BBC - Mark Kermode's film blog

« Previous | Main | Next »

French Lesson

Post categories:

Mark Kermode | 11:47 UK time, Tuesday, 1 June 2010

Ah Cannes, so long ago now and yet a gaggle of Godardians were most distrait following my review of Jean Luc's latest addition to his oeuvre, the unmitigated disaster that is Film Socialisme, but with due respect for your views, allow me to explain myself.

In order to see this content you need to have both Javascript enabled and Flash installed. Visit BBC Webwise for full instructions. If you're reading via RSS, you'll need to visit the blog to access this content.


  • Comment number 1.

    I know that this is totally unrelated to the video above but there is no section on here for miscellanious questions. Anyway i know how much a fan of The Devils you are and so am i, to my endless frustration and constant contacting Warner Bros nothing ever seems to be happening with a release for this classic. Will this be unavailable forever, cmon Warner's its neraly 40 years since this was originally released! Mark what can we do about this, its just unaceptable for this to continue, help please?

  • Comment number 2.

    Hahaha! :D I now imagine Jean-Luc Godard actually running the USS ENTERPRISE. In black and white. "Beam me up, Belmondo!"

    ...Best gag ever. Although it makes me slightly worried that I actually got it.

  • Comment number 3.

    As a fan of early Godard I am disappointed to hear that his rectal circle (in development for well over a decade) is now complete and all future work will be distributed from the studio up his anus. I hope this doesn't get a UK distribution quite frankly, my fond memories of Alphaville and Une Femme Est Une Femme might be forever tarnished. I don't care who you are, not putting subtitles on a foreign work is an act of staggering self-importance. It's like the New Wave never happened. Godard, if you have nothing interesting to say, say nothing at all. Fin.

  • Comment number 4.

    I know it's sarcasm but DON'T APOLOGISE! Stand your ground. If you believe it's a piece of trash then by all means stamp it into the ground and don't let these sniveling apologists tell you what to think.

  • Comment number 5.

    English is the Language of america and thus the language of imperialism? That's like saying Latin is the language of Catholisism and thus the language of abuse. Completely ridiculous.

    In My opinion, your arguments against Film socialisme and for subtitles was far more reasoned than your detractors. Reason usually trumps stupidity in the end.

  • Comment number 6.

    Incidentally, are all the English language films shown with french subtitles? I assume they are but I can understand Mr Goddard being a bit miffed if not.

  • Comment number 7.

    Who cares about Goddard! There are far more interesting films around the world that are far better than the entire back catalogue of Goddard's borefests which no longer stand the test of time, or relevant compared to other directors around the world such as Kurosawa, Herzog, Bergman, and Friedkin. ;-)

  • Comment number 8.

    "Someone like Jean-Luc Godard is for me intellectual counterfeit money when compared to a good Kung Fu film."-- Werner Herzog

  • Comment number 9.

    I was against him on the Audrey Tautou witchhunt, but this IS ridiculous.

    What is that guy's problem? Kermode's not arguing for every print of the Goddard film to be plastered in English subtitles - even where people don't speak English. That would be imperialism. (And anyone who thinks Kermode is an imperialist should look toward his wrath against Sex and the City 2.) No, just for the ones where a whole bunch of people speak English, thanks.

    Adjust the request appropriately, Goddard. For Germany add German subtitles, for Italy add Italian subtitles, and if a whole bunch of British and American film critics are going to a film festival then have an English subtitled screening of it. And even if you could understand it, what's with the random word generator? 'SALMON' 'DUCT TAPE' 'INSOLENCE'. Do I get a prize if I name more than 15? Cuddly toy! Cuddly!

    God, this is why I hate abstract art including art films. They're not like a well crafted sculpture. They're completely arbitrary and formless. If Andrew Graham-Dixon liked films, this is what they'd look like.

  • Comment number 10.

    The problem in translating literature is an old one; from intellectuals like Kant to fictions such as Don Quixote, the question arises of how to properly to get across such genius in English.

    The difference with cinema is, well simply put the dialogue is but one part of a whole work. The visual style, score and editing are, to name but a few aspects, just as important as dialogue. It seems arbritrary at best to pick the dialogue and say.....this is beyond translation, or that this alone is a statement of intent. For the film to be a cohesive vision such a statement of intent should be inbedded in the entire aspect of film not addressed by one aspect.

