Jean-Luc Godard 1930–
French director, screenwriter, actor, and critic.
Godard is one of the most important figures to emerge from the nouvelle vague (new wave): the auteurist school of film proposed by a group of critics intent upon being the complete creators of their films. Godard's style is regarded as abstract, dealing with the very nature and phenomenon of cinema. His desire to examine every aspect of the cinema has made him both controversial and misunderstood as well as lauded. Although not universally popular, he is unarguably one of the greatest influences on cinema since the 1960s.
Raised in Switzerland, Godard attended the Sorbonne, where his interest in cinema was nurtured. He first became involved with the cinema at the age of twenty, acting in films made by Jacques Rivette and Eric Rohmer. During the fifties Godard wrote film criticism for such journals as La gazette du cinéma, which he founded with Rivette and Rohmer, and Les cahiers du cinéma. He made his first short film in 1954 and continued making short, experimental films until 1959, when he directed his first feature-length film, A bout de souffle (Breathless).
Like the films that were to follow, A bout de souffle was low-budget, rapidly shot, and heavily improvised. It received critical acclaim and proved to be strongly reminiscent of the film noir genre, featuring aimless characters and a fascination with the gangster mode. Its freeform style forced the audience to follow the film's erratic leaps from point to point. In this and other early films, Godard's primary themes were already apparent, among them the idea that the sacrifice of personal dignity for materialistic purposes is prostitution. Godard's early films showed expansive knowledge and appreciation of American movies. His love of cinema and his complete understanding of cinematic art underlies his work. Although Godard is not technically innovative, he is highly regarded for his expert manipulation of the elements and theories of cinema.
Beginning with La Chinoise, Godard's films became more political. Yet, throughout, they are highly personal in style and theme. Most of Godard's work of the late 1960s was the result of his collaboration with Jean-Pierre Gorin in the Groupe Dziga Vertov. Along with Gorin, Godard worked on several projects, many of which were left unfinished. During their filming of Tout va bien, Godard was involved in a near-fatal motorcycle crash. Gorin undertook most of the filmmaking; as a result Tout va bien is not a definitive Godard work. From 1968 to 1980 Godard directed videotape films, experimental in nature and not widely distributed.
Of Every Man for Himself, his first commercial film since 1968, Godard says: "For the first time in twenty years, I have a feeling that rules have to be discovered; one should neither obey nor revolt automatically. It's better to discover what can be yours in the system and accept or change it. But work it and discover the unknown. Cinema is still an adventure for me." (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 93-96.)
Breathless shows what the modern French version of [la nouvelle vague] really looks like, and the result is one of the most genuinely novel films of the lot. As parody, it is as subtly intellectual as [Robert Aldrich's] Kiss Me Deadly was exaggeratedly visceral; as improvisation, it is as unified and witty as [John Huston's] Beat the Devil was chaotic and arch; and as an example of new-wave camp, it is a beaut….
The principle of novelty, in Breathless, lies in its acceptance of an exhausted genre—the Hollywood grade-B crime film—as a simulacrum of reality. Its plot is little more than that of the quickie digest: Footloose Killer on the Run Tangles with Double-dealing Broad as Cops Close In—Big Paris Manhunt. These mediocre clichés are played out in the deadpan style of an actualité, producing a dual impression of great moral wit and intense neurotic despair. The term "romantic nihilism" which critics have applied to many of the new-wave films and to Breathless in particular is apt enough. But the trouble with it is that it tends to make a generalizing cultural analysis of what are essentially cinematic fun and games….
