“Every story has a beginning, a middle and an end. But not necessarily in that order,” said Jean-Luc Goddard, one of the most remarkable filmmakers of our time. After a long run of 57 years as a filmmaker, Godard died with his family around him on September 13, 2022. He would have chosen euthanasia, which is legally permitted in Switzerland where he died.
It took time for any cinephile, critic and filmmaker to become familiar with Godard’s cinema. He had created a genre all his own, where he evolved through narrative, non-narrative and technical innovations from period to period to explore the three-dimensional differently, long before it became a popular form among filmmakers. .
Godard is considered one of the most influential filmmakers of the 20th century and one of the leaders of the French New Wave.
I was first introduced to Godard during a retrospective of his films at IFFI, Delhi, many years ago. The first movie I remember watching was Male Female (1966) shot in black and white. To tell the truth, I didn’t understand a single image, a single hero-heroine interaction, or anything about the story.
But, like the public of Les Habits neufs de l’Empereur, I kept quiet, for fear of being considered ignorant of world cinema, which I was, moreover. And in some ways, I still am.
Male Female filmed in Paris in the 1960s, is set against the backdrop of people believing in the credibility of communism which was still seen as a better alternative to capitalism. A love story through and off the beaten track of a young woman who dreams of becoming a singer, and a young man just out of military service, Godard effectively translates the eternal quarrel between militarism and intellectualism, and the French indignation in the face of a long American invasion and one immediately concludes that this is Godard’s personal policy and philosophy.
We see and learn that this film was perhaps the first introduction to the type of editing that has become common parlance among filmmakers today. However, many of them often misuse and misuse the techniques without understanding when, where and how to use them. Among these are the skipped cuts, innovative use of intertitles, jarring camera angles, and the collapse of the invisible wall between performer and viewer.
Nevertheless, Godard’s film made me want to watch some of his films again and try to understand what his characters were trying to say. It took me a while to realize that Godard’s films weren’t for “understanding” or for entertainment. It was about “feeling” and leaving the theater emotionally shaken, shocked, happy and sad.
Breathless, considered a milestone in world cinema, tells the story of a wandering French gangster and his American girlfriend. His first film (1960) was loosely inspired by a newspaper article that François Truffaut read in L’Actualité in brief.
The character of Michel Poiccard is based on the real life of Michel Portail and his girlfriend and American journalist Beverly Lynette. In the film, her name is Patricia. In November 1952, Portail steals a car to visit his sick mother in Le Havre and ends up killing a biker named Grimberg.
I particularly fell in love with the fluid style of how the camera captured Michel and his girlfriend as the latter sells her newspaper in the streets of Paris. Jean-Paul Belmondo who played Michel became an idol overnight after the release of this film.
A period of great activity and creative action for Godard took place between 1960 and 1967, during which he made the dozen films that form his New Wave canon. The most successful was the 1963 feature film Contempt (“Contempt”), with Brigitte Bardot.
It was the most expensive film he made and his only orthodox film, although it took New Wave techniques and solidified them as the accepted way of modern cinema. The film was based on the 1954 Italian novel Il disprezzo (A Ghost at Noon) by Alberto Moravia. It starred Brigitte Bardot, Michel Piccoli Jack Palance and Giorgia Moll. It was Godard’s unique attempt to make a self-reflective film.
Moravia’s novel provides a thematic and narrative backbone to Godard’s film, and some scenes follow it quite closely (the central dialogue sequence in Paul and Camille’s apartment compresses the book’s relationship issues and follows a similar order dissolution of marriage). But Godard deviates considerably from the source material.
Moravia’s book is a rather urgent and anguished internal monologue by a man desperate to know why his wife hates him, sickening slights to his masculinity and integrity. His wife initially denies the accusations that she hates him, but eventually admits it under his constant questioning (for a moment a reader might suspect he imagines her, projecting his own anxieties onto his wife). But she won’t give him a reason.
at Godard Live your life (My Life to Live, or It’s My Life), is about Nana played by Anna Karina who gives a breathtaking performance. She plays Nana, a woman forced by circumstances to choose the life of a sex worker after leaving a marriage in hopes of becoming an actress.
This film is way ahead of its time as it very boldly shows how Nana, forced to become a sex worker, cherishes her independence and tries to hold on to it as much as possible. But time and circumstances turned against her although she entered it by force of circumstance.
Godard’s own voice emerges as a commentator when, in a jerky tone, he informs the public about the legal, social and bodily issues related to the profession of sex worker. The character spells out the futuristic mindset and perceptions of Godard that we only realize today.
Like many of Godard’s films, Pierrot le fou (1969) features characters breaking the fourth wall, looking at the camera. It also includes some surprising editing choices; for example, when Pierrot throws a cake at a woman in the party scene, Godard switches to a firework that explodes just as he hits her.
The film exhibits many characteristics of the then-dominant pop art movement, constantly referencing elements of mass culture. The film uses visuals drawn from cartoons and employs an intentionally garish visual aesthetic based on bright primary colors.
Godard didn’t believe in the conventional grammar of narrative cinema and broke every rule of the movie book that the directors had been practicing together for decades. He marries, successfully in his own way, the language of cinema with other languages from literature, other forms of art, and delights in fleshing out “outsider” characters, most of them belonging to rather marginalized “boxes” from the mainstream. .
Godard was born into a wealthy Franco-Swiss family on December 3, 1930 in the sumptuous seventh arrondissement of Paris. His father was a doctor, his mother the daughter of a Swiss founder of Banque Paribas, then an illustrious investment bank.
Initially his interest in films was purely critical, writing for the publication Cinema Notebooks. His interest in cinema blossomed in 1950, when he joined the Ciné-Club du Quartier Latin. There he met Claude Chabrol and François Truffaut, who would also become influential members of the New Wave. He directed his first short film in 1954.
“It’s not where you take things – it’s where you bring them,” Godard once said. He practiced this in his film repertoire.