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FILM SOCIALISME (director/writer: Jean-Luc Godard; cinematographers: Fabrice Aragno/Paul Grivas; cast: Jean-Marc Stehlé (Otto Goldberg), Catherine Tanvier, Christian Sinniger, Agatha Couture, Eye Haïdara, Marie-Christine Bergier, Nadège Beausson-Diagne, Mathias Domahidy, Quentin Grosset, Olga Riazanova, Maurice Sarfati, Dominique Devals, Louma Sanbar, Gulliver Hecq, Marine Battaggia, Elizabeth Vitali, Patti Smith, Lenny Kaye, Alain Badiou, Bernard Maris, Elias Sanbar, Robert Maloubier, Dominique Reynié; Runtime: 101; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Ruth Waldburger/Alain Sarde; Kino Lorber; 2010-France-in French/English/Spanish/Afrikaans/German/Russian/ Hebrew with English subtitles)

“Intriguing but puzzling head-scratcher on the decline of Western civilization.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

The legendary 80-year-old French filmmaker Jean-Luc Godard (“Breathless”/”The Little Soldier”/”Alphaville”)directs this intriguing but puzzling head-scratcher on the decline of Western civilization. It’s a strident political film from a cantankerous embittered old filmmaker; a film that is fragmentary as a narrative, controversial and about as clear as mud. But it’s also a visually stunning film (shot on digital video), engaging when offering comments on movies such as The Battleship Potemkin and a challenging political essay on nations and culture. It’s divided into three parts that are filled with familiar Godard-like strange vignettes, curious philosophical quotes and his so-called radical personal insights into history. Perhaps Godard’s most daring statement is a call for a one state solution in the Israeli-Arab conflict over the Palestine territories (in other words Palestine Arabs can have the right of return to the Israel they left in 1948 and thereby Israel would no longer exist as a Jewish state), which follows along with his consistent anti-Israel stance and reactionary one-sided view of the situation. The philosophical quotes include the following: “Anyone can act as if God doesn’t exist.” “Light exists because of darkness.” and “Ideas divide us.”

The first part is set on a contemporary luxury cruiser filled with mostly retired hedonistic tourists, more interested in the nightclub/casino ship scene than attending a lecture on geometry by an academic, as the white passengers served by the mostly dark-skinned crew are just trying to escape from reality while on holiday. Patti Smith does a cameo as a passenger taking a stroll on the ship. There’s also a concocted story that goes nowhere of a man and woman searching for lost gold sent during the Spanish Civil War to Russia, that was not fully delivered and remains missing for mysterious reasons. The cruise takes in a number of Mediterranean ports, as Godard uses the ship’s wealthy passengers as an opportunity to comment on the conflicted history of the port stop-overs in contrast to the bios of the tourists. The second part takes us to a rural gasoline station rest stop in the south of France, whose conservative middle-aged married owners are running for political office. Their restless more liberal children are not on board with that decision and are searching for other ways to make a positive difference in the world. The final part offers an incoherent essay, that’s all over the map, on the sites visited in the first part–Odessa, Palestine, Egypt, Naples, Barcelona, and Hellas and their role in history. This gives Godard the opportunity to expound on his theories of civilization and descry what went wrong in history. The film-maker makes cracks about Hollywood being invented by secular Jews who capture the same single-minded devotional gazes at the image as the devout Muslims to hold the masses at bay, and talks at great length about the Spanish Civil War and the Second World War being the great influences for him in the 20th century. The belief here by the filmmaker is the conflict between countries has led to a world always at war and at odds because of the self-interest of competing nations and the intolerance over accepting different ethnic groups. This is Godard’s response to globalization and how it adversely affects Third World nations as well as poorer ones. For Godard, the new world policies only promote more economic interdependence and hardship to struggling countries, as the advanced countries can’t let go of their narrow-minded self-interests and continue to manipulate the world scene with their power plays. Witnessing the recent Greek debt crisis and the bloody Arab spring played out on the streets seems to tell us that the angry old Godard might not be completely out of it and might in fact be onto something, that is if he weren’t so wrong, shrill and incomprehensible most of the time.

Incidentally the ship used in the film is the Costa Concordia, the head-line making luxury Italian liner that recently capsized off a Tuscan island resulting in a shipwreck and the death of a number of passengers.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”