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May 31, 2011


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Tom Carson

GK -- wonderful, wonderful piece. As for me, the only way I can describe my feelings about Film Socialisme is that I hated every minute and loved the whole thing.

James R

"with late-period Godard, it's not really a full experience without at least a little serious viewer irritation"

Hmmm... that pretty much sums up my acquaintance with almost the entirety of Godard's oeuvre, not just the recent films.


It takes a crank to know a crank. Beautiful.

Jason M.

In my somewhat loopy sleep-deprived state this morning, I initially read "Eisenstein's 'Potemkin'" as "Eisenstein's 'Pokemon'" and my mind was immediately blown.

Great writeup on Film Socialisme, too. I can't wait to see it again on the big screen.

Learn to Fly

Just saw this at Toronto Film Festival. Quite contrary to my expectations, this is a terrible, extremely boring film.


Thanks for writing this, Glenn, which is probably my favorite thing of yours in a bit. I saw FILM SOCIALISME at UCLA a week or two ago and found it to be pretty rough going to be honest, though of course I knew that would be the case going in. I wished Godard had stayed on the boat because at least that section was formally interesting in terms of color, texture, etc. Once he shifts focus to the family in the French countryside...well, I don't know what the rest of the film was about at all. But JLG isn't terribly interested in my wants and needs now, is he?

Kent Jones

I wasn't so fond of the family section myself, particularly the filmmaker in hot pants. But I found the people who played the family, particularly the husband and wife, moving. They really looked and spoke and behaved like people who made a living running a gas station.

The rhythm of that first section is unforgettable, and it reaches some kind of crescendo when he crashes into one of those visually and aurally assaultive cell phone shots. He also makes a real event out of the distorted sound on the small in-camera mikes.


I agree about his raw use of those mics. For instance, how he doesn't bother to protect them from the wind whipping the deck of the ship. The result is that it feels like all these images are being relayed to us, sometimes with crystal clarity, sometimes in a muddle of pixels and distortions, through these various media. As if our access to the world viewed is always threatening to break down into a jumble of information...

The first time I saw it, I wasn't aware that everything had been shot on board the same cruise ship. There were spaces that seemed so massive that I felt they had to have been shot somewhere on dry land. How little did I know about such vessels! By my second viewing, I had cleared this up and the endless, irresolvable depths of that ship's spectacular banalities really came together.

The family section struck me as slack even when it was good. He just doesn't seem to have invested as much thought into each of that segment's vignettes as he seems to have put into every composition on the ship and the way they're layered and stacked upon each other. I really love a number of moments, however, especially that where the little boy is stroking his mother's back while she washes dishes, and that where the mother is speaking to her daughter in the bathroom about life's disappointments.


Some background information on the Otto Goldberg/Richard Christmann character from INDEPENDENCIA that I translated:

“Today, what has changed, is that bastards are sincere.” This sentence is said two times, in the first and second parts. But which bastards exactly? Richard Christmann, first, a historical character around whom the protagonists of the first part gravitate. This former spy of Abwher, a Nazi information network, would have been a double agent, indeed a triple agent, during World War II. In 1940, in the story invented by Godard, he would have participated in the embezzlement of the Spanish gold between Barcelona and Odessa. He was, furthermore, one of the people responsible for the arrest of members of the Musee de l’Homme network, including Alice Simmonet, who he would have tortured. He is next found serving the Algerian FLN, then “representative of Bayer and Rhone-Poulenc.” Known under different pseudonyms like Leopold Krivitsky, Markus, and Moise Shmucke, he presents himself during the cruise under the name of Otto Goldberg. Two other passengers are looking for him: Major Kamenskaia, charged with finding the traces of the missing gold for the bank of the Russian government, and lieutentant Delmas, who Godard makes a former lover of Alice Simmonet in the interview with Mediapart.

They will cross paths with several groups of characters crossing the Mediteranean for diverse reasons: a spy for Mossad and his golden tooth, a Palestinian couple, three intellectuals, respectively a writer, a philosopher and an economist, a young girl, Constance, her friend, and her younger brother, Ludo, who becomes friends with Alissa, Richard Christmann’s daughter. It is therefore less a matter of a tourist cruise than an international summit of bastards. When the old man and the daughter walk down the hall, they are observed by a surveillance camera: the travelers spy on each other. Later on, lieutenant Delmas repeats a gesture the hero of The Ghost Writer and the hero of Green Zone accomplished before him: he searches for – and finds- information on the internet. Descriptive sheets, shameful crimes, State secrets, everything is now available on Google.


