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:
2: "Now What's All This?"
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/P — N 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.