    Interestly, i wonder if there will be a audio descriptive option on the dvd?

  • Comment number 11.

    again i totally agree with the doctor. i can speak french, but cannot speak spanish or japinease and if i was to see a japinease film in the same context of how jean luc's was shown, i wud be equally fustrated. subtitles are def yes when it comes to foreign films. im sure that people that cannot speak more than on language wud be jst as fustrated if subtitles where not put on films not of their language. its jst good manners!

  • Comment number 12.

    I was in the same screening of the film as you Mr Kermode and I have to say I agree entirely with everything you have said about it. I was actually so angry with it, and some of the critics sitting near me(who I could tell were pretending they thought it was a masterpiece) that I stormed out with only about 10 mins remaining. I had half a mind to make a Kermode-esque outburst on the way out but resisted the temptation.

    Here's my write-up of the experience

    It was my first time in Cannes and overall I have mixed feelings about the festival. I thought that there were very few, very good films and no absolute classics. I wasn't a fan of the Palme d'Or winner. The best films by far in the main competition were the Korean film Poetry and Mike Leigh's Another Year.
    Also, like you, I am slightly disillusioned by the glamour and celebrity side of Cannes. I was naive in thinking that the actual FILMS at a film festival were the most important thing. At Cannes, that doesn't seem to be case.
    I'm still going to raid my savings to attend again next year though.

  • Comment number 13.

    I wonder if the movie would still be 'totally pretentious piffle of the highest order' if it was subtitled accordingly...I have a feeling it might be!
    Dr K you are fully entitled to your opinion and you should absolutely stick to your guns and not apologise!
    Did I notice the word Pompadour appear close to your hairdo? - an appropriate description...and did the word zephyr appear when you mentioned 'erwin h' - also appropriate - a light westerly wind(bag)!
    Your french accent rather reminded me of the french policeman from 'Allo 'Allo :D

    Frankly I think the way that people reacted to your review was far more OTT than anything you said about a movie that was clearly beyond the pale in it's pretentiousness.

  • Comment number 14.

    My mistake, it was Zephir - a reference to Barbar the Elephant perhaps?

  • Comment number 15.

    I tend to cringe at the Dr's regression into quackery when his diagnosis is laden with puerile terms like "Euro-twaddle", but for contemporary Godard I have to make an exception. The ridicule is justified.

  • Comment number 16.

    I still think the general comments from people like Mark Cousins, Jonathan Rosenbaum and Peter Bradshaw - who have each called Film Socialism one of the best or even the most interesting films of the (last?) decade - pretty much buries ANYTHING Dr. K has to say on the matter.

    Granted, Cousins, Rosenbaum et al have never voiced their criticisms through chalkboard diagrams or ten-years too late "Adam and Joe" style knock-offs, but you know, some days you just want to watch a grumpy old rockabilly talk smack in a terrible French accent, and other days you might want to read a 2000 word dissertation that actually has something to say. The fact that the Internet provides both is part of what makes it so great!

    Anyway Mark, when you've finished with the ranting/raving/blatant attempts at provocation, how about a season dedicated to the directors you DO like. I'd love to see some further posts regarding the work of Philip Ridley and Andrzej Żuławski, or maybe you could offer a broader look at the car-crash career of your number one guy William Friedkin, particularly lesser-known works like Rampage, The Guardian, Rules of Engagement and The Hunted?

    I think this is the least you could do, given that you didn't respond to any of my clearly astute and very even-handed commentary regarding what I consider to be the greatness of J.L. Godard's work, post 1980. Obviously you picked out the most outrageous comments, which is understandable, but rather limited in terms of promoting a wider discussion.

  • Comment number 17.

    Reconnaitre nos films Alien commentaires!

  • Comment number 18.

    Apology accepted. Now here's a thing to ponder - what was the point of writing anything about the film beyond "it's in French, no subtitles, so I didn't understand it"?

  • Comment number 19.

    Mark, any Godard films you actually like?

  • Comment number 20.

    Godard is at that level of deity among film critics where there are certain critics (Peter Bradshaw is a prime example) that would no more criticise a Godard picture than eat their own excrement. It's the "smart people would get this" school of reviewing.

    The Guardian's Jason Solomon in his Cannes round up said that Godard had "...retooled the visula language of cinema again" and then offered this description of a scene as an example

    "At one point, a girl at a petrol station refuses "to talk to anyone who uses the verb to be". Then a llama appears behind her."

