Goodbye to Language (Adieu au Langage), by Jean-Luc Godard


One of the few artistic strategies that have survived the many distinct phases of Jean Luc-Godard’s work is the pun. Often associated with comedy, for Godard the pun has become the ultimate and most literal expression of the gap in meaning between matter (the physical shape) and sign (its linguistic representation). Therefore, the pun is not an end in itself, a mere punchline that solves a text by complicating it and reopening it; it is a possibility of excavating and rendering visible the no man’s land between matter and meaning, the space between spaces, which is precisely where Godard’s cinema finds its own plot of quicksand.

Adieu au Langage; a Dieu au langage. The whole film seems to work to generate precisely this interval that allows both understandings of a same sentence to happen simultaneously, alluding to the sameness they share at the same time that they’re stated as different. This displacement is introduced in a title that is both a departure and a consecration: the search for the new – as stated by his contemporary in the Cahiers du cinéma, Luc Moullet: “language is that which cannot exist before a second time, when someone transforms art into signs” – is juxtaposed with the celebration of the same, offered to a capital God that can only be one; early Godard, a genre filmmaker – therefore, an artist of style, in Gilles Deleuze’s definition: “difference subordinated to the identical” – in dialectic friction with the self-reflexivity of the essayist late Godard. The pun emerges here as a sort of tour guide, because all the spheres of Goodbye to Language are shaped to create a cinematic equivalent of the short-circuit that matter inflicts upon language.

After all, this is such a rare movie precisely for intertwining cultural engagement (the acknowledgement of a certain language) with an extraordinarily physical experience of its existence. To watch it and hear it in ideal conditions – projected in 3D in a theater with surround sound that’s crystal clear enough to preserve all the expressivity of its saturations – is to open oneself to a relation that directly affects both body and cognition, working through attraction as well as opacity. Hence, the cameras used in the shoot and their respective frame rates appear in the final credits alongside other famous authors quoted in the film, such as Arnold Schoenberg and Samuel Beckett: the strength of Goodbye to Language lies in the perception that cinema happens as much in the depths of what it shows as in the surface of how it is shown. Again, matter and language. “Instead of feeling with the characters, we feel with the film.”, wrote David Bordwell in his meticulous analysis of the film, and this feeling is enticed through the intellectual engagement with the film (an entertainment film, in the literal sense that it keeps the brain permanently entertained with the basic task of making connections) as well as the sensory explosion it evokes, produces and criticizes in its very own skin, resulting in sheer saturation, often manifested in both image and sound, restating the connection between cinema and painting, but also sound art.

Paradoxically, the 3D – precisely what is more radically new in Goodbye to Language, not only regarding Godard’s previous films, but all of cinema – is faced as a more precise attempt at cracking a challenge already posed in his very first features films, whether it’s through the use of jump cuts in Breathless or through the Méliès-like visual trickery in A Woman is a Woman: to generate an impression of simultaneity that clashes against the inherent linearity of cinematic projection. What the 3D allows here is the fulfillment of the old godardian dream to heighten the engagement of the spectator with the gaps within the film (starting with the already legendary scenes where we are given the chance to edit between shot and mastershot in a single take, closing one of our eyes) while also evoking a dialectic that does not reach any kind of synthesis, an superimposition that never leaks into a dissolve. To be with both Eisenstein and Vertov.

Or, in other words, to make the material noise coincide and, at the same time, reveals itself as different from the sign it represents. Be it through the work of the two cameras that generates the 3D, the superimposition of voices and sounds that shuffle the many different texts (spoken or written on the screen, in the form of subtitles or slogans) or the superb mixing job of the soundtrack, Godard permanently collides two different layers, two different elements – the two couples; man and woman; nature and metaphor; 3D and 2D; the left and the right speakers in the theater; short and reverse shot; the front and the back rows; the being and its shadow; figure and background; subtitle and scenery; to live and to tell – creating a plastic equivalence that can only be affirmed through the non-equivalence between matter and sign, the world of Ideas and its physical incarnation. In short, a pun.

* Article originally published in Godard inteiro ou o mundo em pedaços, catalog of the integral retrospective of Jean-Luc Godard, by Heco Produções in 2015.