The Image Book

Front Row at the Movies by Shirrel Rhoades

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As film buffs will know, Jean-Luc Godard is the director who ushered in the French New Wave style of filmmaking in the ‘60s. Being a film critic, he objected to mainstream media’s emphasis on “craft over innovation, privileged established directors over new directors, and preferring the great works of the past to experimentation.”

During this period he gave us such films as “Breathless,” “The Little Soldier,” “Week End,” and “My Life to Live.” Then came a series of political films, By the ‘80s, he had drifted more toward the mainstream, although his “Hail Mary” was condemned by the Catholic Church, and his “King Lear” was debated by Shakespearean scholars. His more recent films have been marked by great formal beauty, followed by passionate dissertations on war.

Godard’s “Histoire(s) du cinema,” an 8-part video project, has been called “perhaps the most important work of his career.”

Now the 87-year old French-Swiss director gives us “The Image Book” (French title: “Le lives d’image”), a video essay that he spent two years shooting “in various Arab countries, including Tunisia.” It is an examination of the modern Arab World versus the West.

“The Image Book” is showing at Tropic Cinema next Thursday night as part of its Cinematheque Series. The film was awarded the first Special Palme d’Or in the history of the Cannes Film Festival.

Here, Godard’s approach is more that of “free-association cinematic meditation.” Clipping together snippets from great movies of the ‘60s and ‘70s, along with his recent footage, and even Isis recruitment videos, he delivers a rapid-fire montage that examines the interplay between the Western and Eastern worlds.

Godard offers a sideways explanation: “People like to say, ‘What do you mean exactly?’ I would answer, ‘I mean, but not exactly.’”

More of a media installation than a movie, “The Image Book” presents a world in the process of disintegration. Jean-Luc Godard seems to be delivering the message to enjoy yourself, you’re doomed anyway.

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