I'm also curious Glenn why you followed suit with all the other New York critics in not discussing the lines to which the line "Yes...but the strange thing is that Hollywood was invented by Jews," is a response to. How this can be misconstrued as either anti-Semetic or anti-Zionist is beyond me (having understood the French and gone through the effort of downloading complete subtitles for the film be sure of what was said in the film).

Kino Slang

It is insensitive and idiotic (and intentionally so I believe) not to mention Hebrew and Arabic as among the languages spoken in FILM SOCIALISME. These languages come (you heard it and saw it I'm sure) late in the film, together, as part of a simple imagining of a virtuosic peace between the Semites: the two languages mixed over an image of acrobats seen to be mutually dependent on one another in mid air.

You essentially question the need to make "conventional sense" of the movie (only to replace it, as did Kent Jones, with talk of Godard's movie as if it were a light show, or a Brakhage film...a nice way to exonerate yourselves of meaning there), but a paragraph earlier you had just forced some very conventional sense into it by further contributing to the "Godard-the-Anti-Semite" convention. A rather underhanded thing to do to the reader.

But, I'm finding more and more people who, without the slightest prompt, defend Godard against your (and the others) obsessive reductions vis a vis Godard and the Semites. They, to paraphrase James Baldwin, quite naturally "give your problem back to you" and think about the film instead of policing it.

Glenn Kenny

@ Kino Slang: Oh, bullshit. And the word you're looking for is "virtual," not "virtuosic." You get bonus points for trying to give Godard, of all artists, credit for a "kumbaya" moment.

I'd expound a bit on the levels of meaning found in the film, as the intrepid Richard Brody has done on his blog (see here, for instance, http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/movies/2011/06/film-socialisme-humanism-and-paranoia.html), levels not really possible to plumb in a single 1,000-word review...and I think Brody's phrase "blend of historical curiosity and free-flowing hostility" with respect to the film is entirely apt, and flies nicely in the face of your rather desperate attempt to credit Godard with a kumbaya moment of all things. But I don't like your tone much, so I'd rather not bother with you at all.

James Baldwin, huh? Jesus.


Kino Slang, or Andy (is that you, Mr. Rector?), I don't see how attempting to discuss the film from the standpoint of its aesthetic qualities, such as its dense soundscape, amounts to dodging the quest to extract some sort of meaning out of it. So far as I can tell, in his piece, Glenn is merely acknowledging that the film is too open-ended and intricate an object to reduce it to a grab-bag of slogans and statements. And Glenn's objection to the moments in the film where Godard seems to consciously provoke accusations of anti-semitism seem more against these acts of provocation as such, as trite little cock teases, rather than tough-minded attempts to engage with a dire issue (am I on the right track, Glenn?). I think if you look back through the piece you'll find that Glenn never flatly accuses Godard of anti-semitism. Rather he expresses frustration at the impression that Godard is actively baiting us to make such an accusation. I'm not sure if I agree (I'd need to see the film again), but either way I don't see how this is a manipulative or hypocritical move of Glenn to make.

Also, I feel like Brakhage wouldn't be too happy with you placing him in the boat of pre-conceptual, aesthetic purity. After all, Brakhage consciously took on social and political issues in his work. He wasn't just a fabricator of mystically elevated light play.

Kent Jones

The other day, I was playing in my sandbox when I was so overwhelmed by the play of sunlight through the trees that I dropped my Tonka trucks and spun around until I got dizzy. And I remember thinking, "Gee, this reminds me of TEXT OF LIGHT...and FILM SOCIALISME." Then I started crushing some rocks with some bigger rocks.

"Insensitive"..."idiotic"..."exonerate"..."underhanded"..."obsessive reductions"..."policing" - no discussion possible. So, to quote Godard, "NO COMMENT"

David Ehrenstein

"Film Socialisme" is the greatest work Godard has ever made.

Kino Slang

If you're willing Glenn, I'd like to know then your interpretation, feeling, whatever, on that shot of the acrobats in FILM SOCIALISME (the acrobats from Varda's film + recitations from the Torah + recitations from the Qu'ran). Does it spell hostility toward Jews for you? Pure body? Does it make meaning at all? Since you seem to think I'm forcing "kumbaya" on it, I wonder what alternative views there are on that shot, and how the absolutely certain, necessary hate elsewhere in FILM SOCIALISME (a hate directed at history, the way things have turned out-- always a propos de Socialisme) is evident particularly there...

