With all of their eyes, animals behold openness.”

Rainer Maria Rilke, The Eight Duino Elegy (trans. Alfred Corn)

“The meaning of the dog is the dog.”

– Andrei Tarkovski

In the general excitement over the invention of new types of never-before seen plastic, pluriperspectival images in Adieu au Langage (Goodbye to Language, 2014) – the “third images”, as Daniel Fairfax proposes to call them, which were rewarded with spontaneous applause by the film’s premiere audience in Cannes1 – it was largely overlooked that Jean-Luc Godard’s first 3D film was also his first animal picture. 

According to the usual measures – screen time, the number of close-ups, font size and type in the credit sequence, advertising – Roxy Miéville, a cross of Appenzeller farm dog and pinscher who has been living in the Godard/Miéville household since 2010, is undoubtedly the star of the film.2 In a film with a run time of 69 minutes, Roxy is on screen for 9 Minutes and 6 seconds, or, in the parlance of statistical film analysis, 13.2% of the time – significantly more than any other actor in the film.3 Roxy has the first close-up, which is part of the opening sequence, and commands the last two shots of the film, which show her running into the woods and returning and running towards the camera along the same forest path. In the final credit sequence, the name “Roxy Miéville” is the only name which is projected individually and not as part of a list, and in fact the only name which remains on screen long enough to be read (the other actors’ names disappear almost as quickly as they appeared, to the point of creating a sense of credit withdrawn rather than given). Furthermore, Roxy’s name is the only one projected in red, which means that it is the only one which appears spatially detached from the background in the 3D version. Roxy’s presence also graces the poster and the DVD and blu-ray covers, in a shot which shows her at sunset on Lake Geneva. It should also be noted that Roxy’s is the first proper starring role in a Godard film since Gerard Depardieu walked off the set two thirds into the shooting of Hélas pour moi in 1993.4 

Many critics noted the dog in their reviews. Some praised her ability to carry the film, and one even called her a “show-stealing mutt”. But by and large critics treated Roxy’s presence largely as another one of Godard’s eccentric ideas, a satirical or poetic flourish, albeit in this case a rather endearing one.5 David Bordwell, who described Adieu au Langage as the best 3D film he had ever seen and wrote a detailed and highly illuminating analysis of its camera and editing techniques, mentions Roxy too, but only in passing.6 Perhaps unsurprisingly for someone who was written an entire 352-page book against interpretive approaches to film,7 Bordwell quotes a friend to the effect that Godard is “a poet who thinks he is a philosopher”, which is another way of dispensing himself from the hard work of figuring out the meaning of the dog. 

This is unfair to Roxy. It can be argued that with Adieu au Langage, she secured her place alongside Rin Tin Tin, Lassie and Old Yeller as one of the great film dogs in history – not in terms of box office (Godard has not had a hit since about 1963), but certainly in terms of screen presence and charisma. But it is also unfair to Godard. If a director chooses to make his first 3D film and picks a dog for the starring role, with all the trappings listed above, he may well have done so for a reason. As a matter of fact, Roxy is inextricably linked to Godard’s engagement with 3D. Godard became interested in the technique during his daily walks with Roxy along Lake Geneva and the Gillière, a small river which descends from the slopes of the Jura mountains near Rolle, where Godard and Anne-Marie Miéville have been living since the early 1970. Godard asked Fabrice Aragno, who would later serve as the cameraman on Adieu au Langage, to procure him two small, smart-phone sized 3D cameras, a Sony Bloggie 3D and a Fuji FinePix Real 3D.8 Over a period of four years, Godard filmed Roxy in various settings on their walks. He compiled an archive of footage which became the backbone of Adieu au Langage. The film then took shape as the story of a couple which come together and stay together because of the dog. 

Jean-Luc Godard, Adieu au Langage Promotional Image

One of the ironies of Godard’s life as an artist is that his “late” phase was declared to have started in the early 1990s, when as of 2022 the year 1990 marks almost exactly the mid-point of what is now a career in cinema spanning more than six decades. This mid-point is currently occupied by a film entitled Nouvelle Vague (1990), which is again ironic since the beginnings of the “Nouvelle Vague” itself currently occupy the half-point of film history in its entirety to date. Nouvelle Vague opens with a line from Hyperion by German poet Friedrich Hölderlin (1770-1843), whose most famous poem is entitled “Hälfte des Lebens” (which can be translated as “Life at half-time” or “Half a life”, and which contains the line which became the title of Godard’s next film after Nouvelle Vague, “Woe is me” or Hélas pour moi). The Hölderlin quote read by Alain Delon at the beginning of Nouvelle Vague can be understood as a summary of Godard’s oeuvre so far, and a prospect of the next thirty years: “Mais c’est un récit que je voulais faire, et je le veux encore” – “It is a story that I wanted to tell, and I want it still.” It is well known that Godard, according to his own declaration in the press conference for Hélas pour moi at the Venice Film Festival 1993, was held back by, among other things, by the double meaning of “raconter des histoires” in French, which means both “to tell a story” and “to tell lies”. But even the personal drama of the Kantian conflict between the wish to tell a story and the moral obligation to tell the truth has not kept Godard from telling one classical plot of cinema again and again, that of the formation of the couple – in Nouvelle Vague, for instance (twice, to be precise, for the film which marks the mid-point of Godard’s career is also split in half, with the first part telling the story of one Roger Lennox, who is drowned by his lover, played by Domiziana Giordano, at half time, and the second part that of this Lennox’ twin brother Richard, who surreptitiously shows up, Vertigo-style, after Roger’s death), or in Hélas pour moi (with a divine twist, as the film is a take on Giraudoux’ Amphytrion 38), and again in Adieu au langage (also twice, because the film has two parts, “La nature” and “La metaphore”, in which two different set of actors play out variations of the couple plot, with Roxy as the constant element). Anything that resolves the tension between the desire to tell a story and the obligation to tell the truth and gets a “récit” going in a Godard film is worth our attention. And Roxy in Adieu au langage is much more than a story device, let alone another one of Godard’s notoriously impenetrable jokes. She made him turn to 3D and is thus a co-creator, the facilitator of both the plot and the form of the film. And with that, we see that no formalist analysis of the film can be complete which does not relate the form to the dog.

