A hand appears, and its finger points, but is it accusing society of something, or is it pointing out its inadequacies? There follows an extended montage, divided loosely into five parts, like the five fingers on that hand, that attempt to sum up where the world has arrived now communities appear to be disintegrating, and to emulate that the film appears to be disintegrating as well, with the found footage clips of old movies and news items and amateur bits and pieces thrown together, one snippet following another, in an apparent barrage of random visuals. It's challenging you to make some sense of this, and the global mishmash...
Of course, the number of people who would say, "Challenge accepted!" would be pretty small for a film director Jean-Luc Godard released when he was eighty-eight years old. It would be nice to say he was showing no signs of slowing down, yet watching The Image Book was akin to sitting down with a grumpy older relative and listening to them rant about the state of things until they gradually began to wind down and drop off into the respite of a nap. It even ended with Godard suffering a coughing fit as he narrated, as if he was choking on his afternoon cuppa, so carried away with his half-formed opinions had he become over the previous eighty minutes.
As it turned out, while this effort was lauded at Cannes (don't they remember Godard had the festival closed down in 1968 out of a weird spite?) almost everywhere else it would appear the patience with him had run out, as almost everyone else who watched it threw up their hands and condemned it as incoherent at worst, politically wrongheaded at best. It would probably have been more controversial if more were paying attention to Godard anymore, for in between the clips and rambling he endorsed the use of bombs, and by extension Islamic terrorism, as a force for good and overall a method of achieving positive change that had not taken root back in '68.
Did this make The Image Book the equivalent of the Baader-Meinhoff Gang, or some dark web protest statement endorsing terrorist atrocities? Or more likely, the half-baked outpourings of a man who had long before passed beyond parody and left too many surprised that anyone took him seriously. And yet, Godard had, back in the nineteen-sixties, produced works of genuine talent, so he was not entirely without merit on that score, and the critic in him had continued to assess not only movies but the wider society he existed in, even if he was increasingly rejecting what he saw by about 1970 in a manner that suggested becoming a hermit would have been a better option for him if he was operating through so much hatred for many of his countrymen.
Therefore you could easily watch this, well, let's call it a documentary, and be none the wiser about what its director was trying to tell you at the close than you were at the beginning. Why did he choose the clips he did? What did La Belle et la Bête have to do with Johnny Guitar or Jaws? Or Citizen Kane? Or The Birds? Or Pier Paolo Pasolini's Salò? You would not find the answer to that here, and one suspects you wouldn't get a straight answer from Godard either, but the accumulation of this footage fest did have a hypnotic effect, even as that footage was deliberately distorted in colour, speed and even ratio for unknown motivations. Yet every so often there would be a jarring visual, from a terrorist or porn video, thrown in to keep you on your toes, or probably question the validity of sitting through this. Curiosity seekers may be rewarded, but there was a rot at the heart of its desire for revolution for its own sake.