May 15, 2018
Can a film be a book? Jean-Luc Godard thinks so.
by Michael Barron
At some point in a person’s life, if their achievements have distinguished them among the billions of people on the planet, if their contributions to our civilization will merit study and appreciation for generations to come, they can begin defining the world as they see it. Which may be why Jean-Luc Godard, the legendary Swiss-born centurion of French New Wave cinema, is calling his latest film a book.
Le Livre d’image (“The Image Book”), the eighty-seven-year-old’s latest feature film, has just debuted at the Cannes Film Festival. And while, yes, there are plenty of movies with “book” in the title, it sounds like The Image Book makes a strong case for itself as an actual literary work in visual form. Stephanie Zacharek in her review for Time describes the film as “cerebral and squirrelly … an assemblage of film clips, news footage and random, unidentifiable stuff, with mysterious title cards inserted seemingly at random.”
That’s just the tip of the iceberg of Zacharek’s descriptions of this “open window into the world of things that worry its creator.” She also calls it a “scrapbook scamper” — calling to mind the growing revival of collage literature in which a grand narrative is constructed from disparate pieces. Recent examples such as Olga Tokarczuk’s Flights and Alexander Kluge’s The Devil’s Blind Spot read like unpackings of their authors’ preoccupations, rather than stories comprehensively told — the kinds of narratives practioners of this style wish to challenge.
Kluge, a fellow director and pioneer of New German Cinema, as well as former pupil to both Theodor Adorno and Fritz Lang, feels like particularly kindred to Godard in terms of expression. But even if Godard has stuck to the medium of film rather than put the camera down to pick up the pen, it could be argued that he’s striving for a visualized literature. His last film, Goodbye to Language, strung along a threadbare story also beaded wutg direct references to, and verbatim quotes from, writers like Jorge Luis Borges, Marcel Proust, George Sand, Rainer Maria Rilke, Ezra Pound, Mary Shelley, Alexander Solzhenitsyn, Ludwig Wittgenstein, and Louis-Ferdinand Céline.
Which still has nothing on the inspirations behind The Image Book. Check out the trailer, which is made up of all kinds of references in the wildest font you’ll see today.
Zacharek writes that Godard was beamed into Cannes via FaceTime to introduce the film with a few remarks and answer a handful of questions.
So hey, if Godard wants to call his latest film a book, I’ll at least call it literature. Blake Williams, describing it in Filmmaker, calls it a “poem,” and writes that “watching The Image Book feels like a process of categorization, of putting words and images into cognitive compartments so that the sensual can translate into sense.”
Over at Variety, Elsa Keslassy writes that the film’s release will be accompanied by a traveling interactive exhibition. Coming soon to a theater near you (maybe).
Michael Barron is an editor at Melville House.