Godard reveals the secret of cinema -- via a smartphone

3 min
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Cannes (France) (AFP)

Having explored every other known taboo, the Cannes film festival has finally got religion.

A documentary about Pope Francis -- who comes across as a living saint in Wim Wenders "A Man of His Word" -- will premiere Sunday just after "God's Goalkeeper" Keylor Navas screens the story of how his Christian faith helped him become Real Madrid's goalkeeper.

But on Saturday the god of cinema appeared at the festival over a shaky FaceTime link-up from his Swiss alpine eyrie.

Jean-Luc Godard is a living god to his followers, having rewritten the rules of cinema with French New Wave films like "Breathless".

Via the smudged screen of an iPhone held aloft by a minion, he revealed the holy grail Hollywood moguls have lost fortunes trying to find -- how to make a great film.

"X + 3 = 1, that's it," he told a press conference packed full of devotees.

"That's the key to cinema. But you mustn't forget the lock," he added gnomically.

- 'Incomprehensible' -

The world's most media savvy recluse was appearing by smartphone to promote -- in the very broadest possible sense of the term -- his new film, "The Image Book", in which he answers the big questions of our times.

Knowing that his absence would generate far more headlines, the 87-year-old stayed at home in Switzerland for the premiere, snubbing Cannes for a fourth time in a row while the media debated whether he would turn up.

New Godard films are still greeted with the reverence of divine revelation even as some complain that they have grown more incomprehensible and unwatchable by the year.

"The Image Book" was no exception, with New York Times critic Matthew Anderson calling it an "incomprehensible mash-up of poor pictures and choppy sound".

But The Guardian and the equally influential Variety were believers, with the latter declaring him a prophet.

"Our world has finally caught up with Jean-Luc Godard's doom-laden dream of it," declared critic Owen Gleiberman.

Godard was as modestly ominscient as one could be in the circumstances, with journalists queued in front of an iPhone to ask their questions like supplicants before an Orthodox icon.

With his glasses perched on the end of his nose, and puffing occasionally on a cigar, he ranged over the big questions of our time -- war, migration, the survival of the planet and the state of his legs (not great).

Greeted by a volley of applause, he joked dryly: "That sounded like a machine gun."

But his talk of the demographic timebomb facing Europe quickly stilled the room.

"People have stopped having children while in Africa they are having more and more," Godard said.

"It is because there is more love in Africa," he added, breaking the awkward silence.

"I don't think they understood," he continued, a phrase that sums up the reaction to many of his later films.

Age, however, has not withered Godard's gift for controversy, accusing "actors of contributing to the totalitarianism of the image".

He even took a pop at Facebook between coughing fits that had wags speculating that Godard might be about to meet his maker.

"Cinema is no longer about showing what's done -- you can see that any day on Facebook -- but what is not done. That you can't see on Facebook."