The best thing to be said about Film Socialisme is that it is good to have Godard still working, still trying new things, still exploring the potentials of the medium. There is, however, something poetically apt about the fact that so much of it was shot on the Costa Concordia, for Film Socialisme is also a wreck. Worse, it’s a self-indulgent, pretty pointless, nearly random and largely uninteresting wreck.
That Godard is on a hanging trip should surprise no one. He is not exactly new to criticizing consumer capitalism. The surprise would be if he had something positive to say, but true to form, not a single person in the film smiles, laughs, cracks a joke, hints at enjoying him or herself or suggests anything more than being a flattened victim of the pleasure machine clanking noisily around them. The first half of the film, confined largely to the Concordia, is a sodden slog through Godard’s thematic obsessions, which, after fifty years, are well past their sell by date. There is none of the wit that marks his best work, and the very occasional interesting shot goes by with maddening speed. It’s as if Godard wants to punish both the liner’s passengers and his audience for indulging in these empty rituals by creating a film as mechanical as his subject.
The second part of the film, centered on a family-run gas station, is more tolerable, although still stale. Once again, Godard shuffles the cards of politics, economics, race, media and power. Once again, his human subjects mill about lifelessly, as if late capitalism has robbed them of the ability to say anything that would interest even themselves. Once again the occasional attractive shot momentarily relieves the tedium. The one arguable exception to this trumped up ennui is the station owner’s son, who shows sparks of creativity, but I never thought I’d see Godard sentimentally invoking children as outside hegemony.
As for the concluding montage, it’s not even as good as first semester film school efforts. Godard cuts together clips from Eisenstein, Hollywood epics, Nazi propaganda films, more shots from the Concordia, what look like tourist promotional films and God only knows what else, while the narrator sententiously makes aphoristic pronouncements that are perhaps better left in French. Or better still in a dead language that no one understands, because when comprehensible, the narration is irredeemably trite. What do these things have to do with each other? Ask those critics who have praised this film to the skies. To my eye, they look like nothing more than pretentious thefts, posturing passing as commentary.
I continue to believe Godard is one of the most important filmmakers who have ever worked. But Film Socialisme isn’t a Godard film, it’s a bad imitation of one. It feels as if it were made for no better reason than because it could be.