As critics race from screening to screening at Cannes, the challenge of grabbing a moment to think through a work as dense as the films Jean-Luc Godard has been making in his late period—and then deliver a coherent critical assessment—can be both herculean and absurd. The Image Book, an essay film in five parts bearing a formal resemblance to Godard’s epic video collage project Histoire(s) du cinéma (1988–1998), is the film in competition that many critics most anticipated seeing—and most dreaded having to write about. Yesterday’s episode of the Film Comment Podcast (35’10”) opens with Nicolas Rapold, Dennis Lim, and Jonathan Romney discussing this very dilemma.
Romney amusedly notes Screen Daily gave him an hour to turn in his review: “Only the most naïve would dare recap with the question ‘What does it all mean?’—since a simple answer is surely beyond reach, and since the real question with Godard is always, ‘How does it all mean?’”
Of all the reviews to appear so far, two stand head and shoulders above the rest for their informed engagement with Godard’s first feature since 2014’s Goodbye to Language. Notebook editor Daniel Kasman suggests that this meditation on themes ranging from war and revolution, industry and law, and the West and the Arab world is “as much ‘a film by Godard’ as it is ‘research by Godard,’ a work of poetic scholarship infused in equal measures by despair and aspiration. . . . Why, the film asks, if we have the capability of filming, of recording, acts of horror, do we keep repeating the cruelty, continuing the oppression?”
And writing for Filmmaker, Blake Williams observes that viewers are “thrust into what is designed to feel like chaos, and the act of watching The Image Book feels like a process of categorization, of putting words and images into cognitive compartments so that the sensual can translate into sense.”
The premiere of any film by Godard is always an event, and this one was both preceded and followed by mini-events so perfectly fitting you’d think they were staged by the eighty-seven-year-old disruptor. On Thursday, a new short appeared online, Vent d’ouest (Wind from the West), attributed to Godard—and within hours, Fabrice Aragno, the producer of The Image Book with whom Godard has been working closely in the past few years, declared it to be a hoax.
Godard then beamed himself into the press conference from his home in Switzerland via FaceTime. You can watch the jovial session below; and the Telegraph’s Robbie Collin has transcribed a few of the highlights.
And the show’s far from over. As Variety’s Elsa Keslassy reports, Godard will oversee an adaptation of The Image Book as an interactive exhibition that will likely head to Paris, Madrid, New York, and Singapore. Godard will also star in A Vendredi Robinson, a film by Mitra Farahani centering on “a correspondence between Godard and Ebrahim Golestan, the Iranian filmmaker and literary figure.”
For more on The Image Book, see Peter Bradshaw (Guardian, 4/5), A. A. Dowd (A.V. Club), Owen Gleiberman (Variety), Eric Kohn (IndieWire, B), Fabien Lemercier (Cineuropa), Todd McCarthy (Hollywood Reporter), Rory O’Connor (Film Stage, B), Steve Pond (TheWrap), and Barbara Scharres (RogerEbert.com).
Updates, 5/27: Writing for the Globe and Mail, James Quandt calls The Image Book “a surging requiem for a world addicted to annihilation—of the Other, the self, the planet.”
And the Village Voice’s Bilge Ebiri notes that “it wasn’t until I had a chance to speak to the Egyptian critic and programmer Joseph Fahim that I felt like I was starting to grasp what Godard was doing. Fahim was quite taken with the film, and has written astutely about it for Middle East Eye. . . . As Fahim notes: ‘The last chapter of The Image Book transpires as a deconstruction not only of the Arab narrative imparted by the West since the invention of cinema, but of the occidental control of cinema history.’”
The Notebook’s Daniel Kasman and Kurt Walker have interviewed Fabrice Aragno (28’15”).
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