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Inspiration

In conversation withJean-Luc Godard. filmmaker extraordinaire


Jean-Luc Godard talks to CPN (warning: contains some nudity)

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TRAILER 'ADIEU AU LANGAGE' (warning: contains some nudity)

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Background

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Jean-Luc Godard: the man, the motives

What is there to be said about Jean-Luc Godard that hasn’t already been discussed many times? A man whose reputation for disregarding rules and conventions is as strong as his desire for Cuban Cohiba cigars...

Godard is a reluctant genius with a mind for mischief. His wild, grey, thinning hair and stubbly face breaks into the warmest of smiles as he recalls puzzled ruminations of film critics past who just didn’t understand his work. He is on record as saying: “I’d rather feed 100 percent of ten people, than ten percent of a hundred.”

A loner of French cinema; he is an onlooker, at one with his thoughts and with an inner commentary that spills onto the movie screen with vigour and passion. At 83 he is still very much into his craft, and his skill as an editor, though very much of the old school, still has the capacity to impress with jump cuts and graphics that leave you scratching your head and working hard to understand the reasons. But that’s the point: Godard likes his audience to work hard...

This year is his 60th as a filmmaker. Godard has made more than 120 films and has directed France's most celebrated actors; from Gerard Depardieu to Brigitte Bardot. But only one film – ‘Breathless’ – was ever a financial success.

‘Breathless’, known in French as ‘A Bout de Souffle’, captured the world's attention when it opened in 1959, earning Godard a place in the New Wave of French directors, alongside Eric Rohmer and the late François Truffaut. The black & white film starred the handsome young Frenchman Jean-Paul Belmondo as a small-time crook pulled apart by his love for an American girl, played by the French-speaking American actress Jean Seberg. “A generation of film critics had their lives changed by that film,” Variety magazine said. And they were right.

Today’s film-directing greats, including Martin Scorsese and Quentin Tarantino, are big admirers of the man’s work. Godard shrugs it off, much like the honorary lifetime achievement Oscar he was awarded in 2010...

He famously spoke of the award, saying: “Which of my films have they seen? Do they actually know my films? The award is called The Governor’s Award. Does this mean that Schwarzenegger gives me the award?”

You’ve got to love the guy. And on the day of our meeting, he was in very fine fettle, making every effort to remember our names and putting up with my bad French.

This movie is an unashamed homage to his approach and reveals some deeply profound thoughts about how we, as a species, have allowed technology to get in the way of our own innate ability to communicate. What does ‘SMS’ mean to you? You’ll find out what it means to him...

‘Adieu au Langage’ is not a long movie – none of Godard’s films are – but its resonance and message will last far longer. I hope our film helps open your mind, just as his will help open your eyes.

David Corfield
Paris, 2014


Creative team

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The team behind Jean-Luc Godard’s latest film can be counted on one hand. But one man in particular was closer to its director than any other: cinematographer and production consultant Fabrice Aragno. CPN Editor David Corfield talks to him about his techniques and looks into the making of a truly remarkable film...

Before we look into the unique background of ‘Adieu au Langage’ we must first of all get to know Fabrice Aragno. Because to understand him, is to understand its director, Jean-Luc Godard. And understanding both of them will shed light on what this film is all about. Because it’s very much about collaboration, and the relationship Aragno has with his director and his production team is key to how they work, and how they think. How they are.

But first, Fabrice Aragno. Born in Neuchâtel, Switzerland, in 1970, he graduated from the School of Art and Design in Lausanne and became a cinematographer in his own right before being introduced to Jean-Luc Godard. “I come from a theatrical background originally,” he explains, “Where I worked as a lighting manager among other things. I saw film as a way of involving myself in every part of the process, so I went to study it and I became a filmmaker. I like the artisan element of making a film. I like that I can experiment with sound, vision, equipment, everything. There are no rules. At least, there shouldn’t be.”

“The reason why I work in cinema is because of the opening sequence of Antonioni’s ‘L'Eclisse’. When I saw it for the first time, I thought that if cinema can express this, then it could be a place for me. A place for silences, a place to express things that could not been said in words, like in music, or painting.”

So how did the collaboration with Godard come about? “I am a filmmaker,” Aragno affirms, “But I like to do everything and I was involved with a film as a production manager. The producers asked me after I had done the shoot if I wanted to work with Jean-Luc. I got a message on my answering machine from him, asking me if I was interested in working with him. I had seen his films like ‘À Bout de Souffle’ and ‘Le Mépris’, but I hadn’t seen his most recent work.”

“I thought it was important to watch two or three of his newer films before we first met. With lots of nerves I went to meet him and instead of seeing a giant watching me from above with a loud voice, I saw a man, a really nice man. He simply asked me to work on ‘Notre Musique’. This was in 2002. He asked me look for actors for the final third of the film, the “Paradise” segment, and I was the location manager for that sequence. I worked with the extras as well and actually I appeared in the film as an American soldier!”