But what exactly did Roxy teach Godard about cinema during their walks that earned her the starring role in the film?

One way to start answering this question is to go back and look at how audiences and critics responded to Godard’s use of 3D when the film came out. It is no overstatement to say, as I did at the beginning, that there was a general, palpable excitement about Adieu au langage, when it first came out. Not since the “bullet time” sequence in the original Matrix movie in 1997 had there been such a widely shared feeling that something new had been added not just to the repertoire of special effects, but to the possibilities of cinema. The excitement, of which David Bordwell’s analysis is a compelling testament, concerned both what Godard did and how he did it (or rather, how he and Fabrice Aragno did it). Not only did Godard (and Aragno) create images which no one had ever seen in the cinema, but they did it on the cheap, with low-cost (if not necessarily low-tech) devices which were easily available and relatively easy to handle. 

Let us first ask how they did it, before we turn to what they did, and then ask what Roxy had to do with it.

Manual Thinking and the Revolutionary Critique of Culture: Topical Tinkering in the Canton de Vaud

Proving once again George Steiner’s claim about artistic innovation that “all human constructs are combinatorial. … they are arte-facts made up of a selection and combination of pre-existent elements”,9 Godard and Aragno built their 3D system from commercially available devices which they combined in new ways. But then, George Steiner’s argument could be applied to Godard’s work in its entirety, particularly the films of the second half of his working life: They result to a large extent from the selection and combination of pre-existing fragments of literary texts, musical works and films.10 

Filming Adieu au Langage

Godard and Aragno’s tinkering is topical in so far as the Canton de Vaud, where Rolle lies, has an important history of inventing portable, relatively low-cost but high-tech film technologies which change the shape and course of cinema. Yverdon is the home of Paillard, the producers of the Bolex narrow- and small-gauge camera,11 Lausanne is the home of NAGRA, a company founded by Polish-Swiss inventor Stefan Kudelski (1927-2013), who invented the NAGRA portable 16mm sound recorder.12 Without Paillard and Kudeslki, there would be no direct cinema or cinéma vérité, among other things. But Godard’s tinkering is topical in another sense as well. One could argue that particularly since his return to the shores of Lake Geneva Godard’s work is strongly indebted to regional models and templates. Among Godard’s constant, but lesser noticed references – lesser noticed perhaps because they are somewhat less canonical than, say, Walter Benjamin, Howard Hawks or Sergei Eisenstein – are two Swiss writers from the wider vicinity of Rolle. One is the novelist Charles Ferdinand Ramuz (1878-1947), who grew up in Lausanne in the Canton de Vaud and, like his fellow Vaudois Godard, made his name in Paris, in Ramuz’ case with the libretto for Stravinsky’s “Histoire du soldat,” among other things. The other is philosopher Denis de Rougemont (1906-1985) who grew up  the son of a pastor in the Val de Travers in the Canton of Neuchâtel, the place and milieu in which André Gide set his 1919 novel “Symphonie pastorale” (Denis was only slightly younger than the son of the pastor in the novel), and who was among the founders of Esprit, spent time on the faculty of the New School with Hannah Arendt during the war and became a professor and vocal proponent of European integration in Geneva after the war. 

Godard based his first known screenplay, which he wrote at age 18, on Aline, a novella by Ramuz about a pregnant young woman abandoned by her lover.13 Adapting Ramuz to the cinema, in other words, marks the starting point of Godard’s creative activity in cinema. He references Ramuz at length in Liberté et patrie, a short film he made on commission for the Swiss National exhibition Expo.02 in 2002, in which the title refers to the motto of the Canton de Vaud, a territory which had been emancipated and awarded political autonomy from the regional hegemon Bern by the occupying French forces under Napoleon Bonapate in 1803.14 In that film Godard quotes from Ramuz’ Paris (Notes d’un Vaudois) to reflect on his own existence between periphery and the metropole of Paris which, as Ramuz writes, “m’a appris dans sa propre langue à me servir (à essayer du moins de me servir) de ma propre langue” (has taught me in her own language to use [at least to try and use] my own language).15 

