The scenes get interrupted before anyone turns into characters. Instead they are statues Statues that speak. If one speaks of statues, it's said that 'it comes from another time' and if one says 'another time' then one takes off on a voyage; one sets off upon the Mediterranean. That's where the cruise comes in
It is two separate films. It is a tender silent film about a cruise and about a family on top of which is laid a complex, abstract and obtuse politico-philosophical essay. Watch it without sound and you lose nothing of the people, their relationships, their dreams, their fears, their thousand insignificant thoughts. Godard prevents them from becoming characters but, much as Robert Bresson and his 'models', he doesn't, and cannot, stop them from being human. In fact their actors are more human than anyone else's. Godard is indeed capable of a probing intimacy as demonstrated in his interviews with a young girl in France Tour Retour Deux Enfants.
One of the great joys of a Godard film is that there is always something to admire, to reflect on or simply to be wowed by.
Critics are wrong when they say his films have become intellectual exercises. They inspire contemplation, yes, but they remain visceral experiences through and through. Here, one aspect doesn't go without the other. If, as some do, you treat the film as a puzzle to decipher, a lecture to understand, then you will dismiss it, like those critics, when it goes over your head. There is no reason why you can't think the visceral and feel the intellectual. When something goes over your head, it should make you want to stand taller.
Far from being hectoring prescriptions, Godard's aphorisms and allusions are rather inciting and insightful opening gambits meant to be digested half-baked - to allow other thoughts to appear after the fact. They are suggestive suggestions if you will. Lines like "In Russian steps are feminine" are only the beginning. It is not a puzzle. No, Film Socialisme is different from other films in that it is not a place but a map for the place. You come back to it and explore a little more each time.
Godard has freed himself (although Film Socialisme is an accretion of a style which he began in the Seventies). When he wants to show a painting to make a point he shows it. He doesn't need a character to walk into a museum. This freedom, taken to an extreme, can mean that the pieces of this mosaic (a cruise, a portrait of a family involved in an election campaign and a montage about war, suffering and life) become detached and ill-fitting. But do they need to be neatly arranged?
There is no doubt that Godard's musings can be irritating, empty and insufferable - especially in Meetin' WA, On S'est Tous Defile or Soigne Ta Droite. There is always pretentiousness in his films yet he has the intellect and the wit to justify it.
One never knows whether he really believes in what he is saying. He tests the waters and provokes reactions. The aloofness of hifalutin' bons mots is tempered by humour and farce: the boy miming to a saxophone with his drinking straw, a woman blown against a window, the exaggerated shouting, the honking of a llama. Ach Deutschland, it's fun.
He is always mocking himself (his films are self-aware rather than self-indulgent: remember how he hired a blind editor in JLG / JLG). We overhear a character, bewildered, say of the cruise "Alexandria, Haifa, Odessa...to get from Algiers to Barcelona?!". Godard unapologetically takes a detour to squeeze his pet thoughts (especially on Israel and Palestine) and betes noires into the pot. Film Socialisme is not dry. A man lectures on Geometry to an empty auditorium and Godard is able to criticise the banality of the people gyrating on the dance floors (filmed as an "agitation of pixels" as Maurice Darmon says) and the arrogant pomposity of the Professor all in the same shot.
With incomplete 'Navajo' English subtitles, a mixture of languages and distorted sound, there is a failure of communication. Those who are recording are not interacting closely with each other. If the ship is a microcosm of the world and all its peoples, the question is : is it Babel or is it Noah's Ark? Arriving at a particular destination, the camera angle gives the illusion of a collision about to happen at any moment.
There is friction between stasis and restlessness. Many scenes in Film Socialisme involve one person sitting down and the other walking around them. This lends the film a nervous edge and fits in with its themes and concerns; thinking clashing with doing, tradition battling with change. Again car doors are opened and slammed and we don't if they're coming or going.
Godard is restless too. You can never predict when a scene will be cut short or its silence interrupted with a loud bang or the call of a gull.
The middle section at a garage owned by La Famille Martin is full of discussion about the understanding of one's own being. The mother recounts that her mother was "never, not for a single moment, separated from her role". The father ponders how we can't be we until we are comfortable with I. In the meantime, brushing her teeth for bed, their daughter proclaims her hypothetical political manifesto: "To be 20 years old....to be right". This ties in with a later comment in voiceover on the crucial differences between the verbs "to be" and "to have" and the way the sound of words influences their meaning (and vice versa).
The final part of Film Socialisme is a montage much as the one that begins Notre Musique. Its rhythms, though, are more freeform and more satisfying. Sound, voice-over, stills, intertitles and moving images cover the stopping points of the cruise and give a bewitching overview of Europe's past whilst wondering openly about its future ('Quo Vadis Europa?').
It seems to address the crises of now (showing them to be created by history and repeating history) - monetary crashes ('Hell as' for Greece), crumbling nations, greed (Gold (a girl wears a necklace of gold coins) and stolen heritage), fights for independence (Catalunya) and individual freedom (the struggles of women). Again the film mentions Israel and Palestine (Hebrew written in red over Arabic in White) but this hard line is mollified by an outstandingly beautiful image of hope and peace - of trapeze artists throwing and catching each other across the waters.
Sometimes Jean-Luc Godard doesn't half go on, and his puckish style can grate, but without artists like him Cinema would be simple stories and simple allegories that cultivate simple-mindedness. Godard is not a popular revolutionary any more. He is an underground revolutionary. It is a shame that there aren't enough people receptive to experimentation and to putting as much effort into experiencing film as is put into making them. Beauty doesn't need subtitles. It doesn't need to appear at press conferences.
Film Socialisme leaves in its wake an ever-churning sea of questions.