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'Film Socialisme' review: Jean-Luc Godard sets sail

Combining reflections on the past, present and future of Western civilization aboard a cruise ship, 'Film Socialisme' is signature Jean-Luc Godard.

January 20, 2012|By Mark Olsen, Special to the Los Angeles Times
  • Jean-Luc Godard's new "Film Socialisme" has a one-week run at the Cinefamily at the Silent Movie Theatre.
Jean-Luc Godard's new "Film Socialisme" has a one-week… (Lorber Films )

Over the course of a career that stretches back more than 50 years, Jean-Luc Godard might have cultivated a reputation as a maker of forbiddingly dense, impenetrably allusion-heavy films, but his work also always holds the potential to offer something groundbreaking and new.

Despite (or maybe because of) his penchant for provocation and predilection toward the obtuse, he was and remains a rare, uncanny mix of professor, trickster and crackpot, guardian of the past and gatekeeper of the future.

Following its premiere at the 2010 Cannes Film Festival, his most recent work, "Film Socialisme" is only now getting its first proper Los Angeles theatrical run with a one-week engagement at the Cinefamily at the Silent Movie Theatre, which is showing the film for the first time in the U.S. with full English subtitles rather than Godard's own notoriously under-translated text.

The film has the feel of a survey and summation of themes that have pulsed through Godard's recent films, framed as it is by the intersection of personal politics and a broader historical awareness.

With its rich, layered storytelling, "Film Socialisme" is, in its broadest sense, about nothing less than the history, present and future of Western civilization, up to and including Internet videos of cats. Divided into three sections — one set on a cruise ship, another at a rural service station and then a series of mini-essays tied to specific locations in history — the film is not based around a singular story, but rather it allows the viewer to extract characters and narratives from the rolling sea of images and ideas that go sailing by.

As a man and woman search for stolen gold and a family of radicals rethinks how to run a gas station, culture, politics, history and the movies intersect. And Patti Smith goes for a stroll. For good measure there is a llama as well, reminding that for all Godard's formal and intellectual gamesmanship, sometimes he is just having fun.

The actual cruise ship used as a social microcosm in the film, the Costa Concordia, was in the news worldwide for capsizing a week ago. Not to be facile or insensitive, but the incident would seem a curiously Godard-like coincidence that gives further weight to some of the ideas in the film.

The future has already happened. The past is yet to come. Our boat has run aground. It is time to set sail.

'Film Socialisme'

Unrated; in French, English, Spanish, Afrikaans, German, Russian and Hebrew, with English subtitles

Running time: 1 hour, 42 minutes

Playing: The Cinefamily at the Silent Movie Theatre, Los Angeles

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