Film Socialisme & the Screenplay Poetics of Late Godard

To shift from a film (or screen) poetics to a screenplay poetics is to work in reverse. It is to privilege ‘the screen idea’ over the ‘screenwork’ – the version of the screen idea distributed to the widest audience. These are the terms set out by Ian W. Macdonald who presents a model of screenwriting research which “allows us to talk of what lies behind what is on screen”. [1] In this context, the focus is on the visibility of the screen idea in the creative processes of screen development, production and beyond. Screenplay poetics refers to the principles of organisation which structure a particular screenwork and the screen idea occupies a central place within this framework:

It is a simple notion; a label for the singular project that people are working on, however they define it. It is the focus of the practice of screenwriting, whether mainstream or not. It is what you, as the writer, think you’re writing, but of course it does not exist except as an imaginary concept. It is a term which names what is being striven for, even while that goal cannot be seen or shared exactly. The goal of the concrete never arrives – as the screenwork develops, each draft script becomes one more fixed version of the screen idea. The final film – the screenwork – is another such version. [2]

The screen idea is a conceit, of sorts, in that it remains immaterial (like all ideas) until the point at which it is shared – with financiers, producers, actors and crew collaborators – typically in the form of a screenplay document. The screen idea is a useful tool since it is a conduit between the screenplay documents at hand, creative screenwriting practices (industrial or niche) and individual (or team-based) beliefs around the screenplay. [3] Here, the individual in question is Jean-Luc Godard and the focus of this article is towards the screenwriting forms and practices associated with his late digital feature Film Socialisme (2010). Across his expansive career Godard has displayed a critical, near antagonistic, disposition towards the screenplay as the privileged origin of a screenwork. He has conducted a probing, and inventive, critique of mainstream screenwriting practices whilst simultaneously participating in an industrial, albeit boutique, model of feature filmmaking. A screen idea needs to be examined in a specific context and for Godard this is a peculiar one, since he sits at the threshold of industrial film production and experimental or avant-garde moving image practices. Whilst Godard says “I don’t even stand at the margin any more … ” he retains certain privileges that come with European film finance, screen producers, production companies and international distributors. [4] At the same time, he has pushed the boundaries of what a screenplay is, or could be, with an arc of multimodality in the evolution of his personal screenplay poetics, fuelled by combinations of text, image, video and sound. This article looks at the extent to which the late digital works represent a continuity, or departure, of Godard’s screenplay poetics. It unfolds in two parts. In Part One, I provide the production context for, and introduce, the various threads of the screen idea(s) for Film Socialisme. This is primarily to support the work in Part Two, which examines Godard’s long-standing preference for the film Treatment – as a more poetic, malleable and open screenplay document than a feature length screenplay. This concludes with an in-depth analysis of Godard’s scénario for Film Socialisme, a graphic film Treatment, in order to reveal the personal screenplay poetics at work and delve into ‘what lies behind what is on the screen’.

I .

Film Socialisme was financed with a budget of €300,000 via a suite of European cultural funds. It screened at Cannes Film Festival in 2010. Godard allied with producer Alain Sarde, production company Vega Film and distributors Wild Bunch. [5] The film is distinctive in that it is his first feature to be completed entirely with digital cinematography and the first in the ubiquitous 16:9 screen ratio which dominates the digital screenscape. Saying this, post production relied on 35mm celluloid colour grading and film prints for festival and theatrical distribution – Godard retains luxuries beyond the means of most low-budget digital filmmakers. [6] He says of the process, “it took four years to make this film, in production terms it was very atypical” which signals a period from 2006-2010. This elongated production process was, in part, the result of (in his words) a “very socialist” model of production. [7] The Greek-styled screen credits for the film, as ‘Logos’, refer to a collective image-making process: a credit Godard shares with Fabrice Aragno (Cinematographer), Jean-Paul Battaggia (Production Manager) and Paul Grivas (Camera Department). Film Socialisme adopts a triptych form: “Things such as – a cruise in the Mediterranean”; “Quo Vadis Europa – two children are elected” and “Humanities – six places/real history”. [8] He describes the parts of the film as ‘movements’ – consistent with the classical form of the late features, such as Éloge de l’amour (In Praise of Love, 2001) and Notre musique (Our Music, 2004). For the first movement, the production boarded the Costa Concordia, a working cruise liner on the Mediterranean Sea. [9] The logistics were complex and production was completed across two trips. On the first, the ‘socialist’ production team were trusted to gather images of the ship and its locales, before being joined by Godard and the actors for a subsequent trip. [10]

