Film Socialisme (PG)

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The ViewLondon Review

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Review byMatthew Turner08/07/2011

One out of Five stars
Running time: 102 mins

Even Godard's biggest fans are sure to struggle with his latest film, which would be pointless, pretentious and annoying even without the Navajo English subtitles, though it does throw up the (very) occasional good moment.

What's it all about?
Directed by veteran arthouse darling Jean-Luc Godard (he's 81, you know), Film Socialisme is described in the press notes as “a symphony in three movements” and is accordingly divided into three different sections: Things Such As, which takes place on a Mediterranean cruise ship and flits between passengers both real (singer Patti Smith, philosopher Alain Badiou, various obviously real holiday-makers) and fictional (a Nazi hunter, a German war criminal, a pretty young girl); Our Europe, which is set in a petrol station in the South of France, where a young boy (Quentin Grosset) and his teenage sister challenge their parents over questions of Liberty, Equality and Fraternity, while being observed by a French TV film crew (Elisabeth Vitali and Eye Haidara); and Our Humanities, an illustrated lecture involving various different countries and cities, such as Odessa, Palestine and Naples.

The Bad
All of the above would be frustrating enough even if it were properly subtitled, but the film is rendered nigh-on impenetrable to non-French speakers through the use of Navajo English (essentially pidgin English) subtitles, which usually means three key words out of each sentence appearing on the screen, along with compound words such as “todaybastards.” Given that French speakers can understand every word (the dialogue, such as it is, is clearly being spoken properly), this seems like something of a deliberate piss-take (it's at best frustrating and at worst infuriating), with some reviewers suggesting that Godard intended to deliberately annoy people who don't speak French. Well, le mission accomplished.

Quite apart from the fact that we don't get to know any of the cruise ship passengers well enough to really engage with that section, Godard makes things ten times worse through the use of poorly recorded sound and footage that looks like it's been filmed on a mobile phone.

The Good
To be fair, the film does throw up the occasional amusing moment, whether it's a cat video one of the characters is watching, the teenage daughter deliberately ignoring foreigners at the petrol station or a series of laughably pretentious juxtapositions (a voiceover saying “Palestine”, a caption reading “Kiss Me Stupid”, a shot of an alligator eating an animal).

Worth seeing?
Ultimately, the few amusing moments aren't enough to justify paying to see Film Socialisme, particularly with the deliberately distancing subtitles. Godard completists should wait for the DVD, which will at least restore the proper English subtitles alongside the Navajo version.

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Content updated: 17/07/2018 18:12

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