(1965) dir. Jean-Luc Godard
Jean-Luc Godard is one of the most significant and challenging directors in cinema. It’s kind of amazing how many important films he made in the 1960’s. It’s also amazing how radically he approached the issue of cinema, the issues of cinema. It’s still striking, even now, how much he challenged and questioned, utilized in his films, which feel like ongoing discourses on life, culture, politics, art, you name it. It’s a lot to take in. It’s a lot to have put out.
It’s kind of weird, but looking back over my film diary, since I’ve seen a bunch of Godard films, but it seems that the only one that I’ve watched in recent years is Une femme est une femme (1961). Maybe I caught another while I wasn’t updating, I don’t know. His films are a challenge for me, I would think for most people. It’s not just that they are non-conventional, but rather that they work in direct opposition to convention, they are a critique of convention, in many ways, a meta-critique of everything.
Pierrot le fou was recently re-released via Criterion, a clean print, which played theatrically locally not long ago. I missed it when it played the Castro. I noticed it’s coming to the Red Vic in a week or two.
The film has a loose narrative. Jean-Paul Belmondo and Anna Karina (about as beautiful as women are allowed to get) escape their lives down to the French Riviera, romping, hiding from society, ranting about love, writing poetry, jumping around on things. Their love and frolics become challenged with an strange turn of events regarding a crime caper, a brother who is a gun runner (is he a brother or a lover?), and ultimately everyone gets killed. Belmondo wraps his head in dynamite and explodes.
There is fun and lightness in the frolicking. It is not joyless. But it is also not embracing. There is a constant striking at the subjectivity, a concentrated self-awareness, a sensibility that the film might actually have not had a script (which I have read was something the Godard has said). It’s never really about the story, though in many ways it is about the romance or the concept of a cinematic romance. About the concepts of genre, of art. Many images of modern and classical art pop to the screen, populate the walls of rooms, books and films are verbally referenced. It’s an ever-moving romp.
I can’t say that I can totally get my hands around it. It’s very colorful, in striking contrast to Godard’s earlier black-and-white films. It reminded me of a later Godard film, Week End (1967), which is much less about love or narrative, much more political and apocalyptic. These films seem very much of a similar ilk, road movies fraught with disasters and modernism, and post-modernism.
I think I’ve better enjoyed Godard’s work on the big screen. It takes energy to watch his films, focus, concentration. His work still seems quite polemic even now, forty years later. And it’s still challenging.