Midway through auteur Jean-Luc Godard’s first feature-length 3D film, Adieu au Langage (Farewell to Language), the unnamed lead couple argues in their room. As the woman walks away from the man, the scene divides, creating a visual rift: the woman now stands in your right eye’s field of vision, and the man stands in your left, but if you keep both eyes open, the two characters blur together. This simple yet mind-boggling split screen effect is one of the most discussed scenes in Godard’s new film, and it is one of the visual tricks that cements the 83-year-old Father of French New Wave’s reputation as an innovator of film.
The idea for the movie was born in 2010 with its title, Adieu au Langage, recalls Fabrice D’Aragno, Godard’s longtime collaborator, cinematographer, and a filmmaker in his own right. After first playing with 3D technology to create a short work called Les Trois Désastres for the anthology film, 3x3D, Godard wanted to push the medium even further by crafting from it a feature-length story. “We never set out to make something experimental,” says D’Aragno. “Cinema is the experiment. Every film is a new film.” There were a lot of rules already in place for how to use 3D technology in film, techniques that were dictated by Hollywood blockbusters at the time, adds D’Aragno, but for he and Godard, ever the iconoclasts, the fun and challenge was going against the grain of what was considered “good” 3D.
Slowly, a script began to materialize, and they found two small personal 3D cameras that Godard could carry around in his pocket. Over the next four years, Godard captured footage of Roxy, his dog who would become a prominent character in the film, frolicking by the lake and forest. Meanwhile, D’Aragno played with a range of cameras, color exposition techniques, and even cranes, and recorded test shots, small snippets, home videos wherever and whenever he could. While working on another movie in Ombria, Italy, D’Aragno spotted a field of sunflowers with their heads turned to the sun, the clouds forming a dramatic curtain in the sky. He filmed the scene, and added it to his bank of images that Godard could later cherry-pick from.
“Jean-Luc takes images like a cook that goes to the market to buy produce such as apples, legumes, tomatoes, or plums,” explains D’Aragno. “The cook or filmmaker stores all of these images in his fridge. And then he adds them together to create cinema.” Instead of worrying about deciphering the meaning of the film, he encourages audiences to experience it the same way they would absorb an opera, a painting, or a sculpture—as a feast for the senses.
The film pushes 3D technology beyond its boundaries to create a visually disorienting experience, and as is the case for most of Godard’s films, the end result features a montage of images that had never-before graced the big screen. The title’s bold red letters and white English subtitles jump out at you. The naked bodies of our two protagonists look tangible and malleable. The foreground and background are so dramatically pronounced, the viewer can peel back each visual layer: an iPhone creeps forward while the bookseller stand shrinks back, an old movie plays on television screen as the woman undresses in front, and a dog explores either a technicolor forest or the space that lies between its image and the background. In one scene, a paintbrush floating on one plane dabs at a palette of watercolors as a mysterious voice says, “We paint what we see. What’s difficult is to fit flatness into depth.”
“If it could be done in 2D, then it could stay in 2D. An expression or an emotion does not need 3D to be deep,” insists D’Aragno. 3D is just another tool, he adds. With it, he could compose a work in layers, juxtaposing one image atop multiple, or even create collages of sound. In Adieu au Langage, the soundscape also reveals depth and shallowness as voices overtake other voices, ambient noise interrupts conversation, and volumes rise and fall.
For all the analysis that goes into deconstructing Godard’s work, the creation process is actually simple. “In English, you say ‘shooting’ a film. Like ‘pow pow you’re killing someone.’ It’s not a good word. We like to say you ‘receive an image,’” explains D’Aragno. Godard relies on a childlike instinct to find and knit together images, he adds. The two and their tiny crew experiment with placing the camera in several location, adjust lights, shift around actors—and the final scene is the result of a magical formula of elements that only Godard, “the cook,” knows.
Find out more about Adieu au langage.