I wasn't sure of the true implications of the word "kumbaya" but am pleased to find when looking it up that, after its rediscovery as an African-American spirtual, Joan Baez sung an early version it. And Joan Baez's "Sagt Mir Wo Die Blumen Sind" ("Where have all the flowers gone?") is played on the soundtrack in FILM SOCIALISME, right in the vicinity of the shot I'm discussing. One Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach sang it the same year as Baez, 1962. Pete Seeger also did an early version; the man who said of his guitar "This machine kills fascists". Regrettably FILM SOCIALISME isn't strong enough to do that. What's more, the original lyrics have nothing to do with peace. Like David Wain in ROLE MODELS, I wonder about your ability to play Kumbaya at all, my friend.

To edo: my point is that it is various writers seizing upon a trendily perceived anti-Semitism who are the ones baiting the reader (not the unprejudiced viewer of the film) into wondering whether Godard is an anti-Semite. Godard isn't doing this. It's those critics Navajo subtitle to Godard's films after the great ICI ET AILLEURS. Judging by the film itself, its constant play of dialectics, Godard is provoking one to think of origins (Hollywood, Jews, Mecca, the religious posture of cinema, the historical liberties taken by capitalists/fascists, those contradictions of interests [the Holocaust]...). I don't see anything sexual ("trite little cock teases"[!]) about Godard's anti-Semitism or (more appropriately) Semitism.

Kent: the feeling is mutual. Or as Mme Huillet said "Honey, I have too many problems with things that exist to worry about things that don't."

Thank you Ted and David E for your work on this film.

-Andy Rector

PS- Glenn, "virtuosic" is exactly the word I meant and didn't need to "look for" it, let alone have you find another, as it's clearly suggested to me from the film. It would take equal virtuosity, threat of harm and threat of safety - the acrobats - for peace to come about. I wouldn't have deigned to pettily critique your particular words, but now I will: I believe you're looking for something other than excessively hyphenated non-terms every other paragraph. You might try to find it.


"I don't see anything sexual ("trite little cock teases"[!]) about Godard's anti-Semitism or (more appropriately) Semitism."

Talk about taking me literally. It's a figure of speech.

And, jesus, do you like to talk down to folks here. What did Kent do to deserve being clubbed over the head with Daniele Huillet? What did Mme Huillet do to be so used?


I know I should just let this go, but this has really become an itch I need to scratch...

Basically, I think we really need to get past this all-or-nothing attitude when it comes to Godard. There are plenty of folks out there who don't have the time or patience for FILM SOCIALISME. Can I blame them? I'll get to that in a second. Right now, the point is Glenn certainly ain't one of these people. He likes the film! Kent Jones likes the film! I like the film! But often it seems like the rhetoric reaches such a pitch around Godard that if someone raises any objection no matter how slight they get placed in the basket of a larger, anonymous mass of critics, most of whom probably haven't even bothered to watch the film closely enough to even raise a coherent objection. I know for a fact that Kent has seen it numerous times. And I assume that Glenn has too. I have seen it twice, and plan to watch the DVD I recently acquired of it at the next available moment. Todd McCarthy, not exactly a Jeffrey Wells type, got fucking pilloried when he wrote up the film in his blog during Cannes. I don't agree with most of what Todd wrote, but he wasn't exactly raising negligible complaints (re: the film's seemingly deliberately off-putting formal stratagems, such as the Navajo subtitles), and his frustrations were as much directed toward zealots for whom any negative reaction to Godard's films has always seemed to translate into a lack of the proper ideological credentials.

Those critics who reject Godard wholesale, represented most spectacularly by Christy LeMire this past week, and who openly ridicule any attempt to view the film as anything besides a monstrously pretentious work of anti-populist decadence, are to my mind really not worth arguing with. They reflect the indifference of corporate journalism at its most willfully populist and asinine. Most of these people don't even take the Hollywood films they review seriously. They don't take movies seriously. Period. They're basically wage laborers, putting in their hours and parlaying a shockingly conventionalized conception of average American movie-goer common sense into a critical methodology. To be honest, I can't have anything against these folks for doing so, because so far as they're concerned, they're mostly just doing their jobs...

