The Film-director as a Spokesperson for the Human Soul in 21st Century

Ludo to his grandfather – Mr. Obersturmbannfuhrer Goldberg, what did you do in Avenue Foch, 1943?
Grandfather – leave me alone, horrible kid.
(From the dialogues in the film)

– When the British left Israel what exactly did you do with the gold of the Bank of Palestine?It’s here, my dear chap, here (he is pointing to his teeth).
(From the dialogues in the film)

Democracy and tragedy were married in Athens under Pericles and Sophocles. A single child: civil war.
“Film Socialisme”

You see, with the verb “to be”, the lack of reality becomes flagrant. For example: Soon we will be in Barcelona. It would be better to say: Barcelona will welcome us soon.

“Film Socialisme”


According to this shot, the human civilization’s voyage of progress (towards more prosperity, wealth, comfort, for more power, fun and inequality) signified by the luxury liner we see in between the two “instrumental” buildings through the narrow street, is psychologically rooted in the port of business, as dreams of self-empowerment and self-enrichment – in financial calculation, as morning – in the night, future flower – in the darkness of the soil, and life itself – in a black hole.


Historical time, usurped by our fantasy of unlimited progress towards an unthinkable degree of power and wealth, is like waters of the ocean. But the voyage of our ship of progress cannot be successful without the challenging risks posed by the necessity to entrust ourselves to the elemental will of the ocean of history. We, humans, already paid a high price for “social progress” according to Lenin/Stalin’s imagination and now are paying for “technological progress” and inflated materialistic expectations of today’s decision-makers, but in future the price will be even higher. But the drum-dream of “progress” (of inflated hopes, risks and waste) through the ocean of history will continue on with the same blindness.


What is this – just a beautiful view from the deck of the cruise ship of material progress? Oh, no, there are no just beautiful, and for that matter, just ugly views in Godard’s films. In Godard beauty always strikes a spark of meaning, like Amour doesn’t exist without Psyche, or like fly of a bird – without its needs and aspirations. This shot represents, it seems, the destiny of a pompous historical voyage of our civilization, the inevitable end of a lustful material and technological progress – its sunset, the end of history as we know it.


The banality and vanity of the cruise liner’s passengers is referred to by Godard through out-of-focus camera shots – there is no point, in the scenes of our social elite’s euphoric wastefulness, to emphasize the individual features of those indulging in generalized/standardized pleasures of feeling themselves on the top of the world.


The cruise liner’s deck looks as if, licked by sanitary technology – so shining, so pure-colored the very concept of our historical development is with its one-dimensionality. In this shot the artificial aesthetics of civilization silences the ambiguous aesthetics of nature by reducing it into the background of “our achievements and glory”. Who, by seeing this triumph of civilized clarity over the enigmatic and anarchic nature would not join the neatness of civilization against non-reliability of creation? “Real beauty is like this – instrumental, functional, reliable, controlled by the human genius”.


Here we see Alissa’s two pet cats or cat pets which are in a permanent dialogue with one another. Are they just cute little bodies/dolls for Alissa’s joy or a pedagogical suggestion to her (by her culture) about the exemplary relations between a couple in a good proper marriage like the one she will have to choose in a not too distant future?


Otto Goldberg, a previous high-ranking SS officer and a grand thief of the gold Spanish Republic sent to Russia, and grandfather of Ludo and Alissa, dissolves himself amidst the anonymous passengers on board of the luxury cruise ship of progress.


Otto Goldberg, who successfully maneuvered in between conflicting political interests of different countries, is still afraid that somebody will find him liable and try to prosecute him.


It’s his own grandson who teases him about his criminal past, but…


…his grandson is just a kid. He is just kidding – in reality he is kneeling before the might of a wealthy-stealthy grandfather.


Finally, a Russian criminal investigator (who doesn’t have prosecutorial ambitions – she is just interested in tracing the disappearance of the two thirds of the Spanish Republic’s money sent to Soviet Russia – one third disappeared inside USSR!), got the chance to question Goldberg, only to find an old and exhausted man so different from who he was before. It is not a person who commits crimes – but a politico-financial system that seduces/inspires man to do it. But we haven’t yet learned how to make political systems without the power to corrupt people into becoming criminals.


Alissa and Ludo, grandchildren of Otto Goldberg, have developed an amorous fixation on one another, typical situation when identification with controversial parental figures is inevitably ambiguous and wavering.


Cousins or brother and sister’s amorous fixation (and in general, fixation on peers instead of identification with adults) is compensatory in its nature. It doomed to be traumatic and can become psychologically destructive.


