Humans subjected to war are focus of Hazanavicius filmThursday, May 22, 2014
Godard at 83 screens a 3D Adieu at Cannes
Octogenarian French filmmaker Jean-Luc Godard sent a film full of 3D images that looked like moving paintings to say what may have been adieu to the Cannes film festival yesterday, while staying away himself.
It was hard to make much of Adieu au Langage (Goodbye to Language), except to say it features a man and a married woman having an affair, a stray dog and gangsters in a Mercedes who threaten to shoot people in a town on the shore of Lake Geneva. The film quoted from writings of painters and philosophers and contained shimmering images of water, trees and flowers. It also punned on the French word adieu, using it to mean “goodbye,” “to God” and “oh God.” That suggested that Godard, the onetime enfant terrible of French film who was a founder of New Wave cinema with his 1960 film Breathless, might be waving goodbye.
In a video message to festival director Thierry Fremaux, Godard explained his absence from the red carpet, saying: “Dear old friend, once again thank you for inviting me to climb your 24 majestic steps, slightly lost in the herd.” His words were accompanied by images of a herd of cattle. Adieu au Langage was the second French film to be shown on the eighth day of the 12-day festival, the other being The Search, set in Chechnya and directed by Michel Hazanavicius, an Oscar winner for The Artist.
But fans of the Hollywood fairy tale will be in for a shock with Hazanavicius’s latest. “Welcome to this big shit-hole — Chechnya,” are the movie’s opening words, uttered by a Russian soldier videotaping scenes of burnt-out buildings, dead livestock and, later, the murder of villagers.
Hazanavicius cuts between two story lines to portray the war and the lives torn apart by it. In the main one, nine-year-old Hadji — played by Abdul-Khalim Mamatsuiev — flees his destroyed, abandoned village, his baby brother in tow, after his parents are killed by Russian soldiers. He is discovered outside a refugee centre by Carole (Berenice Bejo), a EU human rights worker struggling to galvanize public outrage to spur a strong response to the war from the West. In the second strand, 19-year-old Kolia (Maxim Emelianov) is arrested for smoking pot and forced into the Russian army. He is seen going through a stomach-turning training process designed to prepare him psychologically to see Chechens as “terrorists.” When he reaches the front, he loses no time in killing his first two “terrorists” — an old man and a boy.
“I think everyone knows the Russian army massacred hordes of people in Chechnya. It’s a historical fact,” Hazanavicius told journalists and critics at a press conference. “The film is a political one but I’ve tried to ensure it doesn’t take sides, ultimately,” the director said, adding that his interest was in showing “human beings subjected to war.”