Film Socialisme Annotated
A year ago, an anonymous French collective published a few thousand words of notes and annotations on Film Socialisme for the Web site Independencia. The piece resurfaced in the Spanish online publication Lumiere some time later, expanded, credited, and translated into Spanish for a special issue on Film Socialisme [click "descargar el numero Film Socialisme integro" to download the PDF]. In this Spanish version the members of "the collective" are revealed: Guillaume Bourgois, Jean-Louis Leutrat, Suzanne Liandrat-Guigues, Arthur Mas, Martial Pisani, Pauline Soulat. Together they divvy up approaches to the movie based on its intertitles, pass around sources, and make the sorts of links and connections between historical places and people that Godard, in what's possibly his most allusive feature film (currently showing in New York at the IFC Center), has left for the viewer to bring together in his/her own mind.
What follows is as much a sampling and exploration of the movie itself as it is of the French and Spanish versions of the annotations. Both are longer than the translation below; the Spanish version is about twice as long as the original French, and contains nearly its entirety. Among some of the sections not translated below are notes on animals and Godard's '80s animal project; on the source of the movie's Russian spy, a famous fictional detective in her homeland; and on an obscure Egyptian pharaoh who recurs throughout the movie. The excerpts below, translated from both sources, include at least a few lines unique to each, and the result, weirdly appropriate to a movie that shows the world like the ruins of Babel, adds a third version of the notes in a third language. I've tried to mark my elisions with a "[...]" in case, at any point, an enterprising polyglot and Godard fan would like to start an open-source translation of the rest. Altogether these only hint at the approaches that might be taken to the movie, but in giving some of the terms in which it operates, will hopefully inspire more.
Thanks to Eugenio Renzi and Fernando Ganzo Cuesta. For Jean-Louis Leutrat. —DP
"No comment," Film Socialisme's final intertitle, evoking a famous Euronews program, seems to predict both the filmmaker's absence at Cannes and the frailty of the comments leveled at the film. For it's impossible to propose an off-the-cuff interpretation of an object we wouldn't know how to describe. Far be it from us, then, to offer the final word on Film Socialisme. Better to start here by taking stock of some of the "choses comme ça" ("things like that") that, one after another, arrive onscreen to tell us stories, and then to pursue the narrative threads behind these stories. The movie's five trailers superimpose a series of possible subjects for Film Socialisme; now it's our turn to open the files and make an inventory.
To start, why the association of these terms, film and socialism? Godard has suggested his desire to delve deeper into the idea of property and the property of ideas; he shot his work as a collective of four people. One character, Lucien, the boy in the Martin family, bears a T-shirt with the colors of the USSR. Godard, who wears a similar shirt (black, not red) in Les Enfants jouent à la Russie, comments: "I brought it back from Germany a little while ago....In a movie called Film Socialisme, we can show the signs of socialism."1 And when asked if "socialism" is a word that still has meaning for him, he responds: "If I talk about the depth of things, the depth of the ocean, of Rousseau, yes. This movie was titled Socialism, at first, but it seemed to have too many connotations. Film Socialisme is different: a philosopher wrote me 12 pages saying how wonderful it is to see ‘film' alongside ‘socialism,' since that has another meaning altogether, even ‘hope.' " Godard reproduces this debate with Jean-Paul Curnier at the end of the book for Film Socialisme. Curnier associates film with socialism and notes the waning of both at the start of the 21st century: "Ultimately, my feelings are owed to the extreme poverty of ambitions of both, now employed with endless crudeness. The place where each might be realized hasn't been touched, while the access route has been obstructed. Cine-politics, film-socialisme: both silently recall the creation of forms. Forms of their own, that couldn't surpass their origins." A creation of forms? To such an agenda, Film Socialisme replies adroitly. [...]