Ian Macdonald says that the screen idea asserts itself in ‘moments’ in the screen development and production process, where the invisible, or ethereal, is made manifest. [11] The screen idea materialises when it is shared – in order to ‘green-light’ a project or during the creative process when shared with producers, principal cast and crew. The screen idea for Film Socialisme can be traced in Godard’s scénario for the film which is available online at the Dèbordements website, to view or download in PDF format, which will be examined later. The document was posted in 2015, courtesy of Jean-Luc Godard and with thanks to Jean-Paul Battaggia, Alain Badiou and Nicole Brenez. [12] In screenwriting research access to authentic, working screenplay documents is often a challenge – so this is a valuable resource. However, this document is only one iteration, since Godard works in playful ways with the screen idea before, during and even after the screenwork. In industrial models of film production the screen idea also resides in the film synopsis, trailers, press kits and festival screenings prior to formal distribution of the screenwork. Godard retains authorship of these allied forms and (unsurprisingly) takes an interventionist approach: the official trailer for Film Socialisme shows every image in the film at blitzkrieg speed, in seventy-five seconds; the press kit bundles a faux interview with ‘Renaud Deflins’ for a fictitious ‘Sud Rail Magazine’ and for Cannes, Godard elected to subtitle the film in an abbreviated form of Navajo-English to the irritation of many. [13] This version is retained as an option on the DVD release. [14]

Furthermore, on completion of the screenwork (when most filmmakers take pause) Godard searches for other forms with which to relay the screen idea. For example, the Phrases book series of the late films isolate the spoken words (narration and dialogue) in what can be seen as a poetic take on the commercially published screenplay transcription. For Godard, the Phrases series are “traces of a film, close to certain texts by Duras”. [15] As image-less texts they are distinctive in his late oeuvre. For Film Socialisme (consistent with a ‘socialist’ production model) authorship of the words in the film is attributed to a list of thirty-four authors with a “Textos” (Texts by) screen credit. This eminent list is drawn from the canon: writers, poets and philosophers such as ‘W. Benjamin’, ‘J. Derrida’, ‘W. Shakespeare’ … and ‘M. Heidegger’. In the press kit this unconventional credit sits adjacent to an image of an analogue typewriter – which doubles as a symbol of the screenwriter/screenwriting in the popular imaginary. For Film Socialisme, Godard also delivered a publication timed with release of the film: Film Socialisme: Dialogues avec visages auteurs (Dialogue with Authors’ Faces). [16] In the book, he supplies a mug shot style portrait for each author and opts for a lo-fi, zine-like graphic design aesthetic which has parity with his collage-based screenplay poetics at work since the 1970s. [17] For James S. Williams, “the photographs of the book of Film Socialisme tell new and different stories of association and connection, both by and in themselves and how they are positioned and configured on the page.” [18] Or in other words, Godard reworks the screen idea beyond the screenwork as the screen idea finds a new audience. For Stuart Kendell:

Godard’s experimental and iterative approach to his work… affords an attempt to push the work into some heretofore-unexplored capacity. Beyond that, the mere diversity – or perhaps diversification – of these forms is itself interesting as a means of dissemination, of carrying the works beyond the borders of cinema as an industry as well as beyond the frame of any one mode of production. [19]

So what is Godard’s screen idea for Film Socialisme? This requires a degree of unpacking. In film criticism most attention is directed towards the screenwork (understandably) but for screenwriting research the interest is towards the documents and practices which produced it. And with new digital cinema the space between the ‘conception’ (writing) and ‘execution’ (making) of a film is compressed – which situates the screenplay within a production context – this is the approach taken here. [20] For Godard, the screen idea presents a complex weave. At our UTS research seminar Late Godard: Digital + 3D Cinema (which motivated this dossier) the term ‘mosaic’ frequently surfaced to describe the fractal-like organisation of the late features. [21] And this notion is also apt for the entanglement of screen ideas which operate in Film Socialisme as a mosaic of narrative threads – historical, mythical and allegorical. For Godard, the first iteration of a screen idea finds form with a project title. He says, “I’ve always had the titles in advance – they give me some indication of the films that I might make”. [22] At first, the title was simply ‘socialisme’ with Godard adding, “the film could just as well have been called Communisme or Capitalisme”. [23] The ‘Film’ prefix is attributed to philosopher Jean-Paul Curnier who confused a typographic layout of some early documents, then argued that ‘film plus socialism’ offers a dynamic interplay. Godard liked this idea and it stuck. [24] For David Phelps, the screen idea “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”. [25]

An earlier short film by Godard called De l’origine du XXIe siècle (The Origin of the 21st Century, 2000) was commissioned by the Cannes festival to mark the second century of cinema. Nicole Brenez cites this as a ‘first draft’ of Film Socialisme. [26] Godard expresses his screen idea for the short: “to cloak the memory of all the terrible explosions and crimes perpetrated by men with the faces of children and the tears and smiles of women”. [27] It is divided by the intertitles: 1990, 1975, 1960, 1945,1930, 1915 and the film replays 20th century conflicts (in reverse) from the Yugoslav Wars to the Great War. It is assembled from found-footage (including material from Godard’s own archive) and works within a well-established mode of poetic historiography akin to Histoire(s) du cinéma (1998). The association between the screen idea for De l’origine du XXIe siècle and Film Socialisme is most evident in the final movement of the triptych titled “Nos Humanitiés” (Our Humanities) – which mirrors the duration and screen poetics of its early iteration.