Breathless accomplishes much that is necessary for our present. Classic parallels are uncovered in the commonplace and are witty beyond any since Cocteau's own historic rummagings on behalf of another generation. (p. 54)
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No wonder Jean-Luc Godard called it A Bout de Souffle (Breathless)—the characters stop running only to start talking and their talking is a logorrhoea of caprice, probing and self-defence. Superficially it is a study of a lost generation; but generations are never lost without good reason, and the film is not an account of motives and causes (if it were it would be a criminological case-history) but a study in sensibility. Its nearest equivalent in English literature is Henry James to whose elephantine precision, hesitations and self-consciousness in the pursuit of obscure yet vaguely huge soul-states it approximates by the flippant paradox, the pun and the non sequitur. If Henry James in search of clarifications seems to pant like a bloodhound pursuing its own tail, the hero of A Bout de Souffle has abandoned the vicious circles of self-analysis for the shrug, the droop or jut of a fag, and the facetious grimace….
What distinguishes A Bout de Souffle from a mere demonstration of falsity (which would be too easy to be interesting) is that the inauthenticity is conscious, total and follows a sinewy discipline of its own. It is lived, not just brooded over….
Michel is not serious about life and death, but he is very serious about moral commitment….
This distinction, far from justifying his action, doesn't even palliate it; no amount of argument can make him seem, for...
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I consider Vivre sa Vie [My Life to Live] to be not only Godard's most mature and most personal film, but also something of a masterpiece. The full range of the cinematic vocabulary which he spread out in his earlier films with the vivid and random excitement of a child learning to talk is here applied with a rigorous economy and exactness which show his complete and imaginative mastery of the medium, together with a new element of repose….
[Like A Bout de Souffle, Vivre sa Vie has a thriller-novelette basis.] But where it is possible to appreciate A Bout de Souffle unexactingly on a "B" film plane, as an excitingly told tale, I doubt whether anyone could, or would, sit through Vivre sa Vie on this level. Although the value and originality of A Bout de Souffle lies in its thick texture and its flashes below the surface, its real meat is the exterior story of a young man determined to fulfil the exhortation "live dangerously to the end." In Vivre sa Vie, on the other hand, this exterior is simply a shell to be peeled away; and the shell is necessary only in so far as it encloses what (for want of a better word) one might call the soul.
Hence the Brechtian structure of the film, which is divided into twelve distinct chapters, each preceded by a title summarising the characters and main action to follow. By this means attention is drawn away from the dramatic progress of Nana's...
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Jean-Luc Godard's Le Petit Soldat, which has been banned for three years as too topical, too controversial and in general too embarrassing for export, turns out to be an intense, unlikeable work, highly interesting, hugely depressing, and strangely 'clinging,' one of those films whose images hang about afterwards, hauntingly nasty and antiseptic, secretly full of meaning and of dire, alarming point. It is a film about politics in action that refuses to make political statements, and while one longs, can hardly fail, to take sides, to hate or approve before any action, even, Godard will not allow it. 'A plague on both your houses' is as far as he will go, and the result is not so much balanced as remote and sometimes meaningless. This effect of blurred outlines and non-commitment is enhanced by the fact that, in a film about a nationalistic war, all the fighters on either side seem (to a non-French or non-Algerian eye) racially indistinguishable.
Godard's tone is neutral; his style hygienic, as it were urban, and dateless, a strange style that moves with complete confidence between the functional (the sub-functional, in fact, clinical and white, with lighting like that of medical photographs or police documents) and the—apparently—spontaneous and decorative….
What mainly limits [the story] is Godard's lack, not just of political interest or comment, but of political understanding, of any sort of...
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[Godard loves] defiantly simple definitions. Let me try one: a Godard film is one in which several people play a game which ends in a death. Yes, but that's not enough: let's try something even simpler. The cinema is made of pictures on a strip of moving celluloid through which light passes. The existences of Godard's characters are unstable; just as precarious is the enterprise of making such a film. Godard makes us feel his awareness of the constant fragility of his fiction, the illusoriness of his medium.
His films have been compared with Pop Art, and they share its planned obsolescence…. Godard's films are as mutable as his characters' grasp on their own existence. To accuse him of flippancy, to claim (as John Coleman did recently) that his switching of tones is just a stylistic affectation, is like telling Picasso that a bicycle seat is a bicycle seat and not a bull's head.
