Cannes 2018: Apocalyptic, unfathomable essay film from the legendary Jean-Luc Godard
Jean-Luc Godard presents himself as a one-man YouTube in The Image Book (Le Livre d’Image, also known as The Picture Book). The old dog of the New Wave is as provocative, and impenetrable, as ever in a documentary essay / installation piece shaped around a blizzard of images culled from artworks, news footage and a vast sampling of classic films – from Hitchcock’s Vertigo to Pasolini’s Salò via Joan Crawford in Johnny Guitar.
The film is broken into chapters, with recurring images of hands and trains. There are voices on the soundtrack, including Godard’s, writing on the screen and words that are mostly translated into English, but sometimes not. Watching the film is like trying to tune a radio that stubbornly refuses to stay on the same wavelength.
Godard, now 87, certainly seems to be in apocalyptic mood as he focuses heavily on images of violence and suffering. Humans have an innate capacity for cruelty and self-destruction, consuming the finite resources of a planet that we seem to conveniently forget that we share with other species. The recurring scenes of trains – including, of course, Buster Keaton in The General – must, one assumes, speak to the Holocaust, when railway tracks marked the road to hell.
Later in the film, Godard turns his attention to the Middle East in a chapter headed ‘Joyful Arabia’, the title of a work by Alexandre Dumas. He chastises the West for having no real interest in the people or the culture. The promise of prosperity from a foreign land lies at the heart of all colonialism.
There are themes and concerns that can be teased out from this largely unfathomable film, but it is always challenging. Maybe it is something that needs to be experienced and absorbed, rather than dissected and understood. If it is to be Godard’s last feature then there seems something appropriate in his conclusion that ‘there needs to be a revolution.’
Screening as part of the Cannes Film Festival 2018. General release TBC.