France's Godard at 83 screens a 3D 'Adieu' at Cannes


Posted at May 22 2014 07:00 AM | Updated as of May 22 2014 03:00 PM

Octogenarian French filmmaker Jean-Luc Godard sent a film full of 3D images that looked like moving paintings to say what may have been "adieu" to the Cannes film festival on Wednesday, while staying away himself.

It was hard to make much of "Adieu au Langage" (Goodbye to Language), except to say it features a man and a married woman having an affair, a stray dog and gangsters in a Mercedes who threaten to shoot people in a town on the shore of Lake Geneva.

The film quoted from writings of painters and philosophers and contained shimmering images of water, trees and flowers.

It also punned on the French word "adieu", using it to mean "goodbye", "to God" and "oh God". That suggested - though no one said so officially - that Godard, the onetime enfant terrible of French film who was a founder of New Wave cinema with his 1960 film "Breathless", might be waving goodbye.

In a video message to festival director Thierry Fremaux, Godard explained his absence from the red carpet, saying: "Dear old friend, once again thank you for inviting me to climb your 24 majestic steps, slightly lost in the herd."

His words were accompanied by images of a herd of cattle.

"Adieu au Langage" was the second French film to be shown on the eighth day of the 12-day festival, the other being "The Search", set in Chechnya and directed by Michel Hazanavicius, an Oscar winner for "The Artist".

But fans of the Hollywood fairy tale will be in for a shock with Hazanavicius's latest.

"Welcome to this big shit-hole - Chechnya," are the movie's opening words, uttered by a Russian soldier videotaping scenes of burnt-out buildings, dead livestock and, later, the murder of villagers in a war seen by some as Russia's Vietnam.

Chechnya fought a war in 1994-96 to shake off Russian rule, but was brought back under Moscow's control by then-prime minister Vladimir Putin in another war in 1999-2000.

Human beings in war

Hazanavicius cuts between two story lines to portray the war and the lives torn apart by it. In the main one, 9-year-old Hadji - played by Abdul-Khalim Mamatsuiev - flees his destroyed, abandoned village, his baby brother in tow, after his parents are killed by Russian soldiers.

He is discovered outside a refugee centre by Carole (Berenice Bejo), a European Union human rights worker documenting abuses and struggling to galvanise public outrage to spur a strong response to the war from the West.

In the second strand, 19-year-old Kolia (Maxim Emelianov) is arrested for smoking pot and forced into the Russian army. He is seen going through a stomach-turning training process designed to prepare him psychologically to see Chechens as "terrorists".

When he reaches the front, he loses no time in killing his first two "terrorists" - an old man and a boy.

"I think everyone knows the Russian army massacred hordes of people in Chechnya. It's a historical fact," Hazanavicius told journalists and critics at a press conference.

"The film is a political one but I've tried to ensure it doesn't take sides, ultimately," the director said, adding that his interest was in showing "human beings subjected to war".

"I've tried to focus on the human angle because that's what interests me."

While the movie finds its emotional centre in Hadji, the screenplay stumbles with its heavy-handed reproach of the West's hands-off approach, expressed by Carole in lines such as: "I'm sick of your indifference while people are dying."

"Bejo's considerable talent is squandered by treacly dialogue," wrote the movie site Indiewire. The Guardian cited "sincerity and commitment, and an earnest rejection of the horror of war" but criticised "sentimentality is at its core".

Canadian director Xavier Dolan's "Mommy" was due to be shown in the evening, the 14th film to be shown of the 18 in competition for the Palme d'Or, the festival's top prize, which will be awarded on Saturday.