In Film Socialisme the central screen idea oscillates around the story of the ‘Moscow Gold’ (also known as the ‘Spanish Gold’) where 500 tonnes of gold was shipped from The Bank of Spain to the Soviet Union for safekeeping, at the outset of the Spanish Civil War. [28] This story appears to have fascinated Godard for some time. A review of the film by Richard Brody dates this to a meeting between Godard and Jacques Tati in 1982. [29] As the story is told: Godard offered to pay the café bill but Tati insisted and pulled out a gold coin he claimed was part of the missing Spanish Gold. He said it was given to him by film producer Louis Dolivet: agent of the Communist Fourth International, alleged soviet spy and one time assistant to the ‘Red Millionaire’ Willi Münzenberg. [30] In the 1950s Dolivet turned to the film business to produce Mr. Arkadin (Confidential Report, Orson Welles, 1955) and Tati’s Playtime (1967). Godard said:

That’s a story that I’d really like to have shown [in “Histoire(s) du cinema”]: what is the real relationship between Mr. Arkadin and Playtime? It’s the gold of the Bank of Spain and of the Spanish Republicans, which Stalin stole. With this money, Dolivet produced two catastrophic flops, but two very beautiful films. [31]

At the nexus of the histories of socialism and cinema – this is clearly an idea that would capture Godard’s attention. Traces of this screen idea exist in the Film Socialisme screenplay document and can be found within the pages of Dialogues avec visages auteurs – as described by James S. Williams:

… a two-page typewritten extract from what we presume is an early script for the film, specifically about the real/mythical story relayed in the film’s first movement about the lost gold doubloons … ‘JLG’ is himself part of the dense narrative in which he relates his own encounters following the war with Jacques Tati and the film producer Louis Dolivet, along with asides to the communist political activist of the 1920s/30s Willi Münzenberg, the socialist politician Pierre Cot, and Orson Welles … [32]

For Brody, the case of the Moscow Gold “lends the entire film its thematic and social value, and is the source of the movie’s elaborate backstory”. [33] It finds form in the mise-en-scène of the film with the gold coin necklace that adorns the neck of Alissa (Agatha Couture) travelling with her grandfather Otto Goldberg (Jean-Marc Stehlé) – a man of multiple identities, with a dubious past. The first words of Film Socialisme are heard in off-screen dialogue: “Money is a public good” … “Like water then” …“Exactly”. These voices are across a high-angle shot of the Mediterranean Sea from the decks of the cruise liner. The sea is midnight blue and is, at once, painterly and menacing. Inside the floating metropolis the emblem of gold returns in the wares of the on-board casino and again with the second movement of the film as ‘black gold’ which is the currency of the Martin family garage. [34] The final image in Film Socialisme shows transfer of the gold coins into the hands of others. This is bad news for Alissa, set to sounds of off-screen violence. Here, Godard seems to pay debt to the narrative trope of L’Argent (Robert Bresson, 1983) and the exchange of the gold coins across time and space speaks to the link between money and civilisation.

In “Quo Vadis Europa” (‘Where are you going Europe?’) the narrative shifts from the ocean to the land. The Martin family are proprietors of a provincial Agrola garage where the adults and children are at loggerheads over the local election. Godard says, “I had the idea of a family in a garage, the Martin family. This didn’t work either for a feature-length film because the people would have to become characters, and whatever took place would have turned into a story.” [35] . In his late works, Godard is certain to avoid any expectations of conventional dramaturgy and deliberately splinters his films to avoid it. In his commentary Godard links the family name to the French communist resistance figure Henri Martin – which tracks continuity of the screen idea across the movements of the film. However, for Godard the screen idea is always partial, and incomplete, as he “dynamites his stories, and only releases fragments of a pulverized whole”. [36] For David Bordwell, in the late works: “Godard’s narratives pose not only problems of interpretation but problems of comprehension – building a coherent story world and the actions and agents in it”. [37]

Kathryn Millard is a filmmaker and theorist who suggests that a “search for coherence” underpins considered screenwriting practices, particularly in the digital age. She adapts this idea from theatre, via Patrice Pavis, in order to emphasise a complex creative process which involves “generating structures and considering the relationships of the parts of the text to the whole.” [38] Godard’s ‘search’ is most literal towards the end of the film where he seeks an image for the state of Palestine. Here, he switches from a production-generated cinematic mise en scène to a post-production mode of filmic writing with found images. This works within an expanded definition of screenwriting as ‘screen writing’ – which privileges writing for, with and on the screen. [39] Antoine de Baecque describes this process well, saying: “the cinematographic form of history in Godard’s films, indeed, requires a mixing of images in the century – of images with the century and of images with each other”. [40] For example, Godard repurposes Agnès Varda’s trapeze artists from Les Plages d’Agnès (The Beaches of Agnes, 2008) as an image of hope for the Middle East. When asked why he chose not to construct an original image, Godard said: “the socialism of the film is the undermining of the idea of property, beginning with that of the artworks”. [41] And at the close the film he gives a commitment to ‘the commons’ via superimposition of an anti-copyright slogan across the generic FBI warning found on commercial DVDs. These ideas of remix and ‘piracy’ gain impetus with the precession of digital culture.


