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.