Bande à Part gives us a chance to appreciate the way Godard turns inconsequence into art…. [The urban raggle-taggle of Balham] is invested by the narrator's voice with a lunar strangeness, being described with images drawn from the stars, the planets, the Dead Sea. The result is to theatricalise it, not by fantasticated photography but by the alliance of unemphatic images with a metaphoric text to produce a dérèglement des sens. (And doesn't Arthur claim that his surname is Rimbaud—'comme mon père'?)
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Godard has always been two or three years ahead of his time. All the same, one wasn't quite prepared for the way everything else (from [Antonioni's] The Red Desert downwards) began to look rather old-fashioned and strained as soon as Une Femme Mariée [The Married Woman] appeared on the scene. Comparisons are impossible, of course: The Red Desert is in its own way just as remarkable a film. It is simply that Godard has realised—and found a technique for dealing with his realisation—that modern life is so complex, and human relationships so intangibly tangled, that fully rounded and polished artistic statements with all the ends tucked neatly out of sight are no longer possible….
Godard's sub-title ["Fragments of a Film Made in 1964"] refers to the collage effect of the film, which moves freely between fragments—scenes, bits of scenes, bits of bits of scenes, a printed page, a word, half a word. But at the same time (one must never expect single strands from Godard), it is a film about fragmentation. The film opens with a disembodied hand sliding slowly forward across a white sheet; and it ends with the same hand (Charlotte's) slowly withdrawing, leaving blankness, nothing.
The scenes of love-making which open and close the film are composed entirely of human fragments—a hand, a leg, a head, a trunk. The effect is extraordinary, as though the world had split into separate pieces,...
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Comic strips seem to represent many things for Godard: first, a source book for the contemporary collective subconscious; secondly, a dramatic framework derived from modern myth—in much the same way as Joyce used the Ulysses myth; thirdly, a reaction against the subtleties of the psychological novel; finally the attraction of comic strip narrative with its sudden shifting of scene, its freedom of narration, its economy.
The plot of Alphaville is pure comic strip…. (p. 164)
Just like a [Roy] Lichtenstein painting ("Oh, Brad, (gulp) it should have been that way"), the dialogue often echoes the balloons: "Let this serve as a warning to all those who try to …" etc. Characterisation, too, has been reduced to a minimum….
But Alphaville doesn't look like a comic strip, and this is where Godard diverges from the true pop artist, who has been defined as "a man who offers a coincidence of style and subject, one who represents mass-produced images and objects in a style which is also based upon the visual vocabulary of mass production." In other words, the pop artist not only likes the fact of his commonplace objects, but more important, exults in their commonplace look. Godard resembles much more pop fringe figures like Larry Rivers and [Robert] Rauschenberg who, although fascinated by pop imagery, translate it into a non-pop style.
The second time I saw...
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The essence of Jean-Luc Godard's La Femme Mariée is the transmutation of the dramatic into the graphic. The comings and goings of the characters, and the development of the story, are presented in the matter-of-fact way which is characteristic of Godard, and whose episodic nature reached its height in his film Vivre Sa Vie. The graphic elements in Godard's films are by no means new, they can be found in all of his work. What is new is the consistent movement into the graphic from the dramatic which is used as the basis of expression in this film, and which was only found in kernels in his other works…. Two of the film's title cards read successively: IN BLACK, AND WHITE, and it is between two contrasting poles that Charlotte moves, first searching at one, and then along a line to the other. The points on this line occur as encounters, which are strung together on the thread of Charlotte's movements over a period of two days. These movements are presented in Godard's almost throwaway style, and simply constitute the links between the important encounters…. By tracing, in this way, a complete line of Charlotte's activities during this period of time, Godard allows himself to be able to stop at certain points of importance, and to raise these, by use of graphic means, to a higher pitch than the line itself. These points of absolute ideas and emotions, presented as black or white, are not value judgments as to the good of one or the evil...