    Now I defy anyone reading that two line description to not feel somewhere deep in their soul that maybe Godard has turned off New Wave Road and on to Pretentiousness Boulevard on this one.

  • Comment number 21.

    "You have enemies? Good. That means you've stood up for something, sometime in your life.” - Winston Churchill

  • Comment number 22.

    @16: So, because Dr. K didn't happen to mention "[your] clearly (sic) astute and very even-handed commentary", you don't think his response had any rhetorical merit? Ego much?

  • Comment number 23.

    Dear good Dr,

    Thank you for your "oh-so-true" review on Godards's latest film. It is dreadful ! (as most of his work for the past 30 years, unfortunately...)

    One thing : when you mention Godard, don't say he's French ! for he's French & Swiss (and he's been living in Switzerland for decades)... You see, I'm French, and it's sometimes difficult for me to carry that burden : let me share it with the Swiss...

    Thanx for your reviews and your enthusiasm.
    Long live the Skiffle !

  • Comment number 24.

    Godard feels that English is the language of political and cultural imperialism... okay fine, but what is he telling us or provoking us into with the lack of subtitles? Does he just hate the English language so much that he wants anybody who speaks it to be discluded from watching his film? Does he want us all to learn to speak French? Or does he just want to confuse and irritate the Western half of the world so he can give himself a smug pat on the back for assumed superiority?

    Film Socialisme... the whole thing sounds like a waste of time on everybody's part, including Godard's for making it.

    Though oddly, the comment I found the most bothersome out of the ones you chose to read was the jab at The Exorcist. First of all because it's not a real arguement, it's just that whole childish game of "Yeah, well you like _______ so you're dumb!" that people resort to when they can't find anything more constructive to say. Second of all and more to the point, where did this whole idea that serious adult cinema means subtitled art house pieces come from? I wouldn't dare bring it up but it is an issue I have run up against so many times and it never fails to baffle me, where people who consider themselves "real" cinema appreciators refuse to deal with genre because they consider it too lowbrow. If The Exorcist isn't a serious film for adults then what is it exactly?

    With that all out of the way... Dr. Kermode, that is one of THE coolest T-shirts ever. I kept getting distracted by it while watching your blog. It's great. Where in the world did you find that?

    Oh, and seconding #19's post, can you share with us your overall opinion of Godard's work?

  • Comment number 25.

    @Marge: isn't a Zephir a kind of guitar as well? Or is that also spelled Zephyr.

  • Comment number 26.

    @22: If you didn't detect the light hearted, near-tongue-in-cheek tone of my original post then I obviously didn't do a very good job of expressing myself. I did consider putting "astute" in quotes, but in the end decided that it would be patronising, and would simply draw even more attention to the phrasing, which was intended to be as blatantly provocative as these recent Kermode vs. Godard opinion pieces.

    Anyway, the point still stands and it has absolutely nothing to do with ego. I just think it's incredibly cheap, not to mention somewhat cowardly, to dismiss several posts from people who attempted to appeal for some sort of balance to the discussion, expressing what they considered to be the real motivating factors behind Godard's work (which, contra to the oft -parroted assumptions of armchair critics, didn't stop dead in 1967, and in fact progressed quite naturally, as you can see from a side-by-side comparison of something like 2 or 3 Things I Know About Her and The Kids Play Russian) and what a potential audience might see in them, to instead focus on the more vitriolic commentators basically saying "if u don't get Godard, u r a moron!".

    I think the expression 'shooting at fish in a barrel' would be appropriate here.

    Kermode could have used this space to clarify his position, to establish why the film doesn't work (for him) or what exactly is so pretentious about it (funny how people who use this as a putdown can never actually articulate what in the film is so pretentious to begin with). Is it just Godard that he has a problem with, or is he similarly opposed to other filmmakers who operate on the same level, such as Anges Varda, Pedro Costa and Jean-Marie Straub (who, for the last fifty years, has largely refused to have his films distributed with subtitles, because he feels an audience should learn the language the film is presented in).

    Instead, it's yet more of the "I'm right and everyone else is wrong" pontificating with the silly French accent, which is fine, if Doctor Kermode is content with being the Lily Allen of film criticism.

    (And, just to clarify, I was dead serious in wanting future posts on Ridley, Friedkin and Żuławski).

  • Comment number 27.

