I’d read the reviews, both out of Cannes where the film premiered, and lately for its US release. A.O. Scott’s was my favorite for the NY Times, as it usually is. Then, I’d listened to friends — some admitted to breaking down after viewing the film, some pointed to the filmmaker’s problematic mishmosh of the Arab world with Iranian images.
But having missed ‘Le livre d’image’ (‘The Image Book’) at the Festival de Cannes, I had to view it for myself. And, it turns out, I did well to wait.
Because at this year’s International Film Festival Rotterdam, I could watch it the way the Maestro, Jean-Luc Godard himself, meant it to be watched. On a big screen TV, in his living room, surrounded by the familiar cigar, his Persian rugs and even the dog bed nearby, for his beloved pet Miéville — a star in its own right.
‘The Image Book’ may be many things, but it’s not boring. It is in your face, loud, strong, intelligent, confused and confusing. It is a diary of a brilliant man and his current views of the world. And since the man is from around my own mom’s generation, and she’s also an artist, I can relate to this brilliant confusion that I live around every day. It made a whole lot of sense and it explained things I hadn’t computed yet.
Had I watched the film in Cannes, I think I would have lost its essence and it would have been compared to so much I needed to watch while there. But at IFFR there is one great luxury that film viewers don’t usually have at a festival. Time. The scheduling is such that you can watch as much as you want, where you wish and for as long as you crave. For me, on the day of my arrival in Rotterdam, it meant simply easing out of my hotel, walking a few meters to the NH Atlanta where the screening was held, and watching an intimate showing of a perfect moment in time.
‘The Image Book’ left me breathless.
Godard’s colors reminded me of how Andy Warhol redesigned our world and made us look at it in a whole new way, starting back in the mid-Sixties. Acid, bright and overhued shots, reworked in the labs during the color grading process changed the cinematic landscape with equal irreverence and style. Hitchcock’s ‘Vertigo’ becomes uber saturated, trains are ever present, in all shades including B & W, while Arab cinema of the Eighties is intensified with reds and yellows, to make it, well… even more Arab.
In fact, almost half of the film is devoted to Godard’s current obsession with the Arab world, inspired by Alexandre Dumas’ own musings in ‘Impressions of Travel’ where the French writer dedicated whole chapters to Arabia. In Godard’s film, Arabia stands for the Middle East and personally, I’m glad that the Maestro never refers to the Region that way. He does include Iran, because he ends up talking about the Gulf Region and thus, explains our fascination and hatred at the same time, for that so-called “the Other”, what we cannot immediately understand.
I loved that I felt as though Godard personally was narrating the film to me. His voice moved around between speakers as if he was weaving through the chairs of his recreated living room. With a coffee in hand — we were offered refreshments while we awaited the screening — I truly imagined being part of a world of intellectuals, all gathered in a Parisian home to discuss the world at hand.
‘The Image Book’ in Rotterdam felt like the antidote to modern-times superficiality. I think my IQ rose considerably after watching it. As did my sensitivity and compassion for my fellow humans.
The film currently screens in the US, and is distributed by Kino Lorber.