The legendary director Jean-Luc Godard isn’t interested in making traditional narrative films these days, but even in his most experimental art projects, mainstream cinema is still a major influence. Godard’s latest movie, The Image Book, screened at the Cannes Film Festival today, and it’s a feature-length montage comprised of clips from other movies, juxtaposed with harrowing news footage and Godard’s own weary narration. In one section, footage of real-life executions is soon followed by Jimmy Stewart swimming to Kim Novak’s aid in Vertigo, while in another, a gay-porn clip of a man getting rimmed is interspersed with the laughing pinhead from Tod Browning’s Freaks. It’s a fascinating document, but hardly the sort of thing that will make its way to American multiplexes.
That said, one of our foremost big-budget auteurs may have an unlikely cameo in Godard’s latest: Michael Bay, the blow-’em-up director behind Bad Boys and the Transformers franchise. The closing credits for The Image Book — which, true to Godard’s narrative-scrambling form, run well before the movie has ended — cite every film that footage was purloined from, and among them is 13 Hours, Bay’s 2016 Benghazi thriller.
Could this be real? Did the 87-year-old titan of French cinema actually watch a war film from the man who memorably gave us racist robots, animal-cracker foreplay, and the weird statutory-rape subplot in Transformers 4? In The Image Book, Godard distorts much of the footage he uses from other films, so Bay’s distinctive cinematography isn’t immediately recognizable, but the credits place 13 Hours in a collection with images and footage of the Middle East. Another reporter at Cannes also tweeted that he caught a moment from 13 Hours in The Image Book, though the footage — likely gunfire and explosions — goes by quickly. And Godard did brag that in the four years he spent assembling The Image Book, he watched more films than Cannes director Thierry Frémaux has ever seen. Maybe Godard cast a wide net!
Still, I was curious about this unlikely collision between two men occupying totally different places in the cinematic canon, and this morning, during a press conference for The Image Book, I got my chance to investigate. Godard was patched in to the room of reporters via FaceTime, and as journalists queued up one by one to use the microphone, an attendant held the phone up so Godard could see his questioner.
That’s how I found myself staring at an iPhone’s pixelated depiction of one of the most famous directors to have ever lived, ready to ask him a question about the movie John Krasinski got buff for.
“I noticed that you use footage from the film 13 Hours, which was directed by Michael Bay,” I said to Godard. “I’m curious what your feelings were about that film, and if you’re generally familiar with his works.”
As a translator leaned toward the phone and recited my question in French, Godard squinted. He hadn’t heard of 13 Hours.
“Remind me of what you actually see in that part of my film?” he replied. “I don’t remember the reference.” As for Michael Bay, Godard was drawing a blank: “I don’t remember the name of that person.”
Had Jean-Luc Godard really just pulled off an “I don’t know her”? Incroyable.
“I think if I inserted that footage you speak of,” continued Godard, “it contained something that I didn’t find anywhere else.” But since he was curious, I told him a little bit about 13 Hours and the section of The Image Book I was fairly certain it had been used in, since the credit scroll for Godard’s movie listed the referenced films in what appeared to be chronological order. Still, Godard was unconvinced. “No,” he said. “I don’t think that these images come from that film.”
“But it was in the credits,” I repeated, suddenly mortified that I was correcting Jean-Luc Godard. Did this man deserve to be hectored about Michael Bay? Did anyone?
“Maybe you should show me!” said Godard, brightly. “We could use digital technology.”
Had the Wi-Fi in the room been better, and had there not been two dozen reporters queued up behind me, perhaps I would have pulled out my phone to show Jean-Luc Godard a YouTube of Michael Bay’s Navy Seal movie. Instead, I just smiled and joked, “Maybe after the press conference.”
I walked away from the mic, but Godard was not done. The attendant holding the phone turned it toward me as a jolly Godard kept shouting at my back. “Maybe I didn’t put it in!” he said. “Maybe I’m right, maybe I don’t need to comment on it.”
I turned back to Godard, who offered me one last challenge: “All you need to do is find the portion” of 13 Hours, he said, “and do the click!”
This was said as though we were texting buddies who regularly exchange Michael Bay GIFs, and wouldn’t that be something! Still, if Godard lives in a bubble where he has never heard of the man who made Transformers: Age of Extinction, who am I to pop it? Maybe it was just a credits snafu. Maybe he used the footage once, cut it, and some assistant forgot to log the change.
Or maybe he was just having fun with me, and Godard is a closet Bay head. After all, this is the man who famously said, “All you need for a movie is a gun and a girl,” two subjects that are Bay’s forte. If you add to that formula a robot dog humping Megan Fox’s leg, perhaps these unlikely directors aren’t so different after all.