    Obviously I'm in no position to judge the film having not seen it, but I certainly think you're right to be angry over the subtitling problem.

    Still I urge you don't judge all of us Godardians badly based on those few furious fanboys with their ad hominems and general nastiness. Though I haven't watched much Godard I have thouroughly enjoyed the films of his I have seen and would happily call Breathless and Vivre sa vie masterpieces, and not out of any intellectual snobbery (heck, Godard actually mocks an intellectual type in one scene in Breathless) but instead because I love how airy and souffle like they can be one moment and then the next moment there's a moment that is moving and feels so sincere (regardless of whether it is sincere or not), because I love their spontaneity - they're so alive - and because of their intimacy. The messiness is part of the beauty for me (though I have yet to see any of his more recent stuff).

    So please don't assume (as I hope you're not assuming, but I just want to be sure) that just because a few Godard fans start throwing around insults that somehow makes all Godard fans pretentious. Because I'd like to think that is not the case :)


  • Comment number 28.

    I find it very bizarre how people are reviewing/sticking up for a film they haven't seen. Kermode has however. A film should never be reviewed on the preconceptions the viewer has prior to watching it. There are great directors who make stinkers, and terrible directors who occasionally make excellent film. To judge films on previous expectations is a mindset worse than anything else.

    Many critics have enjoyed the film, but Kermode didn't. The one thing which they have above any of the opinions of those who detracted Kermode is that they did actually see the film. Most of the detractors haven't and carried on to defend a novel they never read...

  • Comment number 29.

    I know it is sarcasm but Dr.K doesn't need to apologize for being rational.
    Imagine all the magnificent films we wouldn't be able to watch simply because there were no subtitles...and of course dubbing is no better solution in any way.
    Things are extremely simple:Non English films need subtitles and whoever says otherwise shouldn't be taken seriously

  • Comment number 30.

    I have to agree with the comments made by Jaspar, I feel a tad unsatisfied. Like, I'm sure I'd probably agree with Dr K's review of Godard's latest I just didn't like how, at the time, he seemed so happy that one of cinema's most important figures had delivered such an apparent failure.

    To be fair I hadn't taken into account that he'd spent several hours suffering the rubbish, although to be honest that's hardly suffering, especially if it is one's job.

    But back to the point, I was hoping for a good response and instead Dr K just took the piss out of subtitling issue (although I get it, it's a big issue) and then took some of the more ridiculous and radical comments, which just seemed a bit cheap and easy.

    What about the people that made well balanced comments, and what about talking more about your feelings towards Godard's entire body of work and his role in cinema, because I'm interested and I'm sure Dr K has some really interesting and thoughtful opinions on the the topics.

    I know it's just a blog and not a place for long reviews or essays, but this blog has always shown its a lot more than a forum for cheap and ephemeral pot-shot humour.

  • Comment number 31.

    Jaspar - Isn't it slightly unreasonable of that director that you mentioned to refuse to subtitle his films because he "feels an audience should learn the language the film is presented in"? Considering there are several thousand languages in the world, and it takes years to master a language to the level required to fully appreciate all the nuanced dialogue in a film script, aren't the filmmakers practicing a far more blatant level of cultural imperialism by insisting people learn THEIR language before enjoying THEIR film?

    At best, he's creating a pointless cultural apartheid, and severely limiting his audience, which might explain why I've never heard of him.

    If people want to self-importantly withdraw from international markets then good luck to them. If they want to continue cutting the world into little mutually exclusive sections then they are free to do that, safe in the knowledge that they are contributing absolutely nothing to cross-cultural understanding or awareness.

  • Comment number 32.

    I should point out that when I said "I've never heard of him" in the comment above I was referring to Jean-Marie Straub and not to Godard.

  • Comment number 33.

    Some excellent, balanced points made in the above comments.

    I have, however, decided that this film suffers from a notable lack of zombies.

  • Comment number 34.

    @ Jaspar & Matthew Highmoor
    Surely you are both missing the point here...The good Doctor was unable to give this movie a full critical review due to Godard's lack of subtitling. He could only review it to the extent that he understood it, which was extremely limited by the lack of translation...and frankly it is ignorant to exclude an enormous section of the audience, who through no fault of their own never learned to speak French!!!
    You are all forgetting that this is a review of "one" movie and not a sweeping statement about Godard's entire catalogue.

