Jean Luc-Godard has been making films for over six decades now, and it’s easy to take this for granted since most are only really familiar with his cinema of the 60s (Breathless, Pierrot Le Fou and Masculin Feminin to name a few). His work has become increasingly experimental since then, abandoning narrative, character, and to a certain extent the audience in search of news ways to create meaning with image and sound.
His latest film The Image Book is just that: a fragmented, often overwhelming collage of images and sounds from disparate contexts. He even inserts scenes from his own movies. They’re arranged with other images that make no contextual sense but engage with political and philosophical ideas about the way we construct images in a world heavily saturated with them.
The footage he compiles is sometimes accompanied with voice-overs. There’s a gravelly voice in particular that features prominently which I assume is Godard himself. It grows increasingly passionate towards the film’s end, his voice rushing through ideas he can't quite get a hold of. “Words are not language”, he repeats. The lament is undercut by a rare bit of humour as his voice gives out to a coughing fit.
In regards to how we consider images, be it in movies, TV, print media or through our phones, Godard says that “there is a stark contrast between the violence of the act of the representation and the calmness of the representation itself.” This is about as clear as Godard gets to communicating what he fears about the images that make up our world. And so, despite the film’s chaotic structure (or lack thereof), his anger towards this construction and consumption of images is fiercely focused.
A more contemplative, melancholic tone counteracts this anger at certain points. As we watch footage of trains passing through a station, Godard's voice murmurs “between the rails, flowers lost in the wind.” His perspective is mournful and perhaps fatalistic to the point where maybe he disbelieves in his ability as an artist to effect change. "We will never be sad enough to make the world better”, he speculates, the noise and violence too much for us to care to comprehend.
The Image Book is screening as part of the Alliance Française’s French Film Festival which is taking place at Palace Nova Eastend Cinemas from March 21 to April 18. For tickets and session information, head to palacenova.com.au.
Header image via Criterion