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With: Jean-Luc Godard (narrator)
Written by: Jean-Luc Godard
Directed by: Jean-Luc Godard
MPAA Rating: NR
Language: French, English, Arabic, Italian, German, with English subtitles
Running Time: 84
Date: 03/01/2019

The Image Book (2019)

4 Stars (out of 4)

Getting the Picture

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Any new movie by Jean-Luc Godard, a cinema legend who is now 88, is an event for die-hard cinephiles, and a matter of puzzlement for many others. Movie lovers that are aware of Godard's legendary output from 1960 to 1967, with masterworks like Breathless, Vivre sa vie, Contempt, Band of Outsiders, and Week End, but who have not seen anything since, will find their heads spinning at Godard's current, grumpy state, a buzzing pinwheel of juxtaposed images and sounds, butting heads with one another.

The new movie The Image Book is a true experimental work, nearly impenetrable, even for longtime Godard watchers, but hugely startling, challenging, and mesmerizing, perhaps even a masterpiece. It's difficult to say what it's about, but reports indicate that some scenes were shot in Tunisia, and that the movie is supposed to have something to do with "the Arab world." Suffice to say that Godard is probably upset about something, perhaps the human condition in general.

It features plenty of images of hands and of trains, many clips of the movies that Godard loved when he was a critic at Cahiers du Cinema, and chapter headings like "Remakes." Images are artificially saturated, blurred, blown out, the colors and balance cranked all the way up, and aspect ratios snap back and forth between regular and stretched out. Sometimes there are subtitles for the various languages, and sometimes not, and more often than not, the sound deliberately does not match the image; they rub against each other, creating cinematic friction.

I'm sure that Godard didn't choose the title by accident, and I was watching thinking about those two words, "image" and "book." I was unable to make much of a connection, but it at least got me to think in ways that most other movies do not. I was also thinking about time, the moments that pass when one is watching a movie or reading a book, about how things that we absorbed near the beginning are quite different by the end. Godard saw fit to make The Image Book 84 minutes long, and, with ideas and images flying at us at a great rate, I pondered the concept of piecing together early images and late images, but again, it remained only a concept. There are no answers.

In the end, I stuck by something I realized years ago: watching a Godard movie is like watching a Shakespeare play, especially if you're not in the habit of doing either one very frequently. Just relax and realize that some, or many, things are going to fly over your head, but if you stay put and keep an open mind, you're sure to absorb at least a few things, and that's good enough. In the end, Godard is back, and The Image Book is a must-see for anyone for whom cinema is important.

Note: I spotted clips from these: Die Nibelungen, The Last Laugh, The General, Un Chien Andalou, People on Sunday, Freaks, L'Atalante, Young Mr. Lincoln, Notorious, Johnny Guitar, La Strada, Vertigo, Jaws, Salo, Elephant, and several of Godard's own films, but I know I missed quite a few more.

Kino Lorber's DVD and Blu-ray release isn't exactly the kind of thing that shows off a home theater system, but it's a must-see anyway. Bonuses include a 30-minute interview with producer and DP Fabrice Aragno, a conversation with researcher/critic Nicole Brenez at the 2019 International Film Festival Rotterdam (94 minutes), trailers, and a helpful liner notes essay by James Quandt, who points out the film's penchant for endings.

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