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Let me insist from the outset that Alphaville is a film about flickering lights, circular staircases, labyrinthine hallways, and Zippo lighters. That it's also a film about alienation, the dehumanization of man and all that other stuff serious movies are required to be about is undeniable; but in Godard's world this second set of themes carries no greater weight than the first, and neither can be said to constitute the "meaning" of the film….
It's necessary to say all this because Alphaville is so clearly the ultimate Message Movie that one may fail to see that it is, equally, the ultimate Meaningless Movie. Godard creates his future society with its rigid logic out of a series of images joined with carefree illogic, sketches his computer with the technique of a [Jackson] Pollock. (p. 48)
Important as its intellectual content may be, I think the film's message is not its Message but the structure of its images. For the Message of Alphaville is negative, an attack on the over-organized, hyper-intellectual world of modern man. But the structure of its images—the seemingly erratic development of a number of gratuitous visual themes—is the very poetry that Godard, speaking through Lemmy Caution, offers as Alphaville's salvation….
Chief among the images that create the texture of this film is a flashing light…. To try to establish any "meaning" for this symbol would, I...
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In the phrase "the new sensibility"—it may or may not have been coined by Susan Sontag—the operative word is, of course, new, not sensibility. (p. 272)
[The] concept of "the new sensibility" … is supposed to account for the revolution in the arts …; and for a realm of film-making whose summit is Godard and bottom the "underground movies" or "New American Cinema," as, in its newly sensible way, it likes to call itself. These and many more the Pandora's box of contemporary pseudo-art has unleashed upon us: every kind of plague in fact, excepting only hope.
Who was the Pandora who actually opened the lid? As far as film is concerned, I would locate the moment of disaster—inasmuch as this can be done at all, and it can be done only approximately—in a seemingly innocent scene of Jean-Luc Godard's Breathless…. In this particular scene I'm talking of, the lovers have gone to the movies and are watching an American, or American-style, western, complete with thundering hooves and guns. But suddenly, we hear from the soundtrack two idiot voices reciting at each other Apollinaire's beautiful poem, "Cors de chasse."… What business have the characters in a vulgar American western reciting one of France's finest twentieth-century lyrics at each other—and antiphonally, at that, as though it were dialogue that they were improvising?
Godard was doing one of three things here. He...
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The increasing fragmentation of Godardian cinema seems to indicate a depletion of emotional energy. It is not so much that Godard is repeating his effects as that he is ritualizing them into frozen cerebral patterns. The rapport of fiction with reality so dear to Godard's film-making aesthetic has degenerated from exploration to exploitation. Whereas he once explored the continent of Karina's countenance, he is now content (in Made in U.S.A.) to exploit the mannerisms she has picked up along the way. Godard's spectacle is still dazzling to behold, but the images are devoid of feeling. The superficiality of his political rhetoric becomes offensive at that precise moment when his own personal suffering fades from the screen…. As Godard has become increasingly entangled with his heroes, their morbid destiny has seemed to dim his vision of the real world, or rather his dim smoke-glassed vision has made his characterizations more morbidly passive.
Congenital anti-Godardians miss the point entirely when they accuse Godard of insincerity or frivolity. (To charge that Godard lacks talent requires an intransigent illiteracy in the language of the medium.) At his most felicitous, Godard seeks to capture childhood and student feelings in the midst of the modern world. He fully understands the emotional truth of nostalgia as tranquility recollected in hysteria. (pp. 28-9)
Godard is still one of the most interesting and...
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Only the title of Jean-Luc Godard's new film is casual and innocent; Weekend is the most powerful mystical movie since [Bergman's] The Seventh Seal and [Ichikawa's] Fires on the Plain and passages of Kurosawa. We are hardly aware of the magnitude of the author-director's conception until after we are caught up in the comedy of horror, which keeps going further and becoming more nearly inescapable…. The danger for satirists (and perhaps especially for visionary satirists) is that they don't always trust their art. They don't know how brilliantly they're making their points; they become mad with impatience and disgust, and throw off their art as if it were a hindrance to direct communication, and they begin to preach. When Godard is viciously funny, he's on top of things, and he scores and scores, and illuminates as he scores. When he becomes didactic, we can see that he really doesn't know any more about what should be done than the rest of us. But then he goes beyond didacticism into areas where, though he is as confused and divided as we are, his fervor and rage are so imaginatively justified that they are truly apocalyptic. It is in the further reaches—in the appalling, ambivalent revolutionary vision—that Weekend is a great, original work.
