In Goodbye to Language, Jean-Luc Godard revolutionizes the cinematic form by manipulating our perception of chronology, making a one-hour run-time feel like two hours.
That may be unfairly snarky, but I'm not sure what would constitute a fair response. This is the sort of film in which characters spend an entire scene woodenly reciting postmodern philosophy at each other, but one of them is starkers and the other is loudly taking a dump so the audience knows that the director's a clever dude who doesn't take himself too seriously. Why try to meet Godard halfway if even he doesn't fully believe the twaddle he's selling?
This is frustrating because Goodbye to Language marries formal elements to thematic content in some truly groundbreaking ways. With 3-D technology affording him the ability to create multiple planes within a single image, Godard can literalize his exploration of how language can create multiple tiers of meaning within a single word. Language can isolate and divide people as easily as it can connect them, and Godard illustrates this idea (literally) with shots in which a rain-dappled window jumps out at us in glorious 3-D while the wide world outside the window remains in focus. Superimposed images, out-of-sync sound, and chilly philosophy juxtaposed with naked flesh—all of it embodies abstract ideas concretely, which is no mean feat. This is the sort of Potemkin-level technical innovation that later filmmakers will learn from for generations to come.
Too bad that this innovation is shackled to such a slog of a film. As a short-film experiment, it would be sublime; as a full-length feature it's laughable, brimming with self-indulgence and film-school affectations. It's an artifact in both senses of the word. It is an aesthetic object, but it is also a dull antiquity, a carefully crafted bit of inert clay.
Godard hasn't made a movie; he's made a museum installation, one of those looped films at which you pause for five minutes and stroke your chin before moving on. God help you if you get stuck in a dark room with such an installation for 70 minutes.