    @Chad Secksington The following says it all to me...thanks for posting it:
    "At one point, a girl at a petrol station refuses "to talk to anyone who uses the verb to be". Then a llama appears behind her."

    What can you say about that? a scene from the Mighty Boosh! A parody of a parody of an art installation piece :D

    @Amber I don't know, it may be a guitar???

  • Comment number 35.

    I find it slightly strange that The Good Doctor is criticised for being an art house snob, but now is apparently not enough of an art house snob.

  • Comment number 36.

    Yeah I can see how I might have given the impression that I was looking for a review, but that simply wasn't the case. I wanted a bit more on Godard in general, maybe if there were films of his that he likes, how he feels about other esteemed critics' opinion of him and his earlier work, etc, etc.

  • Comment number 37.

    All this talk about subtitles makes me think of a time when films truly could be international; the age of silent movies, before the introduction of sound. Back then, all distributors had to do was change the odd title card and films could pretty much be screened anywhere. Hitchcock mentions in the Truffaut book that in the early days of cinema, if a shoot didn't turn out as expected, during post-production you could almost literally make a drama into a comedy, or vice versa. Personally, I think a mark of a good narrative film is that you should be able to tell roughly what's going on without being able to hear the dialogue on the screen.

  • Comment number 38.

    I am reminded of the scene in Futurama where the Professor invents a universal translater, but deems it useless as it only translates words into a 'long forgotten dead language' (ie. French)

  • Comment number 39.

    Je suis entièrement d'accord avec
    Marc. Les doublages sont encore pire que les sous titres. Pour ce qui est de la New Wave française, rien ne bat Hiroshima mon amour. Et pour ce qui est de Godard, Il n'a rien fait depuis 30 ans. Un intellectuel sans substance, l'opposé du bon docteur. A bon entendeur Salut

  • Comment number 40.

    I was going to respond, but then Markheshark @31 did it for me...

  • Comment number 41.

    This may have been answered already and I just missed it, but does anybody know if all of the languages Godard's film was playing to at Cannes were subtitled similar or if it was just the English ones?

  • Comment number 42.

    @Chad Secksington

    "At one point, a girl at a petrol station refuses "to talk to anyone who uses the verb to be". Then a llama appears behind her."

    I would assume (with some familiarity with Godard as a filmmaker) that the scene in question is intended to be funny. Everyone has the image of Godard as a stuffy old intellectual, who makes SERIOUS films that need to be pondered over with a glass of red wine and copies of Balzac's La Comédie humaine, but if you read any serious criticism of Godard's films from the people who really get them and appreciate them, almost all of them discuss Godard's incredible sense of humour. His puns in particular are often laugh loud funny, often for how wilfully silly they are. You should also look at some of his one-liners too; they're as funny as anything by Groucho Marx.

  • Comment number 43.

    @ Marktheshark/MargeGunderson

    I don't really want to go too off-topic here, I was just using Jean-Marie Straub to illustrate that there are filmmakers in the world with far more extreme ideas about how their work should be distributed than Godard. After all, Godard has released over 70 films in the last 50 years and all of them have been given adequate subtitle translations until now, so let's cut him some slack on this one, and maybe question why he felt it necessary to limit the subtitles to only two or three phrases in the film in question.

    I would speculate that part of his issue, in this case at least, is that subtitles don't always give an accurate translation of what is being communicated. They are Anglicised versions of something that is being conveyed through a much more complicated language than our own; where the emphasis is often changed to such an extent for the purposes of translation that any nuance in the dialogue is completely lost. By reducing the subtitles to a select few "keywords", I don't think Godard is attempting to create some elitist barrier between those that speak French and those that don't, but instead making the exchange of information much more direct.

    For example, if you take a quote like "J'attaquerai aussi le soleil si un jour il m'attaquerait", is there any real difference if the translation reads "I'll attack the sun too if one day it attacks me" - which reads completely differently to someone in English than it would to someone in French - or if it simply says: "I... Fight... Back"

    I would suspect this is why critics from other parts of the world who attended the same screening of the film have seen the subtitling decision as a very novel and interesting way of communicating information to as many people as possible; whereas the English and American critics have mostly reacted with vitriol at the suggestion that "Navajo English" (or whatever they're calling it) is somehow richer and more expressive than the language we use every day.

    As an example, imagine how much time Dr. K could have saved himself if he'd simply said: "Godard bad. Subtitles good" He would still be saying exactly the same thing as he stated in this particular post, but as a result of the simplification, everyone, no matter how slight their grasp of the English language, would fully comprehend what was being said.

