The gnarliest of the master's recent works, Jean-Luc Godard's Film Socialisme starts with a first half shot almost entirely on video, and provides a dense, visually ravishing metaphor for Western civilization: Europe is allegorized as a Mediterranean luxury cruise ship in which the casino doubles as a chapel and philosopher Alain Badiou lectures to an empty auditorium. Everyone is in the same boat, if not of the same class. While the passengers are almost all white, the help is mainly African or Asian. The phrase "Quo vadis Europa?" appears, asking not only where the continent might be going, but who is going there. After 40 minutes, Film Socialisme lands with a thud in the South of France. The second movement, edited more like a conventional narrative, has to do with the political conflict between a gas station's now-conservative owners and their more radical children. More generally, the point of this static, sound-driven episode seems to be that Europeans have ceded their role as historical subjects and become petrified in their own ruins. The movie's third section recapitulates the density of the first, providing something like an achronological 20-minute history of the West. Godard evokes the invention of democracy, the slave trade, and the Spanish Civil War, among other events, while providing his own idiosyncratic Baedeker. Could this gnomic, impacted film-object be the 80-year-old artist's last testament? As if anticipating the possibility, Godard signs off with the words "No comment."
Patti Smith as "La Chanteuse."
Runs at Northwest Film Forum, Fri., Aug. 5–Thurs., Aug. 11. Not rated. 101 minutes.