Cannes 2013 Review: Jean-Luc Godard Does 3-D In THE THREE DISASTERS, And No, James Cameron Will Not Be Spared

Brian Clark, European Editor
"The digital medium is a dictatorship," intones Jean-Luc Godard as images flash over text, which flashes over more images, ultimately demonstrating how, ironically, 3-D is actually the perfectly-suited to Godard's recent information-overload collage-style filmmaking. But just because the enfant-terrible-turned-bitter-recluse is going to use the technology doesn't mean he supports it.

Perhaps I should back up. Godard made Three Disasters as part of a 3-D triptych called 3X3D, but as the other two shorts by Peter Greenaway and Edgar Pêra are more or less failed experiments at best, I'm going to focus solely on Godard's mind-blowing, twenty-minute contribution. The short is warm-up of sorts for his in-progress 3-D feature, Farewell to Language, a title which I'm honestly surprised he hasn't used for a film already.

Several months ago, Godard's cinematographer gave an interview and dropped some interesting tidbits about the film. Notably, he says, "We built our own camera, using wood, with our own hands." And in fact, part of Three Disasters lets us witness the construction of the camera, basically a wooden box with two digital SLR's next to each other, one of which is mounted upside down. It is pretty cool to see. 

He also refers to the film as an experiment of sorts, to see what could be shown using the technology that could only exist within the 3-D medium. The result is a dizzying, astounding, occasionally frustrating, funny, pretentious and thought-provoking visual essay that only Godard could have created. His narration veers from obtuse to clever to genuinely eloquent. There are observations on technology, art, society and politics and how each influences (and, these days, usually degrades) the other, and while it often feels like a game teasing real wisdom hiding between lines and super-imposed images, it's extremely breezy and energetic one which, at twenty minutes, never wears out his welcome.

There are also images here that do indeed use the technology in ways that no one's even attempted. The simplicity of the choreography and technique in one shot of a couple carefully positioned in a room, smoking and addressing the camera, puts all of Baz Luhrmann's garish excess to shame.  

But some things never change. Like, Godard still loves puns. The fact that the French word for number (nombre) and the French word for shadow (ombre) rhyme and can be easily interchanged seems to make him absolutely giddy. Old movies get a fair amount of lip service here too, with photos of French New Wave hero Nicholas Ray changing aspect ratios and clips from Lady From Shanghai (perhaps as a reminder of how much better Orson Welles would have used this technology than everyone else working today) flashing across the screen, fading in and out of each other, all while superimposed text jumps on and off of them. In fact, for someone who has more-or-less hacked his previous, more accessible identity to pieces in his late career, Godard sure seems nostalgic.

But these are just some of pieces of Godard's rigorous, searing puzzle. At other moments he uses gory clips from Piranha 3-D and Final Destination 5, portraying the technology as one mostly used to gouge out our eyes. There is also a story told from the point of view of a dog in a beautiful forest, who I'm told will return in Farewell to Language. 

As far as reviews and analysis of this one go, I could probably go on for pages, or just as easily surrender to Godard's suggestion that language is out of date and write nothing at all. But I wanted to let everyone know that The Three Disasters exists, and that, both film and technology buffs who get a chance to see it should do so without hesitation. If nothing else, towards the end, Godard lays down one of the best James Cameron burns I've ever heard... I didn't write it down verbatim, but it has something to do with the master of the titanic not understanding depth. Ouch.
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  • Paul Huxley

    ombre - not hombre.

    This looks very interesting, but I doubt I'll ever get the chance to see it in cinemas as intended.

  • Brian Clark

    Ahhh oui. Je vais le changer. thanks!

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