  • Comment number 44.

    Firstly, it's a little disingenuous to refer to one language as more "complicated" than another.

    Secondly, you're right. It is impossible to retain all the meaning and nuance of a work after translation, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't try to communicate as much of the original meaning as possible. Would it be reasonable to put out a translation of a novel with simple five word summations of each paragraph instead of an actual, readable text?

    In the example you gave, the literal translation doesn't have the same meaning in English as in the original French. Fine. But I was under the impression that in that situation the subtitlers would find a similar expression in the target language that would have the same meaning, rather than using literally translated words. Subtitling can be as much an art as scriptwriting, if done properly.

    Also, this shouldn't be a debate between English and French. What will happen when this film is released in other international territories? In Japan, are they going to subtitle it with a couple of Kanji per line? How many of the Japanese audience would sit through a film where they are essentially being prevented from understanding the dialogue?

    Finally, even if this decision was made for purposes of understanding, rather than snobbery, it doesn't seem to be an effective method of communicating. Isn't it better to communicate the majority of meaning in a film than to only communicate the bare essentials?

  • Comment number 45.

    Mark, love the t-shirt!

  • Comment number 46.

    Salut mec!

    So, as you say, you don't speak French.

    What was it that you told us you got thrown out of Cannes for, that one time? Qu'est-ce que vous avez crie devant l'ecran et en quel langue, hein? Pardon si mon francais n'est pas parfait mais je ne le parle pas non plus.

    And you "didn't learn French at school"(?). Well what kind of school was it that you went to? Only learned Latin and Greek, did we?

    I see that your school does indeed offer French (I think it's pretty much compulsory at most schools and even most junior schools offered it at the time you were going through school). So what did you learn instead, then? HABS boasts how many people they get into Oxbridge and at the time you were there you would have needed at least one modern language GCE O-level to matriculate to Oxford or Cambridge so it makes sense that modern languages would have been on the curriculum and not an option for the young Mark Fairey.

    In the course of my brief research I also wandered onto the HABS notable alumni section at Wikipedia to find that unlike Baron Cohen, Isaacs, Lucas, Sewell, Wicker, Schama et al., you had been overlooked (although they did include the guy that was a contestant on Big Brother). Perhaps the name change foxed them.

  • Comment number 47.

    @44: Once again I was about to reply to Jaspar and you beat me to the punch with a perfect response! - get out of my head! :-)

  • Comment number 48.

    @46. What exactly is your point Antimode? Is it not perfectly possible that Mark (much like myself) may have done another modern foreign language like, say, German or Spanish? Are you accusing him of attempting to falsely denigrate his own education in a some odd bid to give greater creedence to his argument that the film suffered for a lack of English subtitling? In which case, his argument would still be valid, whether he had a Master's in french or struggled with "Pret-a-Manger"... If not, what motivation do you have?

  • Comment number 49.

    Oh Dear...I fear that this discussion may go on for some time. The Good Doctor has opened a Pandora's Box, unleashed the Kraken!

    Better get a new Blog entry up here post haste Dr K...
    How about a discussion on the nature of violence in movies?
    Quite topical with the release of Winterbottom's "The Killer Inside Me"

  • Comment number 50.

    @48. I am trying to keep him honest

    My point is that Mark picked up enough confidence in French to shout obscenities in public at a previous Cannes festival. Would he have us believe he just picked up street argot on the Croisette?
    Clearly the statements

    1. "I don't speak French"
    2. "I wasn't taught French at school"
    3. "I never learnt French"
    4. "I don't understand French"

    don't seem to jibe with the aforementioned behaviour nor the frequent attempts to translate French to English or English to French on Mayo's show.

    On the other hand, if we take him at his word, how can he claim that Godard's film was the worst film at Cannes (and he says this with full force and confidence), if he couldn't understand it?


  • Comment number 51.

    @50: I guess so... I would say in Dr.K's defense that the four statements made above are still consistent with knowing a little basic french vocabularly; jings, I could probably rhyme of a few choice words if goaded sufficiently to do so! :-)

    As for your second point "How can he claim that Goddard's film was the word film at Cannes...if he couldn't understand it", well, perhaps you've answered your own question. I guess he felt that if the director couldn't make the effort to provide a properly subtitled version of his film, then the director is treating the international audience with contempt and thus the film fails by default.

