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Blu-ray Review: Film Socialisme

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The Film

Much of the criticism surrounding Jean-Luc Godard’s first feature film in six years, and indeed, most of his post-’60s work, is that he’s traded in the inventive playfulness that made him a French New Wave star for a kind of humorless, incomprehensible didacticism. But the playful, iconoclastic Godard is still very much present in Film Socialisme, which is admittedly not easily comprehended but hardly a meaningless exercise.

Godard can be elusive about his major subjects here — globalization, economics, business and filmed images among many others — but he can be undeniably blunt nearly as often. The broken “Navajo English” subtitles that accompany the mostly French dialogue have a way of distilling down the film’s major concerns; “money public water” reads the opening subtitle, imposed above a roiling black sea. Often, he’ll cram two words together — “nochoice,” “heworkedfor.”

The film is segmented into three parts: the interactions of the inhabitants on a Mediterranean cruise, the business and political plans of a family who owns a filling station and a series of essay-like explorations of the various stops made by the cruise ship earlier in the film.

Especially in the first segment, Godard’s juxtaposition of imagery  — often shot with different cameras, producing everything from smeary cell phone footage to pristine HD digital images — is hypnotic. One viewing is nowhere near enough to dig into the political points that Godard is making or even pick up on them in many instances, but the visceral thrill of images of isolated deck-side conversations, masses of recreational people, wide-open waterway vistas and people being photographed and photographing all colliding with one another is readily apparent.

The film’s sometimes frustratingly spare subtitles practically force the non-French speaker to simply let the imagery reign supreme, and it makes for a bracing cinematic experience. It’s understandable why Film Socialisme has been dismissed by critics about as often as it’s been embraced, but it’s a confrontational, challenging work that’s worth confronting right back.

The Blu-ray Disc

Presented in 1080p high definition with an aspect ratio of 1.85:1, Kino’s Blu-ray of Film Socialisme features a sharply rendered transfer, with bright, bold colors any time a high-quality HD camera was used. Naturally, the intentionally degraded image quality of certain shots pales in comparison to the beautiful digital photography on display here. Godard purposefully includes some digital shudders and apparent encoding errors in certain scenes, and Kino’s digital transfer of the highly varied technical approaches used here is above reproach.

Audio is presented in a crystal clear 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track that is especially impressive whenever the film’s thundering organ theme comes on. The default subtitles option is the aforementioned “Navajo English,” which is Godard’s preferred choice. Also included is a full English translation, but I’d say it’s a purer first-time experience to submit to Godard’s idiosyncratic version.

Special Features

Most important is a written essay included in a four-page insert by New Yorker writer Richard Brody, who is always worth reading, especially on Godard. He explicates a number of the film’s political themes and talks briefly about its place in Godard’s career. Otherwise, the disc is pretty thin, presenting only a stills gallery and a number of trailers, including Film Socialisme’s, which ostensibly includes the entire film fast-forwarded rapidly enough to compress it down to just over a minute.

The Bottom Line

I’m very happy about Kino’s decision to release this decidedly uncommercial film on Blu-ray, and the excellent final product makes it clear it was worth it.

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About Dusty Somers

Dusty Somers is a Seattle-based editor and writer. He is a member of the Online Film Critics Society and Seattle Theater Writers.