Post-Cannes - FaceTime Godard

This post looks back at highlights from Jean-Luc Godard’s memorable press conference during the Cannes International Film Festival.

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Godard’s Guernica
FaceTime with Godard

1. Thinking with Your Hands
2. Editing Comes First
3. An Editing Equation
4. Separating Image & Sound
5. Totalitarian Actors
6. The Violence of the Image
7. What’s Shown and Not Shown
8. The Courage to Imagine

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Godard’s Guernica

At Cannes, the 87-year old filmmaker presented The Image Book in the Official Competition. The film is an 84-minute cinematic essay about cinema and civilization, intertwining clips from movies, archives, news and YouTube footage, with pessimistic, thought-provoking statements by the filmmaker about the dire state of the planet, war, revolution and the Arab world.

The Image Book may well be Godard's Guernica, a cubist mirror of a world torn by violence. The form of the film can be said to be cubist, a mosaic of image shards accompanied by audio fragments in a multi-layered mix dominated by Godard’s voice. Many of the video images are freely modified, with increased contrast, and painterly dashes and — post-modern image samples by a very cultured veejay.

Many film critics were taken by the latest work of cinema’s elder statesman, and the Cannes jury led by Cate Blanchett awarded a Special Palme d'Or to Godard, a first for the Festival. In the future, it is said that Godard's atypical film may be also be presented as an art installation.

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FaceTime with Godard

One of the Festival’s most surreal moments was Godard's re-invention of the Cannes press conference using FaceTime on a handheld iPhone. Journalists stood in line to speak into the phone to the director, who answered via Apple's video chat software from his home in Rolle, Switzerland. And this crowding around the tiny iPhone screen occurred in front a giant frame taken from Godard's film, Pierrot Le Fou, the annual icon for the Festival.

In the past, I have argued that some of Godard’s press conferences were better than some of his films. Even when the film screened was weak, the ensuing press conference was the occasion for Godard to dazzle us with his brilliance, humor and originality.

The medium alters the message, and the smartphone transformed the Cannes press conference into a series of one-on-one conversations between Godard and 15 journalists. These brief dialogues added an intimate tone missing from most press meetings. A Japanese journalist told the director that they shared birthdays, a Portuguese journalist said he learned French in order to understand his films. Many described their virtual meeting as an “honor.”

What follows are my freely edited translations of eight quotes from Godard's press conference, with my notes in italics

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1. Thinking with Your Hands

Jean-Luc Godard: “What makes man unique is thinking with his hands.”

Godard repeatedly cites this expression by Denis de Rougemont. The hand is a key motif in Image Book, and, whether by design or not, the signature image of the press conference is also the hand holding up a smartphone with Godard’s face.

Thinking with your hands implies putting your ideas into actions. For a filmmaker this means creating movies with intellectual content that challenge the audience to reflect and perhaps act themselves.

Throughout his career Godard has made many brilliant films that make you think. The cinematic master has continually explored innovative cinematic approaches, spanning from the Nouvelle Vague in the 1960s to Goodbye to Language, his previous 3D film which won the Cannes Jury Prize in 2014.

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2. Editing Comes First

JLG: “I quickly had the intuition that what is most important is not what’s called shooting, but what’s called editing. And editing comes in the beginning, and, therefore, if you will, shooting is a form of post-production.” 

Godard's current cinematic form is the essay, which primarily involves editing existing footage. But Godard's remark may also imply that the filmmaker must construct the film's ideas before starting production.

JLG: “And, yes, this allows you to be much freer and to think a lot, because, even with digital, editing is done with your hands.”

Godard got a laugh by comparing his job as a filmmaker to that of the artistic director of the Cannes festival:

JLG: “In order to edit, I saw more films in four years than Thierry Frémeaux did for his festival. And I sought to find out in all these films, if certain images, certain sounds could tell a story. Because in addition to doing, you still have to tell a story.”

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3. An Editing Equation

JLG: “A film is: X + 3 = 1. A school boy understands that means X = -2. And when you start with an image from the past, present or future, to find a third image, a real image or a real sound, you have to take two images out.”

This cryptic formula reminds me of what another Zen master, video artist Nam June Paik, once told me: « editing is like having five children and killing three of them»

JLG: “X + 3 = 1. This is the key to cinema. But when you say it’s the key, don’t forget about the lock!”

It’s not enough to edit, you have to have an idea and something to edit :)

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4. Separating Image & Sound

JLG: “The subtitle of Image Book is Image and Speech. The goal was to separate sound from image, so that the sound is not simply a companion to the image, whether it be dialogue or commentary.”

“That’s why I often look at silent TV, with the sound off. If I turn up the sound a little, the sound is a commentary which follows the image, and doesn’t add anything. That’s surprising. We live in a surprising world, we have to get used to it, but we can also do things differently.”

Godard's cinematic goal here is radical, veering from traditional cinema with dialogues, defining a new form of cinematic essay that positions images willfully divorced from sound.

JLG: “For me, a perfect screening would be in a café, where we would see a silent film on the television, and the sound would come out from other speakers on the right and left, and the customer would suddenly notice that the two go together. It’s worth having this kind of hope.”

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5. Totalitarian Actors

JLG: “It’s a problem of fiction versus documentary; for me it’s the same thing, for actors it’s different.”

“Actors and especially actresses have helped me a lot. I don’t want to upset anyone, but actors are a little like politicians. And I think many actors today contribute to a totalitarianism of the filmed image, against the thoughtful image.”

In a world obsessed with celebrity, actors can become more important than the characters they play, and overcome the ideas in a film.

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6. The Violence of the Image

The penultimate section of The Image Book is about the images of the Arab world. Godard illustrates how Western movies, news and archival footage have stereotyped and demeaned Arab culture. In the movie, the filmmaker quotes Palestinian-American Edward Said: “The act of representing (and therefore of reducing) almost always implies violence towards the represented subject. There is a real contrast between the violence of the act of representing and the interior calm of the representation itself, the image of the subject.”

JLG: “And I didn’t realize it, that all the films I’ve made, up until three or four years ago had this violence. There was such a violence in the representation, while the inside of the representation is very calm.” 

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7. What’s Shown and Not Shown

JLG: “I’m interested in events: what happens and what doesn’t happen. And the two go together. We talk a lot about what does happen, and very little about what doesn’t. What’s happening is leading to a catastrophe, I can’t say much more... Alas, we have a lot of pity but little intelligence.”

“Cinema is no longer about showing what happens, because you can see that everyday on facebook, but about what doesn't happen, which you never see. Very few films are made to show what’s not happening. And I hope that my film will help a little to show -- or make you think about -- what’s not happening. And for that, you have to think with your hands, and not just your head.”

Here Godard seems to imply the importance of cinema in helping us imagine a different world than the one represented by contemporary media.

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8. The Courage to Imagine

Asked by a journalist about the courage it takes to continue making films, Godard responded about the importance of imagination.

JLG: “Allow me to say something to you about courage. Today and for some time most people have the courage to live their life, but they don’t often have the courage to imagine their life.”

“Me, I have difficulty living my life, but I have the courage to imagine it. And that allows me to continue.”

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LINKS

wikipedia: Jean-Luc Godard

YouTube.com: watch the Cannes press conference:
-- In English
-- En français


casa-azul.ch: Le Livre d'Image / Image Book

Image Book press kit


thefilmbook: Cannes 2014 - Freeform Filmmaking 
including Goodbye to Language by Godard

johns-bailiwick: Godard and Goodbye to Language


thefilmbook: Raoul Coutard, Cinema Revolutionary

ASC President's Desk: The Waving, Bobbing, Camera

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An image from the ending of Image Book

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