Godard references both Ramuz and de Rougemont prominently in Livre d’image from 2018. In the opening sequences he invokes, as if “en exergue”, as a motto, the titles of two of their books, Ramuz’ 1919 novel Les signes parmi nous and de Rougemont’s 1936 book Penser avec les mains.  Les signes parmi nous is the central instalment of a cycle of five novels, a tale of life under the last great global pandemic, the Spanish Flu, on the shores of Lake Geneva. The main character is a Caille, a “colporteur biblique”, a self-anointed preacher and prophet of doom who sells religious tracts and points whoever wants to listen to the signs of impending end of the world, the “signes parmi nous”. It is a book which, both in its fragmented narrative and the push out of narrative and towards a painterly use of words, seems like a template for the kinds of stories-not-stories which Godard has been telling/not telling since he returned to cinema on the shores of Lake Geneva in the late 1970s. Ramuz’ book consists of 34 short chapters, which are impressionistic aperçus rather than forming a coherent narrative arc.16)] If one of the coherent traits of Godard’s work after the late 1970s is that it strives towards painting, as Daniel Morgan argues, then Ramuz’ Les Signes parmi nous, which has been described as the work of someone “qui voulait faire ‘tableau’ et non ‘roman’”, who wanted to paint with words rather than write a novel,17 can be seen as a template in this sense, too. Passion (1982), obviously, is a paean to painting and a form of cinema as tableau vivant, and Godard’s interest in the painterly qualities of video and particularly digital video has been evident from Historie(s) du cinéma (1988-1998) to Film Socialisme (2010). In Adieu au langage one of the main references are the paintings of Nicholas de Staël (1914-1955, incidentally a distant relative of Madame Staël, a citizen of Geneva and a Vaudoise on her mother’s side). The most spectacular early 3D scene, which consists in the simultaneous projection of two overlapping three 3D views (of which more anon) and is the prime example of Daniel Fairfax’s “third image”, occurs in a scene where a male character sitting in a park bench by the lake leaves through a volume of de Staël’s paintings, while later parts of the film emulate his landscapes composed of his geometrically shape batches of strong colors with digital video. What is more, the first sequence of shots in Adieu au langage after the opening quotes on a black screen show footage of scenes of war, a shot from Hawks’ Only Angels Have Wings (1939), a close-up of Roxy and another close-up of what ultimately turns out to be the pastel black and blue surface of one of de Staël paintings. Rambling along the shores of Lake Geneva with painting in mind, in other words, is what connects the Ramuz of Signes parmi nous with the Godard of (not just) Adieu au langage.

Meanwhile, Denis de Rougmont’s Penser avec les mains could best be described as a work of revolutionary cultural critique. Culture, de Rougemont argues, has been turned into a luxury good and an ossified form of heritage and thus neutralised as a social force by a capitalist bourgeoise committed to a purely instrumental form of rationality: “on est arrivé à considérer la culture comme un produit de consommation et non comme une activité de production” (It has come to a point where culture is considered as a product for consumption rather than an acivity of production).”18 Culture is no longer measured to our need (“elle n’est plus à notre mesure, elle nous offre des nourritures de luxe, et nous avons besoin de pain de menage” [it offers luxury meals where we need simple bread]).19 To regain its power culture must be reaffirmed as a creative force and as an activity of production, which means that thought and action have to be realigned and restituted to a form of “thinking with one’s hands”.20 De Rougemont, Penser avec les mains, p. 36. Shortly after de Rougemont had returned to Paris, a research position at Frankfurt University’s Institute for Hereditary Biology and Racial Hygiene was assigned to an ambitious young medical doctor by the name of Josef Mengele. Frankfurt became the springboard for Mengele’s work in Auschwitz.] In a piece of etymological wordplay worthy of Godard himself, de Rougemont writes “L’esprit n’est vrai que lorsqu’il manifeste sa présence, et dans le mot manifester il y a main” (the spirit is true only when it manifests its presence, and in “manifest” there is the hand [lat. manus]).21 Culture only truly exists where there is a common measure, the “mesure commune” of thought and action. This common measure is opposed to both the commodified culture of bourgeois capitalism and the totalitarian notions of culture of the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany, which at the time of de Rougemont’s writing offered the model of a “culture unifié par la force, et dont la mesure actuelle est tactique au service de la force commune, et non pas la verité…” (a culture unified by force, of which the current measure is a tactics in the service of a communal force, and not of truth).22 To these distortions of culture, manual thought, “penser avec les mains”, opposes a utopian idea of a socialist culture in which the means of production are socialised not through collectivisation but through the restitution of the common measure of thought and action. It begins with a revolutionary critique of culture because “La critique révolutionnaire est liée d’une façon immédiat à l’affirmation créatrice: elle n’est en somme qu l’aspect accidentellemnt negatif de cette affirmation centrale » (the revolutionary critique is tied inextricably to creative affirmation: It is, after all, only the accidentally negative aspect of this affirmation).23 