    On the other hand, Cannes is in France, so perhaps omitting English subtitles isn't such an unreasonable proposition. Will all English-language films being shown at the Edinburgh International Film Festival this month be subtitled for the benefit of francophone critics?

  • Comment number 52.

    @49: "Violence in Cinema"... again? *sigh*...

    How about "reality vs. cartoony, unrealistic cgi" (as this famous viral critique discusses at length).

  • Comment number 53.

    Here is Article six from the regulations for submitting films to the festival.

    Article 6
    All films must be presented in their original language, with French subtitles. By "original language" is meant the one in which a film is or will be exhibited in its country of origin.

    It is for the Board of Directors to decide whether or not a film that does not exactly meet this criterion may participate in the Festival.

    French films must be subtitled in English on the print. All subtitling expenses are to be met by the film's producer. Moreover, all films with dialogues in a language different from English or French will be electronically subtitled in English. The screening of those subtitles will be operated by the Festival service provider.

    So it seems discretion was given by the Board of Directors to allow Godard's film in the "Un Certain Regard" category of the festival. Perhaps the funny "gnomic" French subtitles were just a grudging compliance with the festival rules. Frankly, Godard sounds like a bit of a git.

    I notice that for the Montreal film festival (probably the only place more militantly francophone than France), you don't have to subtitle a film that is in French.

  • Comment number 54.

    Actually listening to and understanding a full dialogue in another language is on a whole different level than casual understanding of it. I took French for four years in school but still have to turn the subtitles on every time I watch Jules and Jim and I wouldn't dare attempt to engage anybody in conversation with it. I've already lost quite a bit of the vocabulary over the last few years just out of neglect of use and considering Kermode is about twenty years older than I am, I myself would be giving him the benefit of the doubt that, even if he took a few French courses once, he just did not understand the film.

    Possibly he did learn a bit of the language in school - nobody here knows apparently - but that point doesn't make the subtitles any less useless for the rest of the world, including the people he reviews to. Is this REALLY something worth arguing over?

    @49: "Oh Dear...I fear that this discussion may go on for some time. The Good Doctor has opened a Pandora's Box, unleashed the Kraken!"

    Don't worry, if this is anything like Clash of the Titans the Kraken will be defeated in under three minutes anyway.

  • Comment number 55.


    I suppose its all speculation until the film goes on general release. The UK distribution rights have been purchased by New Wave Films - who covered the cinema release of the last Jia Zhangke movie and the DVD release of the Kermode-Uncut favourite 'Helen' from last year - but there's been no official word on how they plan to promote it.

    I haven't read anything about International releases, so again, there's no guarantee that these subtitles are even intended to be definitive, or if their inclusion at the Cannes press screening was done simply to make a statement or incite debate. It wouldn't surprise me either way, especially given the numerous complaints from Godard in recent interviews that he was entirely against the idea of having the film shown at Cannes - let alone entered into competition - but was contractually obligated by his producers in order to guarantee sales. That, combined with his very obvious press conference no-show (which seemed to annoy the English-speaking critics just as much as the subtitling debate), could be seen as a successful way for a 79 year old to self-sabotage the film/voice their disapproval against their producers or the festival organisers, without engaging in anything more strenuous.

    Again, it's all speculation at this point - I certainly can't speak for Godard - but it really wouldn't surprise me if the eventual DVD edition contained the controversial "Navajo-English" subtitles alongside ones in a more conventional "standard-English".

    Anyway, this discussion has developed into something much broader and more complicated than what I'd originally intended to be a quick, irreverent complaint regarding Dr. K's deliberate handpicking of the most churlish and "trollish" of the pro-Godard posts (as opposed to the more reasoned ones... see @30), thus giving the implication that his position had only been challenged by the stereotypical "elitist" Euro-snob.

  • Comment number 56.

    Since we're all debating about the arrogance of Godard for not providing 'proper' English subtitles for Film Socialisme, I thought it might be worth making a few points that seem to have been completely overlooked (on this page at least, although Dr. K did refer to them in his original review):

    1) Film Socialisme is NOT wholly in French, but - particularly the scenes set on an international cruise liner - is actually told in numerous languages.

    2) Some English titles are actually provided, albeit in what Godard calls 'Navajo English' (ie. a rudimentary, fragmentary language in which only key words appear).