A creative team – thinking as one

This hands-on aspect of the filmmaking partnership was to become a running theme as the years went by. No man being bigger than the other [although with obvious deference to Godard] the creative force was a combination of all of their combined thoughts, experiences and ideas.

“We are a very small team,” Aragno explains. “For ‘Adieu au Langage’ it was mainly just Jean-Luc Godard, Jean-Paul Battaggia and myself. That’s how we like to work. We are very different people in many ways and yet we share a very similar philosophy.”

“For Jean-Luc Godard’s film ‘Film Socialisme’ we started filming with a small prosumer video camera in 2008. It wasn’t very high quality but had a lot of digital defects, such as digital noise when shooting in shadows and slow frame rates. Jean-Luc had picked it up on one of his trips and gave it to me to work out how to use it and when I showed him the bad quality but with the interesting defects he was quite pleased and I think that’s what started us thinking about all the other technologies we could use.”

“The really great thing about working with this man is that he doesn’t believe in rules. What is good? What is bad? Who says one is the other? Jean-Luc is free of all rules. If someone says this is the correct way, the professional way to do something, he doesn’t directly say no, but if the professional way does not offer what we want, he simply bypasses it. This happens a lot.”


Equipment

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CPN Editor David Corfield talks to cinematographer and production consultant Fabrice Aragno about the range of equipment used in the making of ‘Adieu au Langage’...

But one thing the creative team did agree on was a certain camera that offered them a way to look at film in a totally new dimension. Aragno explains: “I heard about a still photo camera with the capability to film. I love photography; it’s how I started out actually. This camera became really well known soon after, and of course it was the Canon EOS 5D Mark II. I bought one to test it myself. It offered less customization than other digital video cameras, but I thought it was suitable for filming. But I always dreamed of using a Leica M6 so I used some Leica lenses that were easy to put on the 5D. I was really happy to buy a 35mm, a 50mm, and an 80mm. I did small tests, and Jean-Luc asked me what camera I wanted to use. I answered him: an HD video camera is like aquarelle painting [similar to watercolour] and this photo camera is more as oil painting or fusain [charcoal] drawing. So we chose the 5D. It’s funny because in Jean-Luc’s film ‘Le Petit Soldat’ the protagonist says to Anna Karina “If a photo is the truth, then cinema is 24 truths per second.” And now we use photo for cinema!”

Seeking beauty in the defects

“I choose to work with the Leica lenses because the Canon lenses are too perfect. They have no defect. In digital it is too clean in my opinion. As we are not made with 1 and 0; we need imperfect. How can you fall in love with a digitally perfect person? To err is human! The Leica lenses have some involuntary imperfections, which is why I love them. They have a certain quality; they have flare, they give beautiful bokeh and have a very nice ‘piqué’. Maybe it’s like preferring my old pair of shoes to the new ones. Voila; the same with lenses.”

This disregard for technology is in no way a snub. Far from it... “Jean-Luc is always reading about new things and the new ways to film,” Aragno reveals. “We used a variety of 3D digital compact cameras for some of the scenes and I also bought an underwater housing for filming underwater. We did a lot of tests and chose a cruise where we would be able to do two identical voyages to see how all these cameras would work. There were three of us filming, four including Jean-Luc. All of us were shooting with something and comparing the results. It was January when we set out on our first voyage to make tests, and we came up with a lot of the compositions. Two days before we left Jean-Luc changed his mind and told us to go without him. He said we wouldn’t do as well if he were there.”

He said: “If I say you have to do something like this and like this, you will try to do it and not do as well, so do as you feel.” It’s not that he gave us the freedom, it’s that he never took any freedom away.”

It became very evident that Jean-Luc’s influence in the technical aspects of the film was significant, yet subtle. In 2010, after ‘Film Socialisme’, he encouraged Aragno to discover new technologies and investigate old ones for the new 3D project ‘Adieu Au Langage’. Aragno explains: “I’m not afraid of technical things, even though I am not a technician. I don’t claim to be an expert; I am free of all technical rules. I worked out how to play with the 5D Mark II in previous films and knew where the sweet spot of the sensor was, so I became a camera-maker.”

“I built a special 3D grip out of wood, and mounted two 5D Mark II bodies together, one upside down so I could register the sensors in the same angle-of-view for perfect or “imperfect” 3D, avoiding parallax and so to get the best effect from both cameras. There were no computers involved in this calibration. Just a hammer and a chisel. It is artisan filmmaking.”

“On the set, we had no 3D preview, and it took some time to build the 3D image after the shooting days, but, each shot was created by Jean-Luc in a 3D expressive way. As an example, one shot we did at night, which I think really expresses something specific in 3D. It’s just the shadows of the actors projected on a small road going up. If this shot would be in 2D, OK you would just see shadows. But in 3D it became something more. In a 3D space, the road going up is in perspective; you see the 2D, the projection of the shadows of the characters, so in 3D, you see the 2D, and you see the ‘cinema’. As with everything he used in the past, 35mm, video, and so on; in 3D he used it in an artistic way too.”