The garage owner, father of Florine and Lucien, is far from being similar to Otto Goldberg with the last’s purely technical mind. The person we see in this shot is a real person concerned about life more than about material self-enrichment, with a human, not a fragmented mind. He assesses his life with objectivity and humility. He has nothing to hide and not much to be ashamed of. Because he is existentially grounded he has a philosophical bent. He is his life, and his suffering and disappointments belong to it. He is a small business owner who is completely marginalized by the corporate culture.


Florine helps out her parents with family business but she can barely tolerate serving gas if not her books and pet lama. For her to feel she has a normal life she has to be associated with something more profound than the garage, gas station and cash flow.


Florine decides to follow her mother and run for local political office.


Florine was always burdened by the emptiness of life of “survival” and never was innocent and vain enough to understand how beautiful she is – she doesn’t perceive life in terms of success


Lucien is an eccentric boy – he is, as if, permanently looking for something else, beside the immediacy of the physical surrounding enveloping everyone like gel. He looks for something special. Here, we see Lucien imitating the process of conducting an orchestra and through this coming to the feeling of a “mystical” unity beyond plurality of usual impressions. In spite of the fact that Lucien is wearing a T-shirt with the abbreviation “USSR” in Russian language – there is no political connotation in his love for sublime sensations: symphonic music was as far from the hearts of the majority of the Soviet citizens as it is from majority of the Americans today. Lucien is searching for something like a transcendent unity between people and between them and the world, to which Soviet propaganda’s of (totalitarian) ideological unity was completely alien.


Lucien has invented the game of recognition involving his mother – they play his search for her beyond her bodily presence and her recognition of his desire to “touch” the human soul behind the contours of her existence. Their spiritual pantomime is a metaphor of human spiritual quest for the universe beyond multi-verse, a quest that cannot be stifled by a depressed (miserable provincial life) or a maniacal (ship of progress) materialism.


Lucien’s incredible pantomime exploring the very aura of reality can be compared in its innovative power with the overwhelming dance of Mary in Anne Marie Mieville’s “Book of Mary” (a short piece combined with Godard’s “Hail Mary”, 1985). We never have seen anything like this on screen or on stage – bizarre, intriguing, meaningful, beautiful and witty.


Lucien is trying to make contact with reality – with what it means to be a human, not only through music but also through painting. This occupation enhances the exuberance of his perception. In this shot we see that the very reality becomes lit, as if, the process of painting turns on the light of the existence, making life, hope and future possible.


“Film Socialisme” makes life of business calculation or consumerist ecstasy a dead region, and makes Godard – the primordial magician of the reality of the real life through images, and some of his characters, incompatible with the fallen world of the 21st century. By contrast, in this shot we see a TV producer (making a film about a mother and daughter each running for a political office in their small provincial town). This person, according to Godard, doesn’t even deserve to have her face shown – she doesn’t have one. She is like the passengers on the ship of progress with their blurred faces. She is shown in the center of a giant shadowy fan signifying the phantom circle of today’s TV production and thinking and living in general according to the cliché of treating her life as an enterprise.

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The ironic idea of the ship of progress – the main motif of the “Film Socialisme’s” plot, could be Godard’s creative reaction on three films distinguished in history of cinema – Stanley Kramer’s “Ship of Fools” (1965), Dusan Makavejev’s “Sweet Movie” (1974) and Federico Fellini’s “And the Ship Sails On” (1984). From Kramer’s film Godard “borrows” (pays tribute to) the objective foolishness of the social elite he transfers to his ship of progress, from Makavejev – the caricaturely twisted echo of Marxist reference, and from Fellini – the very pomposity of people who waste history and human sensitivity on the satisfaction of their superstitious fixations (in Fellini’s film – idolatrous/ fetishistic perception of opera music, in Godard’s – material progress).

Somehow, we expect that a film with such a title will be dedicated to the depiction and description of “socialism”, but if it is present in the film it’s only in and through its absence. What the film really depicts and comments on are three socio-cultural areas of today’s life connected with the historical existence of “socialist idea” – 1. ideological reaction against it symbolized by the luxurious cruise liner’s (with partying, dancing and gambling European tourists) voyage into the future that signifies “progress” of our Western societies towards more power and wealth; 2. the rear/periphery of this trip towards more prosperity (and perspiration) and inequality (of high quality) and fun, signified by a struggling middleclass family of garage owners; and 3. the rotten internals of our today’s dream about more control over other humans and the world in general – endless wars, unrest, rebellions and their brutal suppressions, victimization of human beings by the elites and chronic injustice and unfairness in relations between countries, groups and individuals (shown through montage of footages from fictional films with documentary clips and photographs).