Weekend begins with a callous disrespect for life which is just a slight stylization of civilized living now; it's as if the consumers of The Married...
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Masculine Feminine is that rare movie achievement: a work of grace and beauty in a contemporary setting. Godard has liberated his feeling for modern youth from the American gangster-movie framework which limited his expressiveness and his relevance to the non-movie centered world. He has taken up the strands of what was most original in his best films—the life of the uncomprehending heroine, the blank-eyed career-happy little opportunist-betrayer from Breathless, and the hully-gully, the dance of sexual isolation, from Band of Outsiders [Bande à part]. Using neither crime nor the romance of crime but a simple romance for a kind of interwoven story line, Godard has, at last, created the form he needed. It is a combination of essay, journalistic sketches, news and portraiture, love lyric and satire.
What fuses it? The line "This film could be called The Children of Marx and Coca-Cola." The theme is the fresh beauty of youth amidst the flimsiness of pop culture and pop politics….
It is fused by the differing attitudes of the sexes to love and war even in this atmosphere of total and easy disbelief, of government policies accepted with the same contempt as TV commercials. The romance is punctuated with aimless acts of aggression and martyrdom: this is young love in a time of irreverence and hopelessness. These lovers and their friends, united by indifference and disdain toward the adult world,...
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The story [of Pierrot le Fou] would be trite—a mod Elvira Madigan—if it asked for any attention as such. It would also be incredible. That [a] mousy little baby-sitter is also involved with killers and is undisturbed by a corpse in the next room on the night that she and her lover first go to bed—all this would be ludicrous if we were meant to take the narrative seriously. But in a frantic way Godard is deliberately fracturing story logic, using narrative only as a scaffolding for acrobatics, cinematic and metaphysical. The question is whether those acrobatics are consistently amusing and/or enlightening. I think not. (p. 139)
For me, the film is a function of three boredoms. (I exclude my own.) The hero is bored by his Parisian life, which precipitates the story. The girl is soon bored by the tranquil island where he takes her, which brings about their deaths. And, principally, Godard is very soon bored. I think that the whole film after they flee the girl's Paris apartment is a series of stratagems to keep Godard himself from falling asleep: improvisations, high-school philosophizing, grotesqueries, and supersanguinary violence. His quick mind seems to have flown ahead to his next film while he is faced with the need to finish this one. Boredom has been a (one may say) vital element in art from Gogol and Musset to Beckett and Ionesco, but in their cases, boredom has been the subject, not the artist's own reaction...
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[Le Gai Savoir] is such a silly and pretentious film that one cannot help wondering what Jean-Luc Godard is now up to. The hand-outs say that it was begun as a documentary on education, commissioned by French television, but that it has so far been banned in France. I cannot understand why; the censors must be even more obtuse than one supposes if they fear that such a tedious work might arouse dangerous passions, apart from acute irritation with M. Godard himself. Perhaps, after all, they rejected it simply because it is bad. It is even a tour de force of badness. In purporting to deal with education, Godard manages to be more boring and irrelevant than the most boring Sorbonne professor. God knows, I have sat through some scores of dreary discours en trois points, but they had more to them than this vapid verbalisation, which can only be considered as a form of cinematographic suicide. (p. 56)
[A bout de souffle, Pierrot le fou, and Bande à part are] tragedies, because their heroes are trying to live against the grain and are doubly betrayed by society. In spite of their underlying sentimentality, which is rather naïve, they contain charmingly poetic passages: the love-making to the sound of "Travailler en musique" in A bout de souffle; the pastoral wanderings in Pierrot le fou and, best of all, the café dance sequence in Bande à part. The beauty of these episodes...