Adieu au Langage

Traces of Godard’s debt to the de Rougemont of Penser avec les mains may be found in his idea that cinema can only truly exist as a popular and thus revolutionary art. As Michael Witt writes, it is important “to recognize the magnitude of [Godard’s] investment in the cinematograph as a revolutionary tool, an in the silent era generally as a genuine moment of popular cultural revolution,”24 which also motivates his focus on Russian, Italian, French, German and American cinema in the Histoire(s) at the expense of other countries which have not seen such moments of popular cultural revolution and which accordingly, in Godard’s view, have no cinema in the proper sense, like Britain and Spain.25 Similarly, a title like Film Socialisme refers to the utopian possibility of such a popular art rather than any programmatic political concept of socialism. With a view to Adieu au Langage, one can re-read Godard’s treatment of Solszhenytsin’s Archipel Gulag and the passages on Hitler early in the film in the light of the explicit reference to de Rougemont in the opening sequence of Livre d’image as rejections of a culture unified by force rather than the common measure of thought and action. But perhaps the most specific debt to de Rougment lies in Godard’s concept of his own filmmaking as a way of thinking manually. In the intro to Livre d’images, the reference to the title of de Rougemont’s book is coupled with a shot of Godard at the editing table from Histoire(s) du cinema. Godard has always been an early adopter of new technologies. He was among the earliest owners of a video camera in France, he bought himself a photocopier in the early 1970s, he acquired a telecine machine which allowed him to transfer film to video in the early 1980s, and he had a complete sound studio built in his house in the late 1980s and early 1990s. If Godard and Gorin’s turn to small gauge formats and video in the late 1960s could still be framed as a militant Marxist attempt to socialize and collectivize the means of production, Godard’s acquisition and adoption of new technologies point towards a different type of socialism, one in the spirit of 1930s de Rougemont, in which thought and practice realign and image technologies are at hand without the interference of capital and the bourgeois order of consumption. As a matter of fact, through the acquisition and adoption of the latest technologies Godard has progressively put himself in a position where he was one of the few, if not the only filmmaker, who could make films the way other artist draw, paint, play an instrument or write, and this decades before digitization made the tools of filmmaking almost universally available.26 Roxy’s appearance in Adieu au langage exemplifies this mode of production, which spares itself the detours through the capitalist hallways of the film industry. Composed almost entirely of footage shot by Godard himself on their walks, it is not only the most significant starring role made from pre-existent material since Joseph Cornell’s found footage film Rose Hobart (1936) but also as one of the least expensive in the history of cinema, humans and animals included. What is more, one can also see Godard’s way of combing pre-existent elements not just as a generic form of creation in the sense of Steiner, but as a form of revolutionary critique of culture. Godard, after all, started out as a critic (after his first efforts of adapting Ramuz) and continued to combine criticism and creation in the mould of the German romantics throughout his work, with Histoire(s) as the most significant example.27 Godard’s process of critical manual can be literally seen at work in a little-known short film which Nicole Brenez, co-author of the scenario for Livre d’images, discusses in a recent essay: a video entitled Maquette éxpo in which Godard offers a tour of a model of an early version of what was to become Voyages en utopie, his famous/infamous exposition at the Centre Pompidou, and which was addressed to Dominique Païni who was then still the director of the museum but would lose his job over the project. Speaking from out of frame, Godard uses his hands to arrange the little card-board mock-ups of the various elements of the exposition, which include paintings by Nicholas de Staël and some of the quotes which re-appear in Adieu au langage, and demonstrate the plan for the show – a genuine process film of the artist thinking with his hands.28 Godard’s use of 3D, then, can be seen as another way of thinking with his hands rooted in a revolutionary cultural critique, the latest stage in his personal project of “Film Socialisme”. An “affirmation créatrice” which provides a sense of the common measure of thought and action in an art form and medium which, particularly in the age of theme-park-style blockbuster franchises with great merchandising opportunities, is perhaps the most commodified element of a capitalist culture of and for consumption: To see such manual thinking happen in action on the big screen is exhilarating.

But if Godard’s 3D is part of a long, continuous, and topical effort, and if, in any case, his intervention comes at a late point in film history, at which 3D has been around for longer than the “Nouvelle vague”, then what is really new about Adieu au langage? And what does Roxy have to do with it?

Totality 3D vs. Infinity 3D

To find an answer, it can be useful to go back to David Bordwell’s (or rather his unnamed friend’s) somewhat dismissive quip about Godard the poet who mistakes himself for a philosopher and ask ourselves: What if he is not mistaken? What if Godard’s manual thought is indeed a form of philosophy? What if Godard’s and Aragno’s tinkering has yielded the kind of invention which Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari have identified as the very task of philosophy, the invention of a concept?29 

It is of course important to note that philosophy in France is not the prerogative of armchair philosophers who spend their lives sitting around in earthtone sweaters clarifying concepts. At least since Diderot philosophy has also been a form of literature (which Marc Fumaroli in turn has described as the “jurisprudence du quotidien”, the jurisprudence of everyday life, an ongoing litigation of life in the form of art30). De Beauvoir and Sartre are cases in point, and in the “conte philosophique” philosophy in France even has its own literary form, which has left traces in French cinema, not least in Eric Rohmer’s cycle of “contes” in the four seasons films, which contain lots of philosophical discussions and are expressly intended as “contes philosophiques”. Godard also likes to argue that France has a unique tradition of art criticism, which manifests itself in a gallery of critics stretching from Diderot to Daney (“from D to D”), of which he sees himself, as a revolutionary critic of culture, as a part.31 Jean-Luc Godard, Youssef Ishaghpour, Archéologie du cinéma et mémoire du sciècle (Paris: Verdier 2020), p. 12.] At the very least we must admit that Godard does what philosophers do, namely quote other philosophers. 