A film Treatment is a short-form document completed towards development of a feature film screenplay typically delivered in ‘Master-Scene’ format – with slug lines and numbered scenes, with scene description and dialogue. A Treatment is a process-orientated document and one that enables story, plot or character ideas to be tested in a less-risky (less time-intensive) form. Its length is around 10-20 pages but contains the proposition for a film in its entirety and discloses all key story events. Dialogue is avoided except in the instance of ‘zinger’ lines of dialogue included for impact. [42] The film Treatment is more literary, and more psychological, than a feature screenplay and provides creative leeway to delve into the minds of its characters without being restricted to describing only what is being seen, or heard, on screen. And in an industrial film model a film Treatment is unlikely to ‘green-light’ a film – since its narrative gaps are not quantified – or budgeted. Godard has displayed a fondness for the Treatment form over time and long been sceptical of the feature screenplay as both a financial and creative document. Jill Murphy explains:

… he expresses a marked, and rather overplayed, distrust of conventional script form due to it being a prerequisite for the financing of a film and not, in his view, the logical point of departure for the telling of a story on screen. He describes the script’s coming into existence as being the outcome of an accountant’s breaking down of the cost of the film into the expenses directly attributable to each character that appeared in the film [43]

In independent and international art cinema there is more room to move – in an auteur-driven screenplay environment. Filmmakers such as the late Abbas Kiarostami, Claire Denis, Gus Van Sant or Joe Swanberg are just a few who work with less proscriptive screenwriting forms. And for Godard, the preference for a film Treatment, over full feature script, is evident since the early days. For À bout de souffle (Breathless, 1960) he inherited a screen idea from François Truffaut but would work with it in far more cavalier ways than his New Wave peer:

Godard planned to merely add dialogue to Truffaut’s outline but struggling with drafting a conventional script, he decided to write the dialogue for each day on the morning of shooting, which led to difficulties with the actors learning their lines. As the entire soundtrack, dialogue included, was post-synchronized, Godard was able to shout the lines at the actors as shooting took place. [44]

Godard’s screenplay poetics are evident in the two volumes of genetic criticism published in 2006: Godard au travail: les anées 60 (Godard at Work) by Alain Bergala and Jean-Luc Godard, Documents by Nicole Brenez, with others. [45] Godard au travail focuses on the early features from À bout de souffle to Week End (1967) whilst Documents covers early and late work, with an emphasis on the later. Godard au travail includes a scénario for each of the 1960s films and whilst the neat transcriptions are authentic, they are mostly used to contextualise an array of production paraphernalia around the script in the form of call sheets, shooting schedules, production stills and so on. In certain instances Bergala includes a reproduction of an actual screenplay document which shows Godard’s film Treatments ‘at work’. For example, for Bànde a part (Band of Outsiders, 1964) this is a typed document (in blue ink) divided into ‘Sequences’. It includes handwritten annotations and the stains on the paper mark it as a working production document. In the 1960s, Godard’s modus operandi involved a dual screenplay system working between a more formal industry style Treatment and his on-set notebook. Journalist Philippe Labro on the set of Masculin féminin (1965) witnessed this:

A sort of workplan … a think notebook of a dozen pages or so, divided into what they call ‘work sequences’ … but when the real shooting starts, Godard gets out his sketchbook (an eight by twelve inch spiral notebook with a blue cover). The dialogue and the scene directions are recorded in it and his handwriting (dark blue ink, lines close together, without too many things crossed out. [46]

Since the 1970s, and often in creative partnership with Anne-Marie Miéville, Godard has explored the potential for multimodal screenplays which use text, image, video and sound to represent the screen idea. Brenez’s Documents shows this transition, from a primarily word-based poetics toward one defined by image-text juxtapositions and typographically adventurous screenplay forms. [47] Seen today, the 1970s screenplays offer a handmade and artisanal charm. Michael Witt points to Godard’s uptake of ‘new’ photocopier technology as the basis for his “photocopier-based glue-and-scissors art” – an aesthetic retained in the Film Socialisme Treatment some forty years later. [48] Godard’s dominant visual language remains one of collage and is closer to fine art than filmic traditions. Think Richard Hamilton, Andy Warhol or Robert Rauschenberg. The anti-commercial screenplay poetics of the 1970s were also in sync with the radical aesthetic programs of the time, such as arte povera. In the 1980s, Godard turned to the video scénario in order to bring his screen ideas in closer proximity to the screenwork itself. For Passion (1982), the ‘screenplay’ consisted of a collage-based print document, an audiocassette and a video screenplay in 30 and 52 minute versions.

