Starring Jean-Luc Godard. In English, French, Italian, Arabic, and German, with English subtitles. Rating unavailable
There are now only two survivors of the nouvelle vague movement of the late 1950s, and at 90, Agnès Varda has seniority.
Jean-Luc Godard, two years younger, probably reached his upstart peak with 1960’s Breathless—still a film-school staple and a reference point even for people who’ve never seen it.
His disruptive jump cuts and other dissociating tricks became so common, those early films probably don’t look revolutionary anymore, while the more humanistic films of junior partner François Truffaut have continued to attract new fans.
Godard’s “approachable” period ended with his 1968 dalliance with the Rolling Stones, Sympathy for the Devil.
The Swiss-French director subsequently created an idiosyncratic vocabulary that dropped standard narrative approaches—and bankable stars—in favour of bold-faced sloganeering subverted by playful nose-tweaking.
His convoluted polemics have since spoken to a steadily narrowing audience, but he certainly never lost interest in the act of viewing.
As suggested by its title, The Image Book is a YouTube-like compendium of moments stolen from movies that have affected him personally while influencing the course of cinema and—he would argue—perceptions of society itself.
Snippets of L’Atalante and Vertigo are butted up against Buster Keaton, the apocalyptic noir of Kiss Me Deadly, and Pasolini’s porntastic Salò.
Godard, who also narrates, blends in newsreel footage of Algerian War torture and ISIS executions, plus a lengthy excerpt of an Egyptian movie, all held together, sort of, by bits of Bach, Prokofiev, and other unrelated music, as well as purposely nonsynchronized sound.
Ultimately, it’s not exactly clear whether he means to assert the movies’ power to mitigate human cruelty or that they abet it.
Further complicating things in this challenging 84 minutes are his seemingly random format changes and manipulation of iconic images toward their harshest, primary-coloured elements—as if he just got new software and just had to push it to the max.
Indeed, a long disquisition on hands suggests the primacy (and privacy) of the editing booth over the camera.
By the way, Varda also has a clip show in the works: a narrated retrospective of her long career.
She’s been very hands-on as well, and is currently waving, not drowning.