Mostly, Godard's modifications to his texts are insignificant. More complicated is the montage with Denis de Rougemont's Penser avec les mains (Think with your hands): "In ‘manifesto,' there is ‘main' [hand]. Not a proud feeling—an ideal—a smile that dismisses the universe." But Rougemont wrote: "And in the word ‘to manifest' is ‘main,' (...) not a proud feeling, nor an ideal that follows the path of Jericho." [...] For Rougemont, love is not proud, nor idealistic, etc. In the movie, "ideal" can pair with "proud feeling" or "a smile that dismisses the universe," an expression Godard uses to describe socialism in an interview with Mediapart, and that comes from a Valéry poem, "Psaume sur une voix," about a Mallarmé text we hear at the start of chapter 4 of Histoire(s) du Cinéma: "Of a voice soft and feeble, telling of great things." As for the "smile that dismisses the universe," it's floated by a Greek statue in Jean-Daniel Pollet's Méditerranée, present in the first and third parts of the film. Each person will perceive, recognize, and retain according to his inclination: such is the rule of the game...
Among the many objects circulating through Film Socialisme, there are two, at least, that link different parts of the narrative: the watch that doesn't give the hour and the still camera that will become a movie camera. Two contradictory machines that cross the Mediterranean, passing hand to hand.
"Wie wil Uhr ist es? Just the right time." The movie's final dialogue recalls the gold watch evoked in the first minutes, and portrayed in the central section. Its owner, the camerawoman of France 3, explains its function to Lucien, who's surprised at its absence of hands:
"It comes from Egypt. It was found in the Tell Armana."
"But there's no hours or anything."
"Yes, but there's time, the dawn of time [la nuit des temps, literally "night of time"] and the daybreak [le jour des temps, "day of time"] that will decide."
This jewelry, from the brand Night and Day, was already on Constance's wrist in the first part, and elicits the interest of her godson, Ludo: "Why did you say it's worth gold? It doesn't even mark the time." A sole solution for why this singular object is on the wrists of the movie's two black women: that the first, who embarked at Algiers, mislaid it at the Egyptian stopover. The watch would then be the link between the three parts of the movie: "Things Like That," "Quo Vadis Europa," and "Our Humanities."
Another common object between the sections: the still camera. On the Costa ship, the tourists won't stop taking photos of the landscape or its surroundings; Godard will also make use of one of these digicams to shoot certain shots. In the second part, by contrast, there's no trace of these versatile gadgets, now replaced by a single digital camcorder. Two "bad" ways of making images for JLG, who opposes them in the third section with the work of the great photojournalists: Robert Capa, signaled by a famous portrait, but also Roman Karmen, who met him in Barcelona in 1936. And it's no accident if it's the photographer, Capa, who holds a movie camera in the final part. Godard voluntarily ignores the difference between cinema and photography; he's never tired of repeating, since Far From Vietnam, that two photos are enough to make a montage, that is, cinema. It's as easy as ABC, and it's a kid, Alissa, who will last be seen camera-in-hand.
[...] In the third part of the movie Godard shows Minerva's bird, an owl that may be on the stairs of a Greek theater or the steps of Odessa; the homage to Chris Marker is clear. [...] Thus Greece, for the considerable debt we've inherited from her. A double-sided debt. Democracy, but, according to Hannah Arendt, also the totalitarianism of Aristotelian logic: "The thing is we're copying the same model they surpassed in the ancient Mediterranean. It's been tinted with their perfume, their colors, and all their claims for the entire life of the western world."
The first shot of Film Socialisme shows a pair of birds on a branch. "Parrots"; loro ["el oro": the gold] in Spanish. Gold is the question: of the aforementioned watch, Alissa's necklace of gold, the casino, but also an obscure traveler who goes by "Otto Goldberg" ("the mountain of gold"), the "black gold" of a Swiss province gas stop, and the transport, in the autumn of 1936, of the Bank of Spain's reserves to the USSR. This treasure, better known by the name "the Moscow Gold," was taken to Cartagena [Spain] on September 14, 1936, and afterward sent in four Soviet ships that left for Odessa on October 25. Godard retells the story by imagining that the gold was loaded in Barcelona by the company France Navigation, founded in 1937. Upon arrival in Odessa, the ship would have lost a third of its load, robbed by Germans, and a third more in the trip to Moscow, sequestered by Willi Münzenberg, responsible for the Comintern propaganda in the West. So Godard tells a legend based in contradicting dates, but doesn't omit the actual port of departure, at the price of another geographical contradiction: in the third section, the Roman amphitheater of Cartagena is now included in a series of images on Greece.