Among those he quotes often, and those he quotes in Adieu au Langage, is Emmanuel Levinas. In Adieu au Langage quotes Lévinas main work Totalité et infini from 1971 (but as is often the case, slightly adapts the quote from the original source). The quote is “Seuls les êtres libres peuvent être étrangers les uns aux autres. Ils ont une liberté commune, mais précisément cela les sépare.“32 (Only free beings can be strangers to each other. They share a common liberty, but precisely this separates them.) In the film the quote refers to the challenge of forming a couple, and in the plot the space of their shared common liberty is occupied by Roxy, the dog who binds them together but allows them to remain strangers to each other. But there is another quote at the opening of the film, or rather an image composed of an explicit citation and a piece of video footage, which can read as a reference to the opening of Totalité et infini. The film opens with a series of three quotes on black film, followed by the abovementioned succession of shots: a blurred video image of a theatre marquee with the title 2D/3D imprinted upon it; two blurred video shots of armed battle; an excerpt from Only Angels Have Wings; a close-up of Roxy; and a close-up of a pastel colour surface of one of Nicholas de Staël’s paintings. Hanns Zischler, who appears in Allemagne année 90 neuf zéro (Germany Year 90 Nine Zero, 1991), and who is, with Nathalie Baye and Michael Lonsdale, the only actor to have appeared in films by both Godard and Steven Spielberg, has suggested that Godard’s films should be read in terms of the compositional techniques of Bach, particularly the fugue, rather than as straightforward narratives.33 While this hypothesis remains to be tested in a more detailed analysis informed by a musicological perspective, it is certainly possible to read the opening succession of quotes and shots in Adieu au langage in musical terms as an exposition, a presentation of the material of which the remainder of the film will be an elaboration. All of the elements are, in fact, reprised in variations. The third citation, which is followed by the marquee and the war shots and which can be traced to writer Marie Darrieusecq, a favorite of Godard’s, reads “Tous ceux qui manquent d’imagination se réfugient dans la réalité. » (Those lacking in imagination take refuge in reality.)34 Levinas in turn opens Totalité et infini with a reflection on morality, politics and war. The state of war suspends morality (“L’état de guerre suspend la morale”), and the art of anticipating and winning war by all means – i.e. politics – turns into the very activity of rational thought (“L’art de prévoir et de gagner par tous les moyens la guerre – la politique – s’impose, dès lors, comme l’exercie même de la raison”.) War affects philosophical thought not just as the most evident fact, but as the very evidence – or truth – of the real (“la guerre ne l’affecte pas seulement comme le fait le plus patent mais comme la patience même – ou la verité du reel”).35 Levinas posits that an ontology of totality and of objective experience results from war as the evidence of the real (“ontologie de la totalité issue de la guerre”), an ontology which becomes the foundation and focus of philosophical and political rationality, with the consequence of reducing ontology to a metaphysics of the real evolving around questions of identity and the same, which leaves no place to transcendence and the Absolutely Other. To this ontology of totality Levinas opposes the idea of infinity, the idea of an overflowing of objectifying thought by a forgotten experience from which it lives (“ l’idée du débordement de la pensée objectivante par une experience oubliée dont elle vit”).36 Levinas takes the phenomenon of eschatological prophecy – the kind of prophecy which Caille, Ramuz’ “colporteur biblique” and speller of doom in Signes parmi nous, brings to the shores of Lake Geneva – to be a model for how we can experience transcendence and think about infinity. Eschatological prophecy can serve as a guide because it refuses to accept the terms of the ontology of totality and define infinity as a problem of representation but precisely as a question of experience. As Levinas writes, “l’idée de l’infini qui n’est pas à son tour une représentation de l’infini est la source commune de l’activité et de la théorie”37 (the idea of infinity, which is not in itself a representation of infinity, is the common source of activity and theory). Or, to put it in de Rougemont’s terms, the idea of infinity is the source of the two elements which come together when one thinks with one’s hands, the two sides of manual thought. 

In the exposition of Adieu au langage the final quote which Godard borrows from Darrieusecq establishes an opposition between imagination and reality, which the first two shots exemplify: Cinema, visualised through the marquee with 2D/3D imprinted upon it, stands for the imagination, the images of war for reality. But the opposition can also be read in terms of Levinas’ opposition between infinity (associated with transcendence and experience) and totality (associated with war and/as the real). The succession of shots opposes cinema as the manual thought of transcendence which derives from and gestures toward infinity to another form of visuality, or – to rehearse a dichotomy introduced by Serge Daney (the second D of “D to D”) and explicitly embraced by Godard38 – the succession of shots opposes cinema to the visual, exemplified here through the representation of the reality of war, i.e. the ontology of totality. 

But how exactly does cinema side with infinity over totality?

One of the recurring features of Godard’s work, particularly since the mid-point of his career, has been the use of black film. In her essay on Maquette éxpo, Nicole Brenez offers an inventory of seven different uses of black film by Godard. Black film

  • Symbolises how ideology obfuscates the world
  • Interrupts the flow of representation
  • Installs a lock against routine images  
  • Symbolises the impossibility of creating revolutionary images in a capitalist order of production
  • Creates a time-space for reflections
  • Heightens the viewer’s attention to sound
  • Serves as a placeholder for images which cannot yet be produced.39

A common thread which runs through this list is that all of these can be seen as attempts to sidestep the regime of the visual and suspend the ontology of totality. Or in other words: Black film is the basic signifier, the sign among us, of the non-representable idea of infinity.