    3) In many ways, the film is wholly intended to be about the inherent weakness in human communication when it is restricted only to verbal or written languages which, by definition, can never be understood by everyone. [I can't - for the life of me - find the quote now, but Godard did say something to this effect recently.]

    Now this is not to say that I wouldn't agree that this tactic is a tad elitist etc., merely that I think that it's probably worth having a bit better understanding of what actually occurs on-screen before we all go off on one about this film, as many have.

    I would also hasten to add that, as much as I love a good commercial blockbuster, I don't think there is anything inherently wrong in a director wanting to make his audience work hard to find meaning. It's not always good to have everything served up to you on a shiny platter, even if that means you miss whole swathes of dialogue.

    And no, I haven't seen the film (yet), but nor am I making any value judgements, merely stating a few facts that I consider to be highly pertinent to this whole debate, but which seem to have been very much lost in the mix.

  • Comment number 57.

    First, Goddard may well have not used subtitles as they would have interfered with the visual impact of the French words he puts up on screen.

    Second, Dr. K's belief that Goddard owes him English subtitles for a French language film screened in France is even more absurd than if Goddard expected French subtitles for the English language films shown.

    Third, Dr. K's review of the film when he couldn't even understand it is clearly completely worthless and his reaction, along with that ridiculous voice he put on when reading out this critical comments, is pure petulance.

  • Comment number 58.


    Not sure what Godard had in mind by "Navajo English". I suspect it is probably a slur on both Navajo and English languages. Navajo is not a rudimentary language, it is actually complex. That is why the US used Navajo speakers as wireless operators in the Pacific theatre in WWII.
    If it had been rudimentary the Japanese would have been able to eventually decode transmissions. They were completely unsuccessful in their attempts.

    Navajo has many verbs and very few nouns. It does not have an alphabet and was not written down before 1940.

    @Bomber Al
    Regarding your first two points, I posted above (#53) the rules for the submission of films in competition to the festival. My reading of those rules is that Mark would be entitled to expect that the film should have had English subtitles

    On your third point, if Mark could not understand the film, I agree that should disqualify him IMHO from being able to declare "this was the worst film in the festival" with any credibility, or make any other meaningful criticism of the film. Funny voices, though, are all part of his shtick which I would not use to beat him with.

  • Comment number 59.

    Just to add insult to injury the Sunday Observer New Review had a big double page spread on Godard quite near to Dr K's dvd roundup!

  • Comment number 60.


    You've made some really interesting points and the possibility you raised on alternate subtitling being provided on release of the DVD is something worth considering. Debatable if it will happen since if one chooses to subtitle their film in a certain fashion they probably intend to keep it that way - though as you and others have pointed out, it's all speculation - but it's certainly plausible.

    I wonder if Kermode would watch Film Socialisme again and review it properly if provided with more traditional subtitles.

  • Comment number 61.

    @antimode :

    Please note that neither Godard nor myself (when quoting him) said 'Navajo', but rather 'Navajo English'. I would have thought the second word there would have made it clear, but perhaps I didn't articulate it properly.

    From what I read, Godard was referring to the tendency in classic Hollywood for the 'natives' to speak a broken form of English, in which only key words are discernible, and which therefore acts as an impediment in their ability to communicate with the dominant social forces (whom, of course, only speak English). Therefore, it has next to nothing to do with the Navajo language, which only a fool would suppose to not be an 'actual' language, particularly considering its historical importance (to which you referred).

    Hence, what he offers on screen is only broken translations in which certain words are displayed (à la the Doctor's smattering of on-screen Française), which - for mine - is an interesting formal experiment if nothing else. Not that 'interesting formal experiments' necessarily maketh a good film, of course.

  • Comment number 62.

    Hey, Steev

    It is exactly because what JLG is describing has next to nothing to do with the Navajo language that using "Navajo" in the description makes it a poor choice.

    As I said before, the Navajo language contains few nouns and uses mainly verbs so of all the native tribe languages to choose as an adjective to describe the kind of pidgin heavy on keywords spoken by "Indians" in westerns, Navajo is probably the worst. The Trade Navajo pidgin that is spoken today by Anglo traders is considered by them to be much closer to Navajo than it is to English.

    Most of the old westerns I watched featured the Sioux, Apache, Comanche, Cherokee etc. I don't remember any films featuring Navajo. They certainly could not be the majority.


BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.