To this first trip across the Mediterranean, the cruise of Film Socialisme responds, now returning from Argel to Barcelona, but, as a surprised passenger remarks, passing through Odessa. For the movie is an investigation precisely into the seizing of the Moscow gold. A young Russian girl, Major Kamenskïa, is investigating the two-thirds of the treasure that vanished between Odessa and the capital, and finds Otto Goldberg, an old man who would have participated under another identity in the theft of the first third. From there, the dialogue references the gold of the Palestinian bank, which would also have disappeared in mysterious circumstances, and which we might imagine justifies the presence of a couple Palestinians and a Mossad agent on the boat.
Godard picks up on the thread of a story launched by Fernand Braudel in a 1946 article cited in the movie's third part, "Money and civilization: from Sudan gold to American money." The famous historian demonstrates how the possession of gold has assured the subsequent wealth of powers that stole it one-by-one. From this perspective, the journey of the Spanish gold is only the end of a story that started in the 16th century, and which the filmmaker transforms into a 20th century myth. "And so rhyme the chapters of world history. With the cadence of the fabled money": the last words of Braudel's essay could serve equally as Film Socialisme's conclusion.
"Today what's changed is that the bastards are sincere": the phrase is pronounced twice, in the first and second parts. But which bastards? Richard Christmann above all, a historical character around whom the protagonists of the first part orbit. This old agent of the Abwehr, a Nazi information network, had been a double or triple agent in the Second World War. In 1940, in Godard's fiction, he would have participated in the embezzlement of the Spanish gold between Barcelona and Odessa. He had, besides, the job of arresting the members of the Musée de l'Homme resistance network, and Alice Simmonet, whom he tortured. Later he's found in the service of the Algerian National Liberation Front, afterward "representing Bayer and Rhône-Poulenc [a French pharmaceutical company]." Known under the pseudonyms Léopold Krivitsky, Markus, and Moïse Schmucke, he presents himself as Otto Goldberg on the cruise. Two other passengers search him out: Major Kamenskïa, charged with finding the trail of gold that vanished for the accounts of the Russian government, and Lieutenant Delmas, to whom JLG, in the Mediapart interview, ascribes an old flame for Simmonet.
They cross the paths of different passengers crossing the Mediterranean for various reasons: a Mossad spy and his gold tooth, a couple of Palestinians, three intellectuals (a writer, philosopher, and economist, respectively), a young woman, Constance, her companion, and her godson Ludo, who starts a friendship with Alissa, the granddaughter of Christmann. It's less a tourist cruise than an international summit of bastards. When the old man and the young girl cross the hall, they're observed by a surveillance camera: the passengers spy on the spy. Later, Delmas does what the heroes of The Ghost Writer and Green Zone have done: he looks and finds information on the internet. Spec sheets, classified crimes, State secrets—everything will, henceforth, be available through Google.
"Democracy and tragedy were married in Athens under Pericles and Sophocles. A single child: the Civil War." In the constructed history of Film Socialisme's 20th century, this legacy of ancient Greece becomes the central fact around which ideologies and events are arranged. Spain, in particular Barcelona, which was in May of 1937 the theater of a fratricidal combat among Republicans, but also post-war Greece, 1905 Odessa, and even Palestine are all not only History's pieces of socialism but the sites of an eternal civil-fraternal combat. Of course it's possible to relish Godard's apocalyptic tone, but impossible to regret it. For Film Socialisme is a "song of woe," a lament pathétique, like the Beethoven sonata of the same time which is heard in the bathroom of the second part.
This European history is also that of the Resistance: that of the Egyptians against Napoleon in Adieu Bonaparte, that of the Neapolitans against the German garrisons and their Italian allies, and that, of course, of the French Resistance, with the evocation of the network of the Musée de l'Homme, and then the "Martin Family." But this last reference, cited and explained in the intertitles that end the central section, undoubtedly masks even more references. For actually, Godard fuses two resistance networks without any link between them. The first, the "Martin Family," was an organization, around the Colmar region, entrusted with smuggling prisoners of war and Alsatian resistance members across the Vosges and the Swiss border. A mission undoubtedly recalled by the filmmaker since it's in a Swiss garage, next to Rolle, that he films the daily life of a French family in the midst of an election campaign. The second, "Liberate and Federate," was effectively established in Toulouse in 1942 around the figure of Silvio Trentin, an old Italian deputy who took refuge in France in 1926, a socialist intellectual and federalist, and a partisan of "The United States of Europe." The curious relation strung by the filmmaker between two organizations has at least two explanations. First of all, the existence of the "Martin" group, directed by Josep Rovira, a Catalan Republican of POUM, charged with crossing the Pyrenees, and belonging to the escape network Vic, operating in Toulouse. But also, the memory of a slogan from the early '50s that Godard had recalled in his short homage to Rohmer: "Liberate Henri Martin." A communist resistance member, the soldier-sailor was imprisoned for complicity in sabotage and propaganda against the Indochina war. Taking off from a collage that reunites two resistance movements, the movie weaves a line of unity through the great political combats that mobilized Europe after Mussolini's rise to power, to the European decolonization and construction, while passing through the Spanish Civil War and Resistance. A line of unity that has, for its name, socialism.
In the third part of the movie, "Our Humanities," Godard proposes another figure of "resistance," this time personally: his grand-uncle Théodore Monod. Over images of his expedition through Mauritania, the filmmaker allows us to hear a phrase of Jean Genet, who called for another liberation, of language: "Stock up all of language's images and help yourself to them, because they're in the desert and you must find them."
Always ready to fuel his detractors, in Film Socialisme Godard multiplies the citations, from La Rochefoucauld to Henri Guaino, the languages, and even his sources of sound, with a surprising use of stereo. "Dialogue, buggery"2: Stendhal's phrase, featured on the back cover of the published script, sets the tone. Once again this tone will be sophistication under the cover of the offhand. When the actor playing Delmas stammers, the filmmaker decides to keep the take, however doubly "bad" since he himself is heard, from behind, telling the actor to go on. This is what André S. Labarthe noted around the time of A Woman Is a Woman: Godard keeps the accidents and mistakes, even when the takes are spoiled by technical blunders. So the story of Otto Goldberg's previous lives is punctuated by freezes, until the shot becomes striped with a band of pixels, leaving the viewer to assume there's a problem with the projection. [...]
...But there's undoubtedly another link that Film Socialisme shares with The Animals [the name of a planned, late-'80s Godard project]. In the first part, "Des choses comme ça [Things like that]," the animals on view, parrots and cats, talk in couples, while those of the Martin garage are mute and alone. And yet the parceling of kids is exactly the opposite, though they're also divided into two groups: those that look and listen, Alissa and Ludo, in the first and, briefly, last parts of the film, and those that interrogate and discuss, Florine and Lucien, in the central passage. Animals and kids can only express themselves in bouts, since they can't hold power at the same time as those around them. And in the second part, it's manifestly up to the kids to demonstrate their rights. Their youth is, moreover, their main grounds for election. "To be 20 years old. To have reason. To maintain hope. To have rights when your government only has wrongs"3: such is the platform that Florine delineates to her mother in their bathroom. It's not without some recollection of Charles Péguy's manifesto in Notre jeunesse [Our Youth] (1910), featured on the cover of L'Express, October 3, 1957, to announce the arrival of the New Wave: "20 years. We who are the center and the heart. The axle goes through us. It's up to our watch to read the time."
Of all the characters in the movie, Florine is without a doubt the one with the most important dialogue, practically monopolizing speech in the central part. From her first appearance, leaning against a gas pump, book in hand, the girl is posed for proclamations. Like Jean-Pierre Léaud in La Chinoise and Week-End, she replays the French Revolution in theatrical rigging. And so in the book she's reading, a character of an actress shares her name. Florine, a particularly precocious heroine of Balzac's Comédie Humaine, debuts in Lost Illusions, in which she becomes renowned thanks to journalists who cover her first steps at the Panorama Dramatique, and in particular thanks to an article by Lucien de Rubempré, the protagonist of the story. Florine and Lucien find their names originating in Balzac, while in a shot from the first part, Ludo gives Alissa a copy of an André Gide novel, La Porte Etroite [The Narrow Doorway], which she opens immediately. A book in which the heroine is called—precisely—Alissa. All of which might explain, beyond the play of the titles, the easy assurance of the movie's four kids faced with the anxieties of the adults: while the latter struggle for self-expression, the former know their texts by heart. Florine, says Lousteau in Lost Illusions, "is the greatest novel reader in the world." And before she enters into her scene, Du Bruel, the author of the play, gives her some final advice:
"Ma petite Florine, you know your roll well, eh? No issues with your memory. Play the scene in the second act with cutting, with sharpness. Say it carefully: I don't love you, just as we decided."