From this we can also derive a concept which helps us grasp the novelty of Godard and Aragno’s version of 3D. Hollywood 3D technology – which first emerged in the 1950s, had a comeback in the 1970s and was re-introduced in the 2000s partly to justify higher ticket prices in cinema – can be seen as part of a historical trajectory which André Bazin lays out in his essay on the “Myth of Total Cinema”.40 Cinema, Bazin argues, strives towards becoming an ever more perfect substitute for the outside world, a development of which cinema in is current shape is merely a transitory and imperfect stage. In this development, 3D, which supposedly makes the experience of film more real, speaks of an ambition to align cinematic representation ever more closely with the ontology of totality. Hollywood 3D, in other words, is Totality 3D. 

Adieu au Langage

This is in stark contrast to 3D as developed by Godard and Aragno. The difference becomes strikingly clear in the scene early on in the film, which was shot in a lakeside park in Nyon. As the actor in the trenchcoat leaves through the de Staël book, the actress sitting next to him gets up and walks away, only to encounter a man with a gun who threatens to kill her. This scene is filmed with two cameras who move independently from each other, which leads to the effect of two images appearing simultaneously on screen, which earned the premier audience’s spontaneous applause in Cannes. The scene can be said to visualise the common space of liberty in which two human beings encounter each other as strangers. But there is more to the scene. Rather than working towards the construction of a hegemonic subject in command of objective experience, the “third image” in this scene creates an experience of the fundamental alterity and of the irreversibility of self and other.41 Where Hollywood 3D strives towards the totality of representation, in this scene 3D is used to rupture totality. “L’éthique”, writes Levinas, “est une optique” (Ethics is an optics). But it is a vision “sans image, dépourvue des vertus objectivantes synoptiques et totalisantes de la vision” (without image, devoid of the objectifying, synoptique and totalising force of vision). The “third image” of 3D in Adieu au langage, which emerges from black film, the placeholder of inifinity, is 3D “sans image”, a rupture of the totalising force of vision.42 Or, in other words: where Hollywood 3D is Totality 3D, Godard/Aragno 3D is Infinity 3D. 

While this is not the name Godard and Aragno have given to their invention, there is little doubt that their use of 3D constitutes not just another one in Godard’s long series of attempts at reinventing the cinema. It constitutes the invention of a concept and thus an act of philosophy. One could even argue that it also constitutes an act of philosophy in the analytical/armchair sense, in which the work of philosophy is the clarification of concepts: The invention of Infinity 3D clarifies the sense of Totality 3D. But then, Godard, as a practitioner of Infinity 3D, as a provider of signs which gesture towards infinity rather than totality, is also more than just a philosopher: A prophet in the vein of Caille, the “colporteur biblique” who rambles along the shores of Lake Geneva quoting scripture (and, in Godard’s case, hosts of other texts) to point towards that which cannot be represented, the signs announcing images yet to come. 

But if Infinity 3D is a name for Adieu au langage’s invention of form, then how does that invention of form relate to the dog? For an answer to this last question, which was our first question, we can turn to the least controversial of Godard’s professional selves – not that of historian or philosopher, but that of poet.

The dog speaks

What did Roxy teach Godard on their walks that made him pick up a 3D camera and work towards a new way of rupturing the totalising force of vision?

Among the poets quoted in Adieu au langage is Rainer Maria Rilke, who was born in Prague in 1875 and died in Montreux on Lake Geneva in 1926. Rilke’s Eight Duino elegy is concerned with exteriority, which is also the main topic of Levinas’ Totalité et infini. The poem opens like this: „Mit allen Augen sieht die Kreatur / das Offene“ (With all of their eyes, animals behold openness). Lines 5 to 9 read as follows:

Was draußen ist, wir wissens aus des Tiers
Antlitz allein; denn schon das frühe Kind
wenden wir um und zwingens, daß es rückwärts
Gestaltung sehe, nicht das Offne, das
im Tiergesicht so tief ist.

[What does exist outside we come to know
from their faces alone; in fact, we make
even young children turn and take a backward
look at fixed concepts, not at the openness
deep in those mammal features.]

Adieu au langage quotes the first line with a rare explicit (and, which is even more rare, correct) attribution right after the line which gives the text its title: “Ce qui est au-dehors, ecrivait Rilke, nous ne le savons que par le regard de l’animal.” What the face of the animal can teach us is a return to openness and exteriority, a liberation from the totalising force of concepts, or an epoché in Husserl’s sense: a bracketing of our templates of knowledge and experience in the name of a return to the things themselves. Whether it is literally true that Roxy inspired Godard to the discovery of 3D on their walks, is ultimately of little importance. Roxy is not just the star of the film. As the bearer of a look which has the potential of suspending the totalising force of vision and of disrupting totality, she is the film’s generative principle, the paradigm of a new way of seeing, which is what Godard’s (and Aragno’s) reinvention of cinema in Infinity 3D is all about. That, it would seem, is the meaning of the dog in relation to the film’s form.

Adieu au Langage

We could, of course, also engage in an allegorical reading. Dogs have long been used as emblems in European painting, where they are endowed with the ability of seeing through surfaces and the ornaments of worldly power43. If Adieu au langage quotes Derrida to the effect that there is no nakedness, the dog at his side sees the King naked. But in Adieu au langage Roxy is more than just an emblem. She is also a figuration of eschatological prophecy, another seer in the vein of Caille. Among the film’s sources is City, a book of short stories by American science fiction author Clifford Simak, translated into French as Demain les chiens. Simak imagines a city after the disappearance of humans, in which dogs remain and, after the story, which in this case is history, is finished, begin to ask questions: What is a man? What is a city? What we may discover in the face of the dog, then, is not just the exterior world, but that which is yet to come. So do not be fooled by the star power and charisma of Roxy. 

