for your life? It gnaws at you just as it does the characters, opening up fundamental questions about what it means to be human (an animal, a being) and play a role in human institutions (fatherhood, family). Meanwhile, Östlund also shows that while our failures define us, they do so in context. The next trip down the mountain may offer a means of apology, or redemption.
Force Majeure is playing at the Edina Cinema.