John Huston was making great films right up until his death at 81

Film Socialisme

Kino Lorber DVD and Blu-ray

Occasionally A director works at a high level deep into old age—John Huston was making great films right up until his death at 81, and Manoel de Oliveira is still going at 103—but it’s rare. Yet 81-year-old New Wave titan Jean-Luc Godard continues a confoundingly long and rich run of cinema experimentation with 2010’s Film Socialisme.

That’s not to say that Godard’s late-period elliptical style is always entirely successful here. Film Socialisme is divided into three unequal parts: an opening section set on a cruise ship in the Mediterranean, a central section set at a small family-run French gas station, and a brief final section composed largely of archival footage and old film clips of European culture centers. The open sea, the visual riot of the ship’s gaudy interior, and a host of intriguing walk-ons (including Patti Smith, who appears occasionally holding an acoustic guitar) keep the early going lively and diverting, though no solid narrative ever forms. The central section more closely resembles a standard narrative, with the gas station owners’ children—a teenage girl and her younger brother—grilling their parents over matters political and social as a documentary camera crew looks on, but it is less engaging than the cruise-ship footage. Still, by the time you arrive at the final section, the general drift has arrived.

Godard’s subject appears to be Europe’s polyglot variety and complex history, as well as its future. His almost career-long agitation against capitalist hegemony is evident, but the key role of younger characters amid the old philosophers and aging cruisers, plus the scattered imagery, portentous voice-over, and odd title cards, point toward a possible new era for the grandchildren of the children of Marx and Coca-Cola.

But the medium matters here. Godard shot Film Socialisme on digital video and takes full advantage of its crispness and vivid color, as well as its potential for distortion and garish hues, to entrancing effect; the film also sometimes stutters and skips like a wonky disc, reminding you, as ever, that you’re watching a movie, a construct. He shoots on breezy decks with no windscreen on the mic, capturing atmospheric rumble along with dialogue, one of a number of disjointing sound strategies. And then there are the subtitles. The Kino Lorber edition comes with two sets: English subtitles for what’s actually said in six languages, and Godard’s own custom-crafted “Navajo” English subtitles, with sentences of dialogue and voice-over reduced to a few words and neologisms. If you’re not a polyglot European, you’re missing part of the point. Yet another audacious effect in a most surprising film.

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