Review: THE IMAGE BOOK Is An Unsettling Journey Into Film

image book film negative
From The Image Book, courtesy Kino Lorber.

The Image Book is a new avant garde essay film by famous French filmmaker Jean-Luc Godard. Much like most of the rest of Godard’s later work, the movie eschews traditional narrative to deliver his message, instead opting to present the viewer with a thought-provoking series of images and videos cut together with narration.

Godard obviously has a lot to say about society — he always has, and he’s been making films since the 1950’s. The message of this movie was quite profound and impactful and obviously relevant to today’s society. Godard always finds a way to tie art (specifically cinema) into his overall moral, and this is no exception. With the film, he is making a plea to artists to play their role in society.

The pacing is what may turn some people off. This is avant garde, so if you come in looking for a narrative, you are sure to be disappointed. Instead, the proper way to approach the movie is to look at it the way you would a work of modern art in a museum, analyzing it to find meaning. You may have trouble with the first two thirds, but the message comes together towards the end.

image book hands
From The Image Book, courtesy Kino Lorber.

One part of this film that was frustrating was that the subtitling was inconsistent. This is a typical stylistic choice of Godard, but one can’t help but think they are missing part of the story by the subtitles not being there. Obviously, he is still telling us what he wants us to know, but what doesn’t he want us to know? Would it affect our interpretation of the movie?

Believe it or not, this can be considered a horror movie. Many of the images presented in the film are unsettling or disturbing in nature. Godard is gifted at manipulating the audience’s perspective and making them feel certain things through his imagery. He is known to purposefully make movies that hurt the eye, for example. In this film, he is creating fear so that the audience will also feel a sense of urgency.

image book title
From The Image Book, courtesy Kino Lorber.

Godard self-edited the movie, and his techniques were quite unique and impressive. Juxtaposition is one of the tools he uses most effectively, creating a lot of meaning simply by showing two opposite images in rapid progression. The comparisons he is able to draw using this method are truly mind-blowing.

Godard is also talented at using sound and music in his films. The music used in this movie is very unsettling, and does a great job creating further meaning and atmosphere. The use of silence is also impressive, as the sound would frequently stop completely to draw greater attention to an abnormal image. Aural motifs, such as one of a girl yelling “A train!”, further add to the complexity of the soundscape.

Overall, The Image Book is a very interesting avant garde film. Not everyone will enjoy watching it, but Godard knows how to use the medium to create an impact.

The Image Book is now playing in select theaters.

By Sean Boelman

Sean is a film student, aspiring filmmaker, and life-long cinephile. For as long as he can remember, he has always loved film, but he credits the film Pan's Labyrinth as having started his love of film as art. Sean enjoys watching many types of films, although some personal favorite genres include dramatic comedies, romantic comedies, heist films, and art horror.

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