Beware of the dog.


  1. For the concept of “third image” see Daniel Fairfax, “Das dritte Bild: Dialektische Montage und 3D-Kino in Jean-Luc Godards Adieu au langage“, in Vinzenz Hediger and Rembert Hüser (ed.) Jean-Luc Godard. Film Denken nach der Geschichte des Kinos (München: Fink, 2022).
  2. I thank Fabrice Aragno for background information on Roxy Miéville, and a technical briefing on other aspects of the film. In an e-mail from January 7, 2022, Aragno describes Roxy as “a very philosophical dog”.
  3. E.g. Christoph Egger of the Neue Zürcher Zeitung, Switzerland’s paper of record and one of the three leading German language quality papers with the Süddeutsche (Munich) and the Frankfurter Allgemeine, included a remark regarding Roxy’s striking amount of screen time in his review. The son of a film editor, Egger has always been known for his keen sense of the technical aspects of film. https://www.nzz.ch/zuerich/zuercher_kultur/godards-optisch-kandierte-lesefruechte-1.18494527?reduced=true
  4. After his return to cinema in the late 70s Godard had been fully integrated into the star system of French cinema, casting actors such as Isabelle Huppert (Sauve qui peut (la vie), 1980; Passion, 1982), Maruschka Detmers (Prénom Carmen, 1983), Nathalie Baye, Claude Brasseur, Johnny Halliday (Détéctive, 1985) Juliette Binoche (Je vous salue, Marie, 1985), Alain Delon (Nouvelle Vague, 1990) and Gerard Depardieu (Hélas pour moi, 1993) in main roles. Godard himself remained, of course, the headliner of all his films and received at least equal billing, most memorably on the poster for Hélas pour moi, which announced their names on the same line and with the same font size in as GODARDDEPARDIEU, but with GOD and DIEU set in red and the letters in between set in blue.
  5. See for instance https://www.thestar.com/entertainment/movies/2014/11/13/adieu_au_langage_is_a_doggone_absurd_godard_satire_review.html
  6. http://www.davidbordwell.net/blog/2014/09/07/adieu-au-langage-2-2-x-3d/
  7. David Bordwell, Making Meaning. Inference and Rhetoric in the Interpretation of Film (Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 1989).
  8. Personal communication with Fabrice Aragno. A now iconic photograph from the promotional campaign for Adieu au Langage shows Godard chewing a cigar and holding up the Sony Bloggie camera on the shores of Lake Geneva.
  9. George Steiner, Grammars of Creation (London: Faber and Faber, 2001), p. 23.
  10. According to Fabrice Aragno Godard keeps a box at home for each of his films, which contains books, photocopies of paintings and images, etc. with all the quotes and references used in the project – an archive of pre-existent elements.
  11. See the results of the research project “Machines, Users, Institutions: Bolex, Film Technology and Amateur Cinema in Switzerland”, which Benoît Turquety directed at the University of Lausanne between 2015 and 2019: https://p3.snf.ch/project-159476
  12. Today the company specializes in digital security systems, which includes digital television. https://www.nagra.com/
  13. Antoine de Bacque, Godard: Biographie (Paris : Fayard/Pluriel, 2010), p. 36. There is no mention of de Rougemont in de Baecque’s comprehensive, 936 page biography. Colin McCabe, in his biography of Godard, also mentions the Aline script, incidentally also on page 36 of his book, which also contains no mention of de Rougemont. Colin McCabe, Godard. A Portrait of the Artist at Seventy (London: Faber and Faber, 2003), p. 36. Incidentally, François Truffaut’s first attempt at a screenplay, entitled La ceinture de la peau d’ange and written in the late 1940s (and dated to 1950), also revolves around a young woman and the consequences of premarital sex, in this case involving a rape scene. Cf. Antoine de Baecque, La cinéphilie. Invention d’un regard, histoire d’une culture, 1944-1968 (Paris : Fayard-Pluriel, 2003), p. 138.
  14. Vinzenz Hediger, „Lettre de Zurich“, in: Trafic 44 (Paris: P.O.L., 2002), pp. 127-136.
  15. Charles Ferdinand Ramuz, Paris (Notes d’un Vaudois), (Geneva : Editions Zoé, 2020).
  16. Charles Ferdinand Ramuz, Les signes parmi nous (Geneva : Editions Zoé, 2021 [1919
  17. Gilles Philippe, “Introduction”, in Ramuz, Les signes parmi nous. Ramuz writes as much in the novel on p. 40 : “Marquons encore les choses ici, puisque c’est un tableau d’elles qu’on cherche à faire.”
  18. Denis de Rougemont, Penser avec les mains (Paris : Albin Michel 1936), p. 21.
  19. Ibid., 22.