Godard’s Treatment for Film Socialisme is a thirty-three page colour document – a PDF facsimile of a paper-based original. It is double numbered in the top right, in black and red ink, which marks it as iteration of a prior document. Godard did a series of Mediapart interviews on Film Socialisme from his base in Rolle, and at one point he turns to retrieve a page from his filing cabinet which reveals a single-sheet screenplay archive, one open to recombination of pages and alternate versions. [49] The online Treatment is a hybrid document that has dual purpose: it is an archive of the screen idea (shared during development and funding) but also a ‘doctored’ version for a new online audience. In short, it is a cut and paste job – Godard has added new images from the produced film, directly over images used as part of a prior screenwriting process which uses both words and images. In the analysis below, I draw out the screen idea to show Godard’s personal screenplay poetics at work. He doesn’t follow any ‘rules’ of screenwriting but rather uses the film Treatment as a composite form. It contains: scene description, narrative sequence-blocks, character profiles, historical backstory, intertitles, images, maps, dialogue and voiceover excerpts. I focus on specific pages of the screenplay which show this diversity, and admixture, of screenplay poetics. The page references are cited in relation to the double black/red numbering system.

Film Socialisme scénario

1: The title page is a collage which shows: a cut-up image of a supersized cruise liner; the obliquely pasted headshots of the Martin family children; a Sony HDV camera and the female African camera operator for FR3 TV. Godard’s crude method of collage renders the layers of typographic space visible, in continuity with a ‘glue-and-scissors’ based poetics. The word ‘socialisme’ appears in lower case in the tri-colours of France. This document dates to around 2008 (Page 30/12) but includes images grafted from the produced screenwork, up to 2010.

2/2: Twin images of the FBI copyright warning. The base image looks like a screen capture from a monitor (perhaps during post-production). It includes an intertitle superimposed over the FBI logo: “QUAND LA LOI N’EST PAS JUSTE LA JUSTICE PASSE AVANT LA LOI” (‘When the law is not just, justice takes precedence over the law’). In the screenwork, this image returns at the close of the film – but shows alternate spacing and placement of the text.

5/5: Godard writes the first movement of the film in cursive, underlined, in a black marker. It reads: “(1) choses comme ça” (‘things like that’) which returns as a recurring intertitle in the screenwork. On pages 6/6 and 7/7 a series of blurred images are difficult to decipher. The formula “X+3=1” is etched over one. These pages include excerpts of voiceover narration for the characters “p.fille” and “grand-père”: (Alissa and her grandfather Otto Goldberg) who are central to the screen idea of the Moscow Gold.

26/8: The title of the next movement is given as “les animaux” (‘the animals’) in reference to an unproduced 1980s project. [50] In the screenwork, this middle section takes the title: “Quo Vadis Europa” (Where are you going Europe?). In the Treatment the Martin family narrative is conveyed in seven pages. Godard provides the setup: a provincial locale, the daughter ‘Esther’ (who reads from Balzac) and her younger brother ‘Deny’. Exotic pets: a llama and donkey. In the film, the siblings become: ‘Florine’ (Marine Battaggia) and ‘Lucien’ (Gulliver Hecq) – taking their names from Illusions perdues (Lost Illusions, Honoré de Balzac, 1837). Godard introduces the FR3 TV crew: journalist (Élisabeth Vitali) and camera operator (Eye Haidara). On page 29/11: Godard reproduces all these elements in a graphic collage of the locale, the parents, the kids, the pets and the TV crew – these are the actors from the screenwork.

30/12: A graphic timeline shows the Martin family narrative in work ‘Sequences’ which oscillate between lettered (A-D for exteriors) and numbered (1-3 for interiors) sequences. This confirms Godard’s preference for sequences over individual scenes. Once again, images from the screenwork have been pasted in as thumbnails across the timeline. Adjacent to the interior sequences Godard lists the themes: fraternité, liberté and égalité. Sequences A, B, C and C1 show images of the TV crew and the Martin family. Sequence D gives a headshot of Godard for a proposed sequence set in a local café where ‘JLG’ interacts with the journalists in the film. This sequence was not produced, or at least does not appear in the screenwork. In a note at the foot of the page, Godard indicates that dialogue is likely to evolve ‘part by part’ in May 2008. On page 30/12A: the eight sequences from the graphic timeline are listed as screenplay text with basic scene description. Whilst the sequence approach recalls the 1960s screenplays – there is far less detail proscribed here with respect to scene description and dialogue. In the late screenplay poetics images and graphics do much of the work.

8/13:nos Humantiés*” is the title for the next movement. An image of the fictional ‘Golden Arrow’ cruise liner (from the title page) is roughly pasted on to a double blue background, where the horizon meets the sky. The name of the ship alludes to the missing Moscow Gold. The title includes an asterisk with a note below that reads: “cette partie peut venir en deuxieme ou troisieme” – Godard has not decided yet whether this part of the film will come second or third in his triptych. In the Treatment this section details the first movement (aboard the cruise liner) but in the screenwork the title is given over to the montage-driven coda.

9/14: A map of the Mediterranean basin is outlined in black marker, with the sea shaded in blue. The itinerary of the Golden Arrow is plotted using circled numbers that move counter clockwise, from east to west. A thumbnail image of the vessel is pasted at each stop. On page right, a legend lists the ports: Algeria, Egypt, Israel, Odessa, Greece, Naples and Barcelona. This ‘screenplay-as-map’ graphic reads as a détournement of the glossy marketing materials used to spruik luxury European cruises. In screenwriting discourse the figure of the map (or roadmap) is often cited as an effective device to organise narrative. Godard makes this didactic.