In refrains throughout the movie, Florine's father will ask her the question: "Ok, Flo, but why don't you love us?" This is also the object of the generational conflict at the heart of Film Socialisme: the incomprehension between those who want to play a role and those who insist on a dialogue. [...]
The series of pseudonyms for Christmann is Godard's invention: Christmann has been called Arno or Armand, Roger Ole Class, Robert Schürer, Henk Jandoel, Richard Cholet, Markus, but never Otto Goldberg, Moïse Schmucke, or Léopold Krivitsky. The first two names associate a Jewish last name with a German first, and a German last name with a Jewish first. Wilhelm Schmucke is a character from Balzac's Comédie humaine (Cousin Pons, A Daughter of Eve, Splendors and Miseries of Courtesans). Goldberg, as the movie indicates, means a "gold mountain," but Sarah Doldberg was the name of a member of the "Red Orchestra," whose leader, Leopold Trepper, called himself Otto. And behind Léopold Krivitsky is hidden the soviet spy Walter Germanovich Krivitsky, whose name has been changed to that of Leopold (Trepper's).
Krivitsky recounts the escape of the Moscow gold in Odessa in his memoir, In Stalin's Secret Service. According to historians, the facts about this notorious "Moscow gold" at the heart of the USSR, are the following:
In total, from July, 1936, to March, 1937, the French Bank absorbed almost a third of the Spanish reserves, 194 tons, of a value around 4 million Francs. (...) That leaves two thirds of the reserves, never mind the 1225 tons sold to the US government (...). The greater part, 457 tons, was sent to Moscow, after which the Spanish gold was to be transported to Cartagena and deposited in armored housing in Algameca, an inaccessible grotto.
Thus, the Spanish gold was divvied up among various destinations: primarily France and the Soviet Union—and the rest (a fourth?) is harder to figure. Certainly, such a margin of uncertainty can stir the imagination. In 1957, Jean Duvignaud published The Gold of the Republic, a novel in which the French Resistance searches for the treasure of the Spanish Republican government. "[...]Why does the Spanish gold still circulate among so many obscure pathways like the blood of a dead man, traversing the Pyrenees or navigating—once again—the sea?" And from the first words spoken offscreen this image of vanishing recurs: " ‘Money is public property.' ‘Like the water, then.' ‘Exactly.' " And from here the associations that spout from the movie's wellspring: the Black Sea, black gold, curse of the gold (as we'd say the curse of the sea).
Godard partitions the Spanish gold in three, but in his own way. Says Kamenskïa: "Returning to Odessa a third—a fourth—had disappeared. And another third in Moscow." Later Delmas adds: "As for the first [third], I've got my suspicions, and as for the last, we have to look deep in the communist archives. Willi Münzenberg." Major Kamenskïa says to Goldberg: "I don't care where you've hidden the Spanish gold, but I value finding the rest." Thus a part of the treasure would have been robbed by Goldberg (Christmann), another by Willi Münzenberg. As Godard has said, "I imagined that the Germans had seized the boat, which had a part of the gold, as the old French policeman says in the movie. But the Russian girl who's searching in the archives tells herself: the third that escaped, it's the Comintern that took it, and the rest ended up in the pockets of Louis Dolivet, there's no other way to explain the fortune." And Godard turns his movie into a triptych with an echo of a "triple agent." The movie is obscure because the historical accounts are too, and have disappeared under the mask of daily life. The connections, on the other hand, are much less clear when Godard dynamites his stories, and only releases fragments of a pulverized whole.