In the first part dedicated to the depiction of material progress, Godard shows a social life without moral decency and spiritual nobility, that of consumption of luxury and mass entertainment. Among the personifications of the anonymous crowds of successful people (and plot’s encounters and conflicts) – we see an ex-Nazi spy and thief on a grand scale, a French investigator of Nazi crimes, a person who could have explained but just hints at the truth about the disappearance of money from Bank of Palestine after the British troops left Israel, a Russian investigator of a spectacular theft of Spanish republic’s money that were sent to Soviet Russia after Franco‘s victory, and many other colorful and intriguing characters (some of them belonging to the financial vanguard of society). What characterizes some of the crimes mentioned in the film is that they are about the theft of people’s money committed on an international scale.

Godard, who in the film, pays a lot of attention to historical perspective of whatever he registers with his camera, examines how children adapt to the lives of their rich or not rich adult relatives – like grandchildren of Otto Goldberg who stole the money that belonged to the Spanish Republic and who managed to avoid getting caught by masterfully maneuvering between rivaling international political powers, or the children of the garage owners feeling as disappointed and trapped as their sensitive and intelligent parents. Alissa and Ludo, the grandchildren of a former SS-high rank (Otto Goldberg) are seemingly psychologically corrupted by the berg of gold stolen by him – Ludo is not alien to petty theft, while Alissa wears a necklace with unique golden coins from the treasure “snatched” by the monumental grandfather (or with a good imitation of them). With his wealth, it is not easy for the kids to emotionally disregard him. Wealth is power with potential for benediction through benefaction. Ludo symbolically, through jokes, expresses his disrespect, but is simultaneously full of signs of obedience, while Alissa instinctively tries to overcome her identification with the triumphant patriarch through over-cathecting her cats and preparing for a conventional life of surplus-prosperity. The young brother-sister developed an amorous fixation on each other that is not a rarity in situations when natural identification with a strong parental figure is problematized by moral/emotional contradictions. At the end of the film we hear Ludo’s desperate voice calling for Alissa without any response. It’s exactly harmed (by the fissure in the moral status of the old wealth-crater) identification with him could trigger their premature mutual fixation. The golden generosity (of the obscene benefactor) has a price.

On the other hand, both, Florine and Lucien (children of a small business owners) are trying to find a personal solution to an emotionally and intellectually muffling life that ties them to the gas-station like a donkey (signifying Lucien’s situation – Lucien is rebelling against donkey- obedience and passivity in a sublimated – creative way) and the lama (signifying Florine’s situation – her psychologically defensive neatness and “distance” from the world). Already as a child Lucien is able to produce unique psychological reactions to boost his vitality. He is intrigued by the mystery of human togetherness, while Florine tries to follow her mother and run for public office to become a professional democratic fighter for a more humane future in their tiny city. Godard and we, the viewers believe that these brother and sister will find their way out of the meaninglessness of life. The very style of this, second part of the film is much less “generalized” than the scenes on the ship of progress, it is much more like a magnifying glass, much more real, respectful and attentive, much more essential.

The miracle of the “ship of progress” part of the film is how the segmented particularities of various plots are compressed, pulverized and dissolved in a sarcastic magnificence of stylistic paradigm which then transforms these mini-plots into a sweeping semantic generalization, into meaning without the need for the magnifying glass. Everything becomes meaning, the shining deck of the ship, the women in the waters of swimming pool, changeable landscapes frozen in our perception like trends in artistic styles of different historical epochs, sound-bites of casual talks like scraps of melodies, and the fogginess with which Godard blurs the ship’s crowds dancing, dining, sipping drinks at the bars or taking strolls. The impeccable shots of the sea and the ship are, as if, a parody on human dream of material luxury framed by a combination of natural and artificial light and the coming darkness or rain and are at once astonishing and menacing. The fact that rich people enjoying a life of sublime vanity are often out of focus, emphasizes the generic character of not only a philistine life, but of individual characters (their proclaimed, during previous historical periods, individualism has melted into standardization caused by the standard nature of money and procedures of its making and spending).

The montage of the clips and stills from the fictional and documentary films (the third part of the film) made in different historical periods, establishes Godard as a meta-film-director and emphasizing a kind of angelic presence of a meta-artist in human history, a visionary spokesman for the human destiny in 21st century. We see history bleeding with pain and suffering, and we, with self-reproach and grief, feel our indifference as helpless participants in its blind advance into a futile future. We feel ourselves in history and history in us as an agonizing process, and we don’t know and want to know what to do.

Posted on Jan 11 2015 –   “Film Socialisme” (2010) By Jean-Luc Godard (JLG)  by Acting-Out Politics