10/15: He cites literary inspiration of the screen idea (in part) to Le Voyage de Shakespeare – an account of the young Shakespeare at sea. [51] A note at the base of the page proposes the cinematography for the film: the cruise is to be filmed with “tres pauvre video” (very poor video) whilst reserving “en riche 35, Super 16 ou full HD” (35mm, Super 16mm or full HD digital) for the mythical places of the journey. In the screenwork this ratio is redressed since the cruise is mostly shot using the crisp High Definition (HD) digital format, with only brief interludes of consumer grade (and degraded) video filmed with smartphones or the like. Godard’s use of the phrase ‘tres pauvre’ video speaks to the ideas of contemporary artist Hito Steyerl’s who argues that the downsized, resampled and networked ‘poor image’ is the poetic of the digital age. [52]

76/77: A collage of atlas-style maps provide more detail of the Mediterranean locale and a series of hand drawn vector lines crisscross the sea, to represent the historical, mythical and tourism-driven trajectories which structure the film. In Film Socialisme, the idea of ‘geometry as origin’ is relayed by Alain Badiou when he delivers a lecture to an empty theatrette on the cruise. Godard grafts a matrix of faces across the map which show the proposed characters/passengers on The Golden Arrow. They include: Otto Goldberg, his granddaughter Alissa, a Russian agent, a French Agent, a Mossad agent, a photographer and Islamic tourists. A set of character profiles follows, with historically based backstories. On page 15/20: Godard requests the cameos for the projected film: “une chanteuse US (Patti Smith)”, “un philosophe français (Alain Badiou ou Daniel Bensaid) and “jeune pianist japonaise (Ami Kobayashi)”. The fidelity to the screenwork is high, given Smith and Badiou appear in the film – but joined by economist Bernard Maris and intellectual Elias Sanbar (not cited in the Treatment).

16/21: Steyerl’s ‘poor image’ returns with an image of a pair of LOL cats (in the film, Alissa meows along to a You Tube video of cats playing on her laptop). Godard says, “I don’t have the internet” and says that he relies on Miéville for online content. [53] Pages 17/22 to 24/29 give a page for each port, with a taut description of projected screen events – both on and off the ship. At 19/24: at port Odessa, Godard presents a collage of three images of revolution: the Potemkin Steps, a soldier sitting on a fallen statue of Lenin and a monument which bears the red and gold insignia of the Soviet Union (which returns with Lucien Martin’s red and yellow CCCP T-shirt). In the film, at Odessa, Godard cuts between footage from the iconic Battleship Potemkin (Sergei Eisenstein, 1925) stairs sequence and present day, where a tour guide informs the young passengers of the historical significance. At 25/30: another headshot of ‘JLG’. In this iteration of the screen idea – Godard is set to appear in the film to narrate the story of the Moscow Gold: via Tati, via Münzenberg and via Dolivet. In the film the screen idea of the Moscow Gold is rendered in partial, and at times obscure ways, so the inclusion of this scene (as pure exposition!) would have certainly increased its legibility.

The final page of Treatment is interesting (it is un-numbered). Godard uses the pagespace to interrogate the ‘high’ prefix of the High Definition digital format. The page is dense and includes a collage of text and pictorial elements: a vertically aligned handwritten title “á propos de ‘haute définition’” (about high definition); a trade newspaper clipping which asks: “Qu’est-ce que la haute definition ou HD?” (What is high definition or HD?); an image of a 19th century French classical painting with the caption “haute peinture française (?)” (High French painting?) juxtaposed with a cropped image of Argenteuil (Édouard Manet, 1874) with the caption “basse peinture française (?)” (Inferior French painting?). This is all a provocation and a good example of the ways in which Godard hijacks the ‘genre’ of the Treatment for his own philosophical and digressive purpose.

Godard ‘zooms in’ to a cropped image of Manet’s Argenteuil in order to contrast the ‘high’ resolution of the academic painting above with the ‘low’ of the Impressionists. The image recalls the cropped image of A Bar at the Folies-Bergère (Manet, 1882) in Episode 3A of Histories du cinéma which is accompanied by the words “With Manet begins modern painting: that is, the cinématographe”. In the late digital works there is continuity around the intersection of painting and cinema. On page right, there is a handwritten list of “haute” (high) cultural, political and societal contexts that suggest criteria based on exclusion, control and force – the polar opposite to the socialist basis of Godard’s screen idea. Here, Godard links the fanatical drive towards increasingly high-definition digital formats (4K, 6K and upwards) with social and military hierarchies. In Part 4 of the Mediapart interviews Godard retrieves this screenplay page from his archive. He speaks to it at around the 6-minute mark. [54]

High authority
High loyalty
Higher education
High commission (police)
Higher energies
High society
High command
Supreme Command of the Armed Forces (Ober kommadno)
High surveillance
High jurisdiction
The almighty/The superior
Your Highness

