Even when they trade in quotations, the films of Jean-Luc Godard exude a sense of spontaneity. The Swiss filmmaker has never been able to stay put on an idea or story line for very long; his work always goes off in unexpected directions or sprouts up non sequiturs. A possible explanation for the films’ eccentric forms is that Godard has always embraced chance, coincidence, and arbitrary decisions as a core part of his creative practice. When he employs quotations (whether from written texts, movies, paintings, or musical compositions), he’ll often do so because he simply likes how the sources look or sound. He also likes to name his films before determining anything else about them, letting the titles guide his ideas, motifs, arguments, and counterarguments as if they were watchwords or mantras.

A dense and cryptic essay film in the vein of his magnum opus, Histoire(s) du Cinéma (1988-’98), Godard’s latest feature, The Image Book, also began as a title and abounds with quotations both carefully and randomly chosen. It’s a film that seems to be taking shape as you watch it—and in a sense, it is: Godard crams every moment with so much information that you can’t possibly take it all in at once. CONTINUE READING