When cinematographer Fabrice Aragno picked up the EOS 5D Mark II DSLR for the first time, to film Jean-Luc Godard’s ‘Film Socialisme’ in 2010, he was immediately impressed with how it excelled in HD video.

So when the time came to start filming ‘Adieu au Langage’ a year later, it made perfect sense to continue using it. The camera’s size and superb ability in all lighting conditions made it a big hit with Aragno and with such a small production team, a larger camera would have presented too many logistical challenges. The EOS 5D Mark II was therefore ideal.

  • Canon EOS-1D C

    Canon EOS-1D C

    The EOS-1D C is the first ever DSLR to join Canon’s Cinema EOS System. It offers both 4K digital cinema imaging performance and high resolution stills, so will appeal to professional filmmakers and multimedia photojournalists. Find out more...

  • Canon EOS 5D Mark II

    Canon EOS 5D Mark II

    The EOS 5D Mark II took photography in a new direction – it was the first digital SLR still camera with the ability to record full High Definition (HD) 1080p video suitable for use across any media. Find out more...


Jean-Luc Godard heard about Canon’s entry into the digital cinema market in 2012 and asked Aragno to investigate the merits of the 4K EOS-1D C DSLR.

In 2013, Canon Europe loaned him two of the very first production bodies to complete ‘Adieu au Langage’, and in doing so it neatly drew to a conclusion the legendary director’s exploration into different filming options.

‘Adieu au Langage’ has been made on cameras ranging from very basic digital compacts to the Canon’s very advanced HD video DSLRs.


Workflow

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CPN Editor David Corfield talks to cinematographer and production consultant Fabrice Aragno about the 4K workflow and the unique analogue/digital editing process for ‘Adieu au Langage’...

“We later experimented in 4K too,” Aragno continues. “We used two of the very first EOS-1D Cs, with serial numbers 17 and 18. I made some small tests with them with Canon Log. When you underexpose in 4K the defects give a very interesting grainy effect that I actually really liked. But for me, discovering the 5D was more incredible than discovering the 1D C. For me, that was a nice revelation. With the EOS-1D C we filmed onto CF cards – 128GB – and had two cards in each camera. The HDMI connectors are on the left side so with one camera mounted upside down they were both touching sides which made it impossible to manage the connectors.”

“When it came to editing, with all the dailies, I put on a timecode and burnt them all to DVD for Jean-Luc then to edit. As he doesn’t work with computers – and 35mm is dead today – he could only edit in video in analogue, in a linear way, with DVCAM tape decks, player and recorder. But, he is such a fantastic editor. He is so creative with just a simple linear image cut and only two audio tracks. Here again, having less possibilities gives more creative possibilities, as it frees your spaces – and your mind.”

“For me personally, with the final processing, I wanted to use Avid MC7 for the 3D HD footage and make the final 3D colour correction in DaVinci [Resolve] but between the two they could never work together. It was always a problem to transfer one to the other via AAF or XML. So I eventually abandoned Avid and worked with everything in 2D in Final Cut Pro 7, adjusting (and de-adjusting) the 3D in DaVinci Resolve.”

“To get the sound right we built a mini studio in the basement of the small house we used in the film in Rolle (Switzerland) with surround sound 5.1 speakers where we could cut the whole film and use all the workflows together. We had DaVinci on the left hand side and ProTools on the right of the small Avid Artist Mix mixing desk and we worked on the whole film together like that, with sound also at the same time. I had Jean-Luc over my shoulder all the time, and in two weeks we had done the final edit, colour corrections and the sound mix.”

With so many cameras being used on ‘Adieu au Langage’ it can’t have been easy to pull it all together. Aragno laughs it off. “This has been my most technically challenging film, for sure. Every camera had is own language, frame rates, and so on. When you do a film that is a little different, people don’t get it, but this one is totally a masterpiece of the 7th art,” Aragno reflects.

Not goodbye, but ‘au revoir’?

“After filming ‘Film Socialisme’, Jean-Luc almost said, “Everything is finished now” and wanted to just spend time with his partner Anne-Marie [Miéville] and their dog, but I think he cannot live without making films. Having a film on the worktable is like a candy bar; it’s the support where things could crystallise. And that could go for 3D as well for this film. Because 3D is not interesting in itself. It’s a pretext. But just like that night shot with the shadows I mentioned earlier, 3D is a good way to see 2D. In fact 3D is the reverse perspective of the Italian renaissance.”

“All today’s digital technology wants to do is reconstitute reality, to duplicate it perfectly. It’s the opposite of cinema or art in general, which is tentative representation. But once again, hopefully ‘to err is human’ and if we start to consider the creative defects in digital, we will find ourselves at the beginning of an exciting journey through the lost continent of cinema.”


Jean-Luc Godard - A Digital Showcase

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