For Jean-Luc Godard the film Treatment proves an expansive canvas. It coalesces narrative sequences, work on character and propositions for cinematography, together with images scavenged from cinema, art history, popular media and the Internet. Godard uses it as a creative space to think through, explore and search for his screen idea – a scaffold for complex, yet coherent, shards of information interspersed within the broader narrative movements projected. From early to late career, he has privileged the brevity, and creative license, of the Treatment over the feature screenplay. Words remain important for Godard – they appear as screenwriting description, as dialogue, as voiceover, as intertitles and as polemical digressions. The Film Socialisme Treatment reveals traces from the past, in particular the multimodality of his screenplays from the 1970s onwards. The late poetics, described here, show the dual function of Godard’s screenplays – as both an industry-style document (shared for the necessity of film finance and production) and an artist’s document, where a mosaic-like screenplay anticipates these very qualities in the screenwork to come. Also, Godard’s screen idea attaches itself to forms beyond the screenwork: in film trailers, press kits, poetic screenplay transcriptions and published books. With Film Socialisme Godard explores new communal, or ‘socialist’, production methodologies whilst maintaining his ‘writing’ with found images, in other parts of the film. Both these methods gain currency in the digital age. There is more work to be done in this space – and the late digital works present an opportunity to consider the personal screenplay poetics of Jean-Luc Godard as a paradigm, or even manifesto, of screenwriting refined over half a century.