Right now, the more disturbing issue to me is how we treat each other, we being those of us for whom the cinema is more than a pretext for a paycheck and who consequently do have time for someone like Godard. There are only a few earnest hard-working gumshoes (like Glenn or Todd) of the old-school journalistic stripe left in this world, and they've really had to carve out spaces for themselves in an increasingly unaccommodating job market. A guy like Todd McCarthy has managed to survive layoff and the closing of a storied film department at a trade magazine that has been covering the art form since the earliest years of its existence. Why are we grouping someone like that in with the faceless lackeys?

Glenn Kenny

Thanks for the defense, edo, much appreciated. I'm sure if Mr. Rector could find a way to troll Christy Lemire, he'd do that too, maybe (hint: she's on Twitter!). As it is I'd say this thread is pretty much dead without me having to close it.

David Ehrenstein

Todd has morphed into David Mamet of late. He's part of the Ruling Conservatariat now.


Edo: The problem is not American critics disliking the film. The problem is American critics writing weird backhand compliments of reviews and making an issue out of a non-issue.

Every review of the film I've read by an American critic has felt the need to address the film's supposed anti-Semitic qualities. If you look at the conversation around the film in France - a country where the critics actually understood what was being said in the film, which as I've pointed out none of the American critics seem to have been able to do since they don't speak French - you will not see a discussion about the film's anti-Semitic qualities. There are not any. It is something that has been confabulated by American journalists taking Brody's lead.

Case in point: as I pointed out elsewhere, this sentence has been cited by several reviews I've read: "Hollywood was invented by Jews." Since this isn't the line as it appears in the film and the only person to attempt to quote the line in full (albeit by mistranslating it and giving it no context) was Brody (from whom, I don't doubt people snagged the line, further making it something that wasn't really said in the film).

In fact, what the off-screen character actually says is, "Yes...but the strange this is that Hollywood was invented by Jews." The line is a response to another off-screen voice comparing Hollywood cinema with Islam by calling it the Mecca of the West, "All eyes in the same direction, the movie theater." So, first of all, the line doesn't just bring Jews up out of the blue. And it isn't a jab or slur. Given the relationship between Jews and Muslims during the 20th century (i.e. that whole Palestine/Israel thing that Godard and many other filmmakers have made films about), it might perhaps be viewed as strange that an Islamic-like institution was invented by those professing the Jewish faith.

At the very least, from this I think it becomes clear that what could have been a complex scene to discuss (and there are plenty in the film, like the acrobatic scene which I find to be one of the most moving scenes in the film, alongside Major Kamenskaia's declamation that she wants to see "bonheur" and "Russie" together once again), was oversimplified to serve some strange obligation American critics felt about discussing the film as containing anti-Semitic elements.

I think Andy's challenge to Glenn to address the very beautiful sequence in the film of the acrobats and the recited texts as something other than simple abstractions is legitimate. I wouldn't be surprised if the content of the off-screen voices was potentially news to Glenn.

Here is a much better English-language review (though written by someone not living in the US) that addresses issues in the film that we should have expected the New York critics to have done: http://mayrevue.com/KWest-ENG

Glenn Kenny

Boy, I really suck, don't I? Remind me not to try to ever review another Godard movie for MSN again. And you have a great day too, Ted!

More seriously, and trying very hard to restrain myself from telling Ted to just go fuck himself: what Ted sees as "the very beautiful sequence in the film of the acrobats" (oh, stop, I'm gonna cry) I see as pretty much a sop, and a half-hearted one at that. It does NOTHING in my perspective to ameliorate the sheer shittiness of tone in which the "Goldberg" = "mountain of gold" point is pronounced. Do I make myself sufficiently clear?

Also, let it be noted that when making my pusillanimous puling plaints about this "non-issue," I never brought up the line about "the Jews inventing Hollywood." I've read Gabler's book and everything. No. That line, dumb and questionable as it might be, isn't part of the "non-issue" per se.


Someone put the movie on youtube with full subtitles in the "interactive transcript" box under the video:


Kent Jones

Ironically, Tony Scott's and Richard Brody's musings and queries aside, the only person I know who raised the anti-semitism issue around FILM SOCIALISME is French. He was so profoundly offended by the film that he swore off Godard forever - in his case, a major shift. Pretty mystifying.

