The day Jean-Luc Godard explained the "joke" of his most famous quote


Peter Howell

Movie Critic


Jean-Luc Godard left planet Earth this past week at the age of 91.


In many ways, the iconoclastic filmmaker and lion of the French New Wave had long ago burst the bounds of gravity. Such as during the Cannes Film Festival in May, 2018 when he held a press conference for his newest (and now final) film "The Image Book," which defies all description. It's a visual essay about life as he saw it.


The presser for the "The Image Book" drew many journalists, yours truly among them, but not Monsieur Godard in the flesh. He agreed to speak with us from his home in Switzerland, via iPhone (and FaceTime). We were all more than happy to oblige him.


When it was my turn to quiz him, I asked Godard whether he still subscribes to his famous 1960s maxim that “a film should have a beginning, middle and end, but not necessarily in that order.”


Godard’s answer was as thoughtfully obscure as you’d expect.


He said the statement was “a joke” designed to “go against (Steven) Spielberg and others, who said there has to be a story with a beginning, a middle and an end.


“Of course, I didn’t make this a real battle horse, but once I drew a parallel, which wasn’t very successful. It was an equation (and) a child in primary school can easily understand that equation: if X + 3 = 1 then X = -2. And when you produce an image, be it of the past, the present or the future, you have to do away with two images each time to find one really good one. It’s like the equation. That’s the key to the cinema, to a good film. But when you say it’s the key, you shouldn’t forget the lock as well.”


This makes about as much literal sense as "The Image Book," which premiered at Cannes and won Godard the festival's first ever Special Palme d'Or. The film’s rush of images combine to produce a surreal visual symphony.


Movie clips, newsreels and his trademark slogans are in this raging montage, making him more editor than director this time, but all the more potent. Clips from famous films and newsreels, which Godard bleached and digitally altered, compete for the frantic attention of the eye and mind.


"The Image Book" offers some Godardian life advice, too.


Here’s some of it: “Tell lies” … “Everything is possible” … “Shut up, Cassandra!” 🌓


(Originally published in the Toronto Star.)


Twitter: @peterhowellfilm

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