[1] Ian W. Macdonald, Screenwriting Poetics and the Screen Idea (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013), pp. 6-7.
[2] Macdonald, Screenwriting Poetics and the Screen Idea, pp. 5-6. He cites the following precedents: the ‘screen idea’ see Philip Parker, The Art and Science of Screenwriting (Exeter: Intellect Books, 1998); ‘the film idea’ see Stanley J. Solomon, The Film Idea (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanich, 1972); ‘the cinematic idea’ see Adrian Martin, “Where do Cinematic Ideas come from?”, Journal of Screenwriting, Vol 5. No. 1 (2014), pp. 9-26.
[3] Macdonald, Screenwriting Poetics and the Screen Idea, p. 5.
[4] Godard: “I have become what I was when I first started being interested in cinema. I am nothing which you throw into the gutter. I don’t even stand at the margin any more”. See Manfred Eicher, “The Lives of the Images”, in Jean-Luc Godard & Anne-Marie Miéville: Four Short Films (Regensburg: Pustet, 2006), pp. 95-98.
[5] Des O’Rawe, “The Fraternity of Metaphors”, Kinema: Journal of Film and Audiovisual Media, Vol. 34 No. 2 (Fall 2010),
[6] Adam Cook, “Beauty in the Defects: An Interview with Fabrice Aragno”, MUBI, 23 October 2012,
[7] See Jean-Marc Lalanne, “The Right of the Author? An Author has only Duties”, Les Inrockuptibles, 18 May 2010 translated by Diane Gabrysiak for UK Press Book for Film Socialisme, New Wave Films,
[8] See Film Socialisme French Press Kit, Wild Bunch,
[9] In 2012 the Costa Concordia was shipwrecked off the coast of Italy with fateful consequences. See Rachel Kushner, “Diary”, London Review of Books, Vol.37 No. 2, 22 January 2015,
[10] Paul Dallas, “1+1=3: The extended cut: Goodbye to Language cinematographer Fabrice Aragno on his collaboration with JLG”, Film Comment, (November-December 2014),
[11] Macdonald, Screenwriting Poetics and the Screen Idea, p. 5.
[12] Jean-Luc Godard, Film Socialisme Scénario,
[13] See Craig Keller, “Film Socialisme Press-Book: Interview with JLG by Renaud Deflins”, Cinemasparagus, 12 May 2010, The note about the fictitious interview, via Nicole Brenez, is at the foot of the page.
[14] Film Socialisme, London: New Wave Films, 2012, DVD.
[15] Stuart Kendall, Jean-Luc Godard Phrases: Six Films (New York; London; Melbourne: Contra Mundum Press, 2016), pp. vi.
[16] Film Socialisme: Dialogues avec visages auteurs, (Paris: P.O.L, 2010)
[17] See: Nicole Brenez et al., Jean-Luc Godard, documents (Paris: Centre Pompidou, 2006).
[18] James S. Williams, Encounters with Godard: Ethics, Aesthetics, Politics (Albany: State University of New York Press, 2016) p. 199.
[19] Kendall, Jean-Luc Godard Phrases: Six Films, v-vi.
[20] See: Steven Maras, Screenwriting: History, Theory and Practice (London; New York: Wallflower Press, 2009), pp. 21-23.
[21] Late Godard: Digital + 3D Cinema, Research Seminar at UTS, Sydney, Australia, October 21-22, 2015,
[22] Lalanne, “The Right of the Author? An Author has only Duties”,
[23] Lalanne, “The Right of the Author? An Author has only Duties”,
[24] Williams, Encounters with Godard: Ethics, Aesthetics, Politics, p. 194.
[25] David Phelps, “Film Socialisme Annotated: A guided tour through Jean-Luc Godard’s most allusive film”, Museum of the Moving Image: Moving Image Source, 7 June 2011,
[26] See: O’Rawe, “The Fraternity of Metaphors”, Kinema: Journal of Film and Audiovisual Media, He cites: Nicole Brenez, “Liberté, fraternité, prodigalité”, Cahiers du cinéma, Issue 657 (June 2010), pp. 26-27. De l’origine du XXIe siècle is online at
[27] Eicher, “The Lives of the Images”, p. 99.
[28] See: “Moscow Gold”, Wikipedia, last modified 24 September 2016,
[29] See: Richard Brody, “’Film Socialisme’: The Gold Standard”, The New Yorker, 1 June 2011, Brody cites: Jean-Luc Godard, Jean-Luc Godard par Jean-Luc Godard, ed. Alain Bergala, Vol. 2 (Paris: Cahiers du cine?ma 1998).
[30] See: Sean McMeekin, The Red Millionaire: A Political Biography of Willi Münzenberg, Moscow’s Secret Propaganda Tsar in the West, 1917-1940, (New Haven & London: Yale University Press, 2003).
[31] Brody quotes Godard in: Jean-Luc Godard, Jean-Luc Godard par Jean-Luc Godard, ed. Alain Bergala, Vol. 2 (Paris: Cahiers du cine?ma 1998).
[32] Williams, Encounters with Godard: Ethics, Aesthetics, Politics, p. 194.
[33] Brody, “Film Socialisme: The Gold Standard”,
[34] See the screen idea as discussed in: Phelps, “Film Socialisme annotated”,
[35] Jean-Marc Lalanne, “The Right of the Author? An Author has only Duties”,
[36] Phelps, “Film Socialisme annotated”,
[37] David Bordwell, “ADIEU AU LANGAGE: 2 + 2 X 3D”, Observations on Film Art, 7 September 2014,
[38] Kathryn Millard, Screenwriting in a Digital Era (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014), pp. 44-45.
[39] Maras, Screenwriting: History, Theory and Practice, p. 2
[40] Antoine de Baecque, Camera Historica: The Century in Cinema, trans. Ninon Vinsonneau & Jonathon Magidoff (New York: Columbia University Press, 2012), p. 211.
[41] Keller, “Film Socialisme Press-Book: Interview with JLG by Renaud Deflins”,
[42] For an Australian context for the various forms of screenwriting documents see: Screen Australia, “What is a Synopsis? An Outline? A Treatment?:,
[43] Jill Murphy, “To see a script’: Jean-Luc Godard’s re-envisioning of screenwriting in Passion (1982) and Scénario du film Passion (1982)”, Journal of Screenwriting, Vol 3. No. 1, 2012, pp. 19.
[44] Murphy, “To see a script’: Jean-Luc Godard’s re-envisioning of screenwriting in Passion (1982) and Scénario du film Passion (1982)”, p. 10.
[45] Alain Bergala & Mélanie Gérin & Núria Aidelman, Godard au travail: les anées 60 (Paris: Cahiers du cinema, 2006); Brenez et al., Jean-Luc Godard, documents.
[46] Quoted in the Criterion DVD booklet for the film See also: Alex Munt, “Retro-Modular Cinematic Narrative: Jean-Luc Godard’s Masculin féminin the Digital Age”, in Telling Stories: Countering Narrative in Art, Theory and Film, eds. C.J. Tormey and G.M. Whiteley, (Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars publishing, 2009)
[47] For example: the Sonimage screenplays in: Brenez et al., Jean-Luc Godard, documents.
[48] Michael Witt, Jean-Luc Godard, Cinema Historian (Bloomington & Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 2013), pp. 191-198.
[49] Mediapart “JLG 4/10 – entretien avec Godard”, Video interview with Edwy Pienel, 27 April 2010,

[50] Phelps, “Film Socialisme Annotated: A guided tour through Jean-Luc Godard’s most allusive film”,
[51] Léon Daudet, Le Voyage de Shakespeare, (Paris: Gallimard: 1929)
[52] See: Hito Steyerl, “In Defense of the Poor Image”, e-flux, Issue 10 (November 2009), See also: Andrew Utterson, “Practice Makes Imperfect: Technology and the Creative Imperfections of Jean-Luc Godard’s Three-Dimensional (3D) Cinema”, Quarterly Review of Film and Video, (August 2016), pp. 1–14.
[53] Keller, “Film Socialisme Press-Book: Interview with JLG by Renaud Deflins”,
[54] Mediapart “JLG 4/10 – entretien avec Godard”,

With thanks to Claire Monneraye at the Australian Centre for Photography.

About the Author

Alex Munt

About the Author

Alex Munt

Alex Munt is a filmmaker and media arts academic. He is a Senior Lecturer in Media Arts & Production in the School of Communication, Faculty of Arts & Social Sciences at the University of Technology Sydney.View all posts by Alex Munt →