Behind these events, never named in Film Socialisme but explained for the first time in 1997, is a story Godard regretted not including in Histoire(s) du cinéma:
It's the story of Louis Dolivet. Tati told me it, five or six months before he died.... I went to see him for an interview. I told him I'd take him out to a café. He responded that he could pay, and took out a coin. A gold coin of the Spanish Bank: "This is what remains of the Spanish treasure robbed by Stalin," he told me. It had been given him by Louis Dolivet, who was an agent of the Fourth International. I knew it because he'd been my first contact, before Braunberger, at the time of Gray Films. He was the one who produced Mr. Arkadin and Playtime. Besides which, there's a shot in Mr. Arkadin where we see Dolivet. Tati explained to me the relation between the two. He'd been an assistant to Willi Münzenberg, who had conquered the French intelligence and had produced movies, revues. He had money in Switzerland, which Dolivet inherited after the war. With that money, he produced Arkadin, which is a metaphor of the Stalin story and takes place in Spain. After, Dolivet must have inherited—once more from Münzenberg—a bit of money from the Spanish Bank that Stalin must have seized to stash away....It's a story I'd like to do: what is the real relation between Mr. Arkadin and Playtime? Is it the gold of the Spanish Bank and the Spanish republicans....With that money Dolivet produced two catastrophic projects, but two beautiful films. Those are the links, the relations that aren't normally established.
The gold coins of the Spanish Bank appear in the movie mainly in the form of a necklace worn by Alissa.
In an article on Méditerranée in Cahiers du cinéma in 1967, Godard acknowledges his admiration for the film, and doesn't hesitate to compare the young Pollet to Orpheus. However curious, the compliment isn't haphazard: what captures JLG's attention is the way in which the film transforms a tourist trip into a mythological crossing, conceiving a legendary Mediterranean out of documentary images. In its way, Film Socialisme is also a collection of legends. Of the Spanish gold, for example, considered a curse since it ruined the Indians and later the Spanish, that served the Nazis, and that was, two-thirds of it, stolen by the Soviets. That's not even counting Alissa's necklace, made from gold pieces undoubtedly taken from the treasure of her grandfather, that condemns her to death at the end of the movie. In Face of Terror, an obscure action film cited in the credits of Film Socialisme, it's the disappearance in Barcelona of a young American in a strange terrorism case, that leads her brother to take over her mission. "Palabras para Julia," the poem by José Agustín Goytisolo sung by Paco Ibañez, already heard at the start of chapter 2B of Histoire(s), comes back twice in Film Socialisme. It concerns another disappearance, that of Julia, the poet's mother, killed in a bombing in Barcelona in 1938. It's the curse of the Catalan capital of which Mr. Arkadin, in the Welles film, will be another victim. Barcelona is the place of a mysterious phenomenon that marks both the origin and completion of the cruise. In the strange, prismatic arrangement of the movie, which is also Gide's "narrow doorway," everything starts and ends with the Spanish Civil War, as if it were possible to read, in advance, the fate of the 20th century.
In chapter 3B of Histoire(s), Godard pays a moving homage to Henri Langlois: "We were without a past, and this man from l'avenue de Messine4 gave us the gift of a past metamorphosed into the present, in Indochina, in Algeria. And when he projected [Malraux's] Espoir for the first time, it wasn't the Spanish war that made us start, but the association—the fraternity of the metaphors." A fraternity that extends from two other principles of the movie. First, equality among all the images, whether they come from cell phones or HD cameras, from a source that was direct-to-DVD or a bronzed Potemkin. Next, the liberty to compare the incomparable, one of Florine's wishes in the second part.5 Liberty, Equality, Fraternity: and so, a formula for metaphor.
1. Both the red and black shirts also appear—unworn—in a single shot of Allemagne 90 Neuf Zéro
2. Obviously an inadequate translation. The original is "Dialogue, foutre!," ascribed to Stendhal, "November 26, 1834." "Foutre" is "fuck," but a "fuck" that has maintained its vulgarity through the ages as well as the connotation of sex: a coupling, an exchange and dialogue—of sorts—between two things.
3. With Florine's proclamation in mind—"replace 'to be' with 'to have'"—this is an impossible line to translate, and alone maybe good justification for Godard's Navajo subtitles. The French is basic: "Avoir vingt ans. Avoir raison. Garder de l'espoir. Avoir raison quand votre gouvernement a tort," and would translate by the textbooks as "To be 20. To be right. To maintain hope. To be right when the government is wrong." But when the relativities of "to have" are replaced by the essentialisms of "to be" the entire meaning changes to something more self-righteous than Florine's taking the side of "right" beyond her, and misses the simplicity of "avoir raison": to have reason.
4. An illustrious street in Paris.
5. A quote that Godard has attributed to Benjamin in interviews and is spoken by Major Kamenskïa in the first part.