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[Two or Three Things I Know about Her] is more interesting than many other Godard films because, for one reason, it seems to have sustained the director's own interest. There is no feeling, as in Pierrot le Fou, that this very bright man has embarked on something to which he is committed long after his darting mind has really left it and that he has been forced to invent irreverences and interpolations to keep himself interested. For another reason, the film is devoid of the worst aspects of Youth Worship that sometimes taint his work; it is about people, some of whom are young. But the chief merit is that it develops its themes within itself, for the most part, not by imposition. The interplay between the facts of the changing city … and the changing lives of Paris is graphic. And when the heroine moves easily from action within a scene to speak to us directly about herself and her quandaries, which she does often, it creates two dualities of consciousness—hers about her life and her "acting" of it, ours about the film as fictional truth and about the making of that truth. There is a nice sense of metatheater, in Lionel Abel's term: of the heroine living her life and simultaneously seeing herself, as the protagonist of a drama she is watching. And all the while, a tightening circle of chromium-plated, electronic wolves is yapping at her heels.
But the impasted artistic and philosophical freight is once again tedious....
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Godard's voice carries. He has finished two new films, "See You at Mao" and "Pravda," each about an hour long, in a style going toward the most didactic and thorny destinations, yet he can't for the life of him suppress the force and grace of that singular delivery of his. Even these raw first works of a new stage that is now tough going seem likely in the end to reach the ears of people out of sympathy with his radical politics, not because of the yelling powers of polemics but because of the carrying powers of a poet's voice. Godard can make a silly film or an endearing one, but he can't make an ineloquent one. His path now goes away from narrative completely, and it isn't exactly a paved highway. (pp. 83-4)
The voice of the two films is political and speculative, raised to a pitch of slightly mysterious tension because of Godard's own urgencies. There is a faint trill in the air, the unmistakable upper harmonic of somebody at work on something original and hard to do. Godard is intent now on making "revolutionary films" in which everything will be concrete and nothing suave…. Godard now wants to make films that are as dogmatic as possible. He wants to strip them of the emotionalism that he obviously finds wheedling and mechanical in traditional movies, including his own early ones. He wants to pound people with language. Godard is the most literary of filmmakers, in a sense that is different from the usual one, with his way of...
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[Since] visual interruptions are slipped in much as the auditory interruptions are [in Sympathy for the Devil (One Plus One)], Godard may be suggesting that our inner, unconscious awareness is dominated by what we see and hear on the edges of our perception, almost subliminally or at least not with our full attention. What if our culture (depicted in the "outside" scenes) subjects us to pornography, propaganda, violence, and the cynical commercialism of television? The pornography, hinting at perversion, is associated with fascism in the film and the fascism with violence: as the customers in the porno shop leave, they first ritualistically slap the faces of two boys who sit helpless and hurt in a corner. The graffiti are forms of witty propaganda for radicalism: the black panthers toss guns to each other as though they were toys and at the end the revolutionaries are preparing for a shoot-out with the authorities. The radicals too are guilty of violence. Meanwhile, the Stones prepare, rehearse, re-work the music which gleefully, almost maliciously acknowledges the perpetual presence of Satan, of the demonic force that Godard seems to be saying can be used either to destroy or to create. (pp. 310-11)
[In the interview with Eve Paradise,] there is no sure way to know what Godard is implying, although the audience applauded the answers enthusiastically. The scene has a simple and innocent quality bordering on the idiotic. The girl...
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Wind from the East, one of the latest of Godard's revolutionary epics, fails miserably: first, aesthetically, because Godard cannot find a myth or a situation by which to bring to life its Maoist ideology, a problem he has failed to solve in many of his films. It is conceptually weak and inane as well, failing to make any coherent statement about revolutionary purpose, although the basis of Godard's technique in this film is the accumulation of statