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Godard’s Message

"Khan Khanne": Jean-Luc Godard's videoletter to Cannes' president Gilles Jacob: a testament for tomorrow's cinema.


A pioneer of the Nouvelle Vague, Jean- Luc Godard had a huge influence on modern cinema,  givig it a peculiar direction – one of the possible ones – which was already contained in its premise: to maintain a relationship of “ironic inversion” with reality. Before directing, Godard was in fact a ethnology student and a critic for the most famous French magazine Les Cahiers du cinéma. His approach to cinema accurately reflects his interest in the film form as  interpretation, expression / mimesis,  construction of social reality within its imaginary and desires. His was a kind of “militant” metacinema – a must be of the cinema – that has always contained “in filigree” a reflection on the seventh art in general. Hence his persistent curiosity to explore the immense possibilities of the visual medium that has become, over the years, even more radical, complacent and amused. You could almost say that asfor Hegel “Philosophy is its own time raised to the level of thought”, for  Godard “cinema was” – and  probably still is – “its own time raised to the level of images”.

This year, Godard was at Cannes with his controvertial film Adieu au Langage, but he canceled at the last minute his participation at the press conference.  Unpredictable as usual,  he  sent a video letter to festival president Gilles Jacob and artistic director Thierry Fremaux, to “justify ” his absence. The result is a kind of video-testament – some sort of extension or a prelude to the film premiered at Cannes – that  indicates its intention starting from the title “Khan Khanne – Sélection Naturelle”: to back off  from contemporary cinema (“the present is dead,” says one of the characters in Adieu au Langage), to which he probably does not feel  “adapted” anymore, to give space to new battles for new warriors. Not before expressing a last thought, perhaps with the desire that it’ll last forever. An irreverent, cryptic and provocative video in which Godard reads his enigmatic letter while alternating excerpts from some of his films (Alphaville, King Lear) to random film footage, regularly cadenced by quotes from Jacques Prevert and Hannah Arendt. The video also feature an old militant song by Alfredo Bandelli, “Violence “, linked to the 60s-70s youth protest movements, which reads: “Violence, violence, violence, rebellion, and those who hesitate this time, will fight with us tomorrow.” Sadly ironic.

This video is not only an almost posthumous reflection on cinema and the hyperbolic end of (its) language, but also an act of love for this amazing invention of human intelligence and mind. It reminds us of some of the works that we have watched this year at the 60th International Shortfilm Festival of Oberhausen – about which we talked in a previous article – the oldest and most experimental short film event  in the world, and the birthplace of New German Cinema in the 60s. The theme this year was “Memories Can not Wait – Film without film” that posed a question as bold as fundamental: what about cinema when its key element, the film, is absent? It is no coincidence that this question emerges today from several directions just as the highest evolution of cinema and visual arts coincides with their saturation and exhaustion. Therefore it set an intellectual challenge through the presentation of  few “underground shortfilms” without specific addresses, and so reawakening the question about cinema as a whole, both in formal and substantial term. A challenge addressed by Godard himself already in the 60s when he theorized  the “short-form” as “anti- cinema”, a type of antibody that forces the directors to prove their worth.

This video-testament could  have very well been part of  Oberhausen’s programming, which this year tried to force the very limits of filmic representation, through the works of emerging, and rather non conformist, filmmakers. That’s also why we consider Godard as the frontrunner of this contemporary “renaissance” of the short film art, a “new beginning” of cinema. In its hybrid nature balanced between film, video art, advertising and document, accessible even – or especially – “outside the theatre”, the shortfilm intrinsically expresses the breaking of the classic codes of storytelling and the experimentation of visual new waves – now even more thanks to the evolution of shooting techniques, ​​multimedia languages, and social media. Take a movie, expand it to the infinite, it will become life. Shorten it down to a single frame, it will become a symbol of it. The short is a fragment in the middle of these two extremes, a measure in which anything is possible, or at least, allowed .

Here below the translation Godard’s video letter from Indiewire:

My dear President, dear festival director and dear colleagues,

Once again, I thank you for inviting me to the festival, but you know I haven’t taken part in film distribution for a long time, and I’m not where you think I am. Actually, I’m following another path. I’ve been inhabiting other worlds, sometimes for years, or for a few seconds, under the protection of film enthusiasts [Editor’s note: actually the correct translation might be “under the protection of the strange ecclesiastes” probably referring to the exoteric text the “Ecclesiastes”, 1:9)

[Cut to a scene of Eddie Constantine as Lemmy Caution in Alphaville]

Eddie Constantine / Lemmy Caution: “I don’t feel comfortable in this environment anymore.  It’s not longer 1923, and I’m not longer the man who fought through the police barricades, the man who fought behind the scenes with a gun in my hand. Feeling alive was more important than Stalin and the Revolution.”

The risk of solitude is the risk of losing oneself, assumes the philosopher because he assumes the truth is to wonder about metaphysical questions, which are actually the only ones the everyone’s asking. The philosopher’s logic is to ask whether there’s any way to hold back “the other;” this is what we call “Logic.”

[Scene from Godard’s “King Lear” with Burgess Meredith and Molly Ringwald, in English]
Molly Ringwald/Cordelia to King Lear: “I don’t have my heart in my mouth.” (in English)
[Cut to Godard speaking in present day]

I don’t have my heart in my mouth anymore, either. So, I’m going where the wind blows me, (still of Francois Truffaut with a camera) just like autumn leaves as they blow away (this is from the famous poem by Jacques Prevert). Last year for example, I took the tramway, which is a metaphor, the metaphor and…

[White words on black screen: CUBA, yes]
[La Havane bar in Paris in a black and white film]

..to return, to return to pay my dues from 1968 at the Havana Bar…and now, I believe that the possibility of explaining things is the only excuse to fight with language…as always, I believe it’s not possible…this 21st May…this is no longer a film, but a simple waltz, my president,

[Leonard Cohen, “Take this Waltz” sample along with a brief clip of Bob Dylan’s voice sampled]

to find the true balance with one’s near destiny.


Jean-Luc Godard

In the image on top, Jean-Luc Godard during the filming of Sympathy For the Devil (aka One Plus One), featuring the Rolling Stones.

Tommaso Fagioli

Tommaso Fagioli

Tommaso Fagioli

Founder @ Good Short Films. Fond of great stories, great thinkers, great food. My motto is: your motto.

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