Goodbye to Language (2014)

by Afra Nariman

Goodbye to Language (2014)

Director: Jean-Luc Godard

Stars: Jessica Erickson, Héloïse Godet, Zoé Bruneau, Richard Chevallier


“You know, in Russian, ‘kamera’ means prison.”

A meditation on cinema, nature, language and existence, and Godard’s reflection on the events that shaped his generation and ours; Goodbye to Language is a fascinating experimentation with the form of cinema, that touches upon many of the ideas that Godard began to explore back in the ’60s — for example, the arbitrary ineffectiveness of the spoken word, and human beings’ incapability of true communication. 

“Soon, everyone will need an interpreter. To understand the words coming from their own mouths.”

This recalls the conversation regarding the insincerity of language, between Anna Karina’s Nana and the philosopher, at the cafe in Vivre Sa Vie (1962). 

To understand anything fully, one must first deconstruct it — to understand it’s parts, then put it back together. For better or worse, that is what Jean-Luc Godard made a career doing to cinema, from the very beginning with Breathless (1960) — he tried to understand cinema, and there’s no doubt he accomplished that. 

Truth, for Godard, lies between the lines of image and dialogue, or characters and space, or perhaps most of all, between emotions and ideas. Godard often attempted to show these lines by deconstructing images, dialogue, and sounds — deconstructing cinema — and he did so, never as blatantly as in Goodbye to Language.

While his films are not as tuned into emotion, or grounded in humanism (my favorite kind of cinema), as are the films of Bergman, Tarkovsky, Kiarostami, or Bresson — Godard has said that his films may not be emotional, but rather they’re about emotions. Similarly, in his Pierrot le Fou (1965) Jean-Paul Belmondo’s character complains to Anna Karina’s character that she never has ideas, “only feelings.” To which Anna responds: 

“That’s not true. There are ideas inside feelings.”

So, while Godard’s films don’t explore human life through emotion; he is after understanding the ideas behind/within emotions. Returning to my favorite film of his as an example… In Vivre Sa Vie (1962) Godard observes existentialism (idea) in the act of living, and yearning to resist fate through exerting one’s will (emotion). Additionally, in Alphaville (1965), Godard defines his ‘idea’ of a dystopia as a world devoid of emotions. 

Undoubtably, Godard loved cinema as much as anyone; and even if his films were more in the practice of making claims (that can often come across pretentiously) about the world we live in, rather than searching for its truths through a curiosity grounded in humanism, done so more effortlessly without the need to over-intellectualize, akin to the cinema of Bergman, Tarkovsky, Kiarostami, or Bresson — Godard’s cinema is one which he turned his curiosity not so much necessarily on the world, but upon cinema itself — both its potential and its limits. 

In his first film Breathless (1960), Godard defined a characters’ “greatest ambition” as wanting “to become immortal, and then die.” And although never in every way, but certainly in one way or another, his influence on contemporary cinema is still evident in the work of filmmakers globally, particularly in the work of American Independent filmmakers; from Jim Jarmusch and Spike Lee, to Greta Gerwig, Noah Baumbach and Wes Anderson — Godard’s impact lives on.


Some of Godard’s ideas from Goodbye to Language:

“Reacting implies that we react against economic policy, against the police, against welfare.”

“The law that denies its own violence, cheats. The law that denies what turns it into a state apparatus, cheats. The law which deems itself self-legitimatizing, cheats twice.”

“Man, blinded by conscience, is incapable of seeing the world.”

“Only free beings can be strangers to each other. They have a shared freedom but this is what separates them.”

“In your circus of forests, of hills, of valleys, pale death blended the dark battalions.”

“Avoid shattered memories”


Rating: 3 out of 5.

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