  20. If de Rougemont’s analysis resonates with Adorno and Horkheimer’s Dialectics of Enlightenment, which was first published eleven years later, the resonance becomes even more remarkable if one considers that he wrote the bulk of the book while working as a lector for French at the University of Frankfurt in 1935-1936. The contract which had been arranged through Otto Abetz, soon to become infamous as the German ambassador to France under the occupation. Despite his proximity to Abetz De Rougemont remained a stout anti-Nazi and was forced to leave France in 1940; he chose to go to New York rather than return to his native Switzerland. The following passage from the book is particularly striking, as it summarises the core argument of Adorno and Horkheimer’s book in three short sentences: “La raison, qui n’est plus soutenue par un enthousiasme vital pour des fins qui lui soient transcendants, usurpe les pouvoirs des royautés obscures qu’elle nous avait permis de vaincre. Elle se met à régner à leur place, et sa tyrannie se révèle plus inhumaine encore que n’étaient leur caprices. Le savant et le technicien tuent mieux que le mage et le sorcier.” [Reason, once it is no longer supported by a vital enthusiasm for goals which transcend it, usurps the powers of the obscure royalties which it had allowed us to vanquish. It begins to rule in their place, and its tyranny reveals itself to be even more inhuman than their fancies. The savant and the technician know how to kill better still than the magician and the sorcerer.”
  21. De Rougemont, Penser avec les mains, p. 15.
  22. Ibid., p. 44.
  23. Ibid., p. 12.
  24. Michael Witt, Jean-Luc Godard, Cinema Historian (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2013), p. 113.
  25. If Godard’s selection of countries aligns with that of Maurice Bardèche and Robet Brasillach in their Histoire du cinema from 1935, and if his engaged and often subjective tonality appears to echo theirs, his commitment to the idea cinema as a revolutionary popular art distinguishes his approach from that of the two Nazi collaborators, who were sentenced to death and executed at the end of the Second World War. Maurice Bardèche , Robert Brasillach, Historie du cinema (Paris: Denoël et Steele, 1935).
  26. Witt, Jean-Luc Godard, Cinema Historian, Chapter 3. On Godard using advances and honorariums to buy new equipment see Michael Witt, “Unearthing a Forgotten Television Work by Jean-Luc Godard”, in: Senses of Cinema 95 (July 2020), http://www.sensesofcinema.com/2020/feature-articles/unearthing-a-forgotten-television-work-by-jean-luc-godard/?fbclid=IwAR2vAXZD9U9M9pUJLi8GshP62IJjPIptl7V4VBqBK95lHVmLerYCMlabKHk
  27. Vinzenz Hediger, „A Cinema of Memory in the Future Tense. Godard, Trailers, and Godard Trailer”, in Michael Temple, James Williams and Michael Witt (eds.), Forever Godard (London: Black Dog Publishing, 2004), pp. 141-159.
  28. Nicole Brenez, “Jean-Luc Godard, Dynamiken der Skizze”, in Jean-Luc Godard. Film Denken. For the concept of process film, see Salomé Aguilera Skvirsky, The Process Genre Cinema and the Aesthetic of Labor (Durham: Duke University Press, 2020).
  29. Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, What Is Philosophy? (New York: Columbia University Press, 1996).
  30. Marc Fumaroli, L’état culturel. Essai sur une réligion moderne (Paris: Editions de Fallois, 1991).
  31. “Mais Daney était aussi pour moi la fin de la critique telle que je l’avais connue et que je fais commencer avec Diderot, the D à D, de Diderot à Daney, parce que il n’y a que les Français qui sont des critiques, parce qu’ils sont ainsi discutailleurs.” [But Daney was also for me the end of criticism such as I had known it and which for me begins with Diderot, from D to D, from Diderot to Daney, because only the French are critics, because they like to discuss so much.
  32. The original quote is “La liberté qui leur est ‘commune’ est précisément ce qui les sépare.” See Ted Fendt’s useful, open ended compilation of sources for citations in Adieu au langage on mubi.com: https://mubi.com/de/notebook/posts/adieu-au-langage-goodbye-to-language-a-works-cited
  33. Personal communication with Hanns Zischler.
  34. https://www.liberation.fr/culture/2014/01/24/la-resonance-d-une-phrase_975334/
  35. Emanuel Levinas, Totalité et infini. Essai sur l’exteriorité (Paris: Kluwer Academic, 1971), p. 5.
  36. Ibid., p. 14.
  37. Ibid., p. 13.
  38. Witt, Jean-Luc Godard, Cinema Historian, pp. 38-41.
  39. Brenez, “Jean-Luc Godard, Dynamiken der Skizze.
  40. André Bazin, “The Myth of Total Cinema”, in: What Is Cinema? Volume I (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2004), pp. 17-22.
  41. Levinas, Totalité et infini, 24 ff.
  42. Ibid., p. 8.
  43. Manfred Schneider, “Der Hund als Emblem”, in Anne von der Heiden and Joseph Vogl (eds.), Politische Zoologie (Berlin: diaphanes, 2007), p. 150.

About The Author

Vinzenz Hediger is professor of cinema studies at Goethe Universität Frankfurt where he directs the Graduate Research Training Program “Configurations of film” (www.konfigurationen-des-films.de), as well as the research projects CEDITRAA – Cultural Entrepreneurship and Digital Transformation in Africa and Asia (www.ceditraa.net) and VICTOR-E – Visual Culture of Trauma, Obliteration and Reconstruction in Post-War Europe (www.victor-e.eu). With Rembert Hüser he is the editor of Jean-Luc Godard. Film Denken nach der Geschichte des Kinos (München: Fink, 2022)

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