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Godard and the authenticity of the fragment

Le livre d'image / The Image Book
Regissør: Jean-Luc Godard

In The Image Book, Godard calls for "a revolution in the revolution," and urges to create his own law against society, this "constellation of organized crime."

(PS. This article is machine-translated from Norwegian)

As far as Jean-Luc Godard is concerned, one can hardly claim that he has become milder over the years. He juxtaposes the bomb, in a rather literal political way. We can immediately expect the accusation of "supporting terrorism" – the well-known pattern of political rhetoric in a hypocritical state ideology. Godard cannot be impressed by such accusations. He unleashes a delight in technical experimentation which – bolstered by his authority – brought the film all the way to the Cannes Competition Committee. At the same time, he manages to turn a classic press conference into a piece of performance. The journalists stand in line to ask questions to the master, whose presence is limited to a small, handy screen. It would have been easy to transfer this video participation to a common big screen in the press room, but Godard has decided otherwise. Critics from around the world are asking questions into their smartphones – questions similar to the ones you would have asked for an oracle, about the future of film and film culture.

Godard's movie Le livre d'image can well be said to be the most radical aesthetic statement in the Cannes competition. Text, sound and images are fragmented, changed, relocated, segmented and decontextualized. Different languages ​​are used. Varying sound volume seems to be the rule; original sound from movie segments is mixed with comments placed over the movie clips. Color modification completes the palette of possible transformations.

Compared to Godards Adieu au langage, which was presented at Cannes in 2014 and which was already a loose and associative piece of work, is Le livre d'image even more uncompromising, characterized by harder and faster clips. If melodic sound sequences could appear in the 2014 movie, they are now completely abandoned. IN Adieu au langage Godard experimented with 3D technology that provided an experience of visual space. Now the sound is constantly exposed to acoustic exploration.

A tribute to the anarchy

Admittedly, Godard avoids anything that may seem immediately meaningful, but he provides a kind of sensory stimulation that spreads like a blanket of impulses and zones. Of course, entering such a fruitful chaos is refreshing in such a well-structured place as the Cannes Festival. The viewer is also guided by a motto: It would take an entire day to tell one second's story, and it would take an eternity to just tell one day.

Godard offers a considerable work, which avoids a simple representation of reality. It is a rarity in times of digital decoding, and the film refers more to the intentions of 20th century art movements – such as Dadaism and Surrealism.

Godard has noted that the act of representation contains a problematic dimension of violence. Is this why he refuses to use new images? It seems that there are already too many pictures, so a montage of existing archival material and paintings – such as Paul Klee and August Mackes from their trip to Tunisia – is quite adequate. There is no need for more.

Le livre d'image appears over longer sequences like an assembly machine out of control. The term counterpoint, the contrasting voice that is independent of the main theme, has been used to describe Godard's work, but talking about (just) one contrasting voice is inadequate.

Still: Even in this merry tribute to the anarchy, there is a certain structure. First and foremost, Godard uses a sort of orderly division of the chapters – though these are dissolved again in an overwhelming disparity. Perhaps one could talk about "sensory islands", which manage to maintain stable focus for a brief moment. For example, one of the reflections is concentrated on hand as the most important sense organ. The hand itself "thinks"; this is Godard's first proposed concept fragment.

Images extracts from the movie "The book of images" r ?? alis ?? by Jean-Luc Godard.

Another image focus is rail rails, trains and travel, accompanied by thoughts of disappearing. Nor can art avoid the passing of time, as we hear the commentator tell us – followed by scenes of revolt and rebellion. Godard's voice calls for a "revolution in the revolution" – a desire for freedom from prejudice. The subject must establish his own law, against society, which – according to Godard – is nothing more than organized crime.

When it comes down to it, says Godard, history is just the story of war repeating itself. Many of the rebel sequences are taken from the work of Sergei Eisenstein and Max Ophüls, but YouTube fragments of executions performed by IS can also be found in the image stream. They all document an ongoing, permanent, millennial disaster.

Arabia as a peaceful paradise

An "intensity island" in Godard's raging discourse is the realization of a happy and isolated Arabia – untouched by violence and terror – a lost, peaceful paradise, neither deformed by Islam nor conquered by colonizing great powers. Here, melodies and dance stand up against the violence in pictures and representations.

In this context, the name Samantar is pronounced, a kind of form of hope that represents a confident Arabia who has refused to interfere in politics of power based on the peacefulness of an ancient culture. His victorious opponent Ben Kadem prefers to integrate Arabia into the world's power system. This decision symbolizes the end to the sovereignty of the powerless. Ben Kadem appears as the tragic figure in the final submission of the Gulf states, under the leadership of the dominant colonial powers. Both of these mentioned characters that Godard quotes are the protagonists in Albert Cossery's only novel Your ambition in the desert (1984).

At the end of the film, Godard presents a reflection in the form of a Brecht quote: «Only the fragment is authentic. " This is followed by an enigmatic divination: There will be a riot, and then it will be vitally important to speak to ourselves with the other's language.

Godard's film makes it obvious: Old age does not imply any restriction when it comes to creating a truly radical semiological work, but is actually quite useful. Having nothing to lose is the best foundation for creativity. Here we can also remember the equally radical presumption of the philosophical psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan (1901–1981), who claims that insignificant tears or tears in established structures are the places where reality appears.

Wieczorek is a critic living in Paris.

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