Glenn Kenny

I do like that "someone" in the above comment from Ted. As in "someone who doesn't care about the artist's desires or intentions and wants to provide a helpful crib for would-be Godard comment thread trolls," maybe?

It does raise an interesting question outside the realm of my mounting desire to sock Ted in the jaw, which is, just what is the responsibility of the reviewer, so to speak? I was asked to submit a review of the film as it was configured for United States theatrical viewing as part of my contributor's agreement with MSN; that's what I did. Now it's not inconceivable that I might have availed myself of the YouTube version with full subtitles; I also know of some reviewers who have DVD screeners with the full subs. Jonathan Rosenbaum has argued eloquently, in the case of Godard's "Histoire(s)," that full subtitles constitute a kind of betrayal of the work. But that aside, in the context of the kind of review I'm doing for MSN, do I need to do the kind of scholarship that would a) give me special knowledge that wouldn't necessarily be readily accessible (yeah, I know, ANYBODY can access YouTube, but let's leave that aside for the moment) to other would-be viewers and b) more likely be required for the purposes of an essay much longer than the one I'd be able to write for an outlet such as MSN. These are interesting questions, although jagoffs such as Ted make me rather disinclined to address them, I have to admit.


I think that if, not knowing what is being said in the film, a reviewer is still going to attempt to address the film's content, the reviewer should probably seek out the book of the film's dialogue that was published or pirated subtitles at the very least for some kind of fact checking so as not to wildly mislead monolingual viewers into thinking that Godard is an anti-Semite. If you couldn't understand what the film was about because of the film's Navajo subtitles, why not just admit that to readers and admit yours and their possible incapacity to know what the film is about if viewing it the way it is being released?

Here's a quote from Le Monde's review of the film addressing the Varda/acrobats scene:

"He comes back to this idea that he considers Europe’s original moral failing: having abandoned Palestine. Godard borrows from Agnes Varda the image of two trapeze artists (a symbol of a possible harmony between two people), putting it on top of two pieces of audio: a girl’s voice reciting the Talmud and a girl’s voice reciting the Qu’ran. “Ideas separate us, dreams bring us closer.”"

Gold and power have led to war and violence for thousands of years. Godard laments this and the way that ideologies separate people and cause great suffering (like that seen in Palestine/Israel or Sarajevo or Africa ("on a laissé tombé l'Afrique") - see Notre Musique for more on that).

Kino Slang

Lemire's rejection was in a way more interesting than some of the embraces ("it's these shots of nothing, of, like, overfed people on a cruise ship.")

When the very act of trying to talk about a shot in FS, or questioning a prejudice built-in to a review, or someone posting the entire film with more thorough subtitles allowing the viewer to judge for themselves is censoriously called an act of "trolling", then we're at an impasse where responses are pointless. You might as well go all the way Glenn: you have my permission to delete my comments.

Glenn Kenny

@ Ted: OK, now I see how this works: I say "Goldberg," you say "Agnes Varda."

Also: " why not just admit that to readers and admit yours and their possible incapacity to know what the film is about if viewing it the way it is being released?" Well, I figured that once the whole subtitle thing was explained, it would be implicitly understood that some of the film's content would be potentially less than entirely accessible. You get that, right? I mean, make up your mind, Ted; either myself and the MSN readership are total idiots, or they're not. Also, why not...oh never mind. I'm not gonna give you the satisfaction.

@ KinoSlang: Aw, this is just like that part in "North by Northwest" where Cary Grant says "You have no feelings to hurt!" Really, that's about the most hilarious passive-aggressive call for a pity party I've ever read. You must be quite a laugh in "real" life.

You have MY permission to do any number of things. But I'm not deleting your comments, sorry.


So I just skimmed (and also word-searched for "jew", "semitism", "semite", "anti", "hebrew") all the articles that Rotten Tomatoes links to. There are two that mention the anti-semitism issue A.O. Scott and Glenn, and neither Glenn nor Scott mention it without some consideration and qualification.

Most of those critics who didn't like the film didn't like it on the basis that they felt it was impenetrable and off-putting, and even when critics who liked the film expressed their qualms they tended to do so for the same reasons.

Where is this mass of irate American critics of which you speak, ted?


Oh, I should that Glenn and Scott are also the only critics that quote the Hollywood-founded-by-Jews bit and, once again, neither of them present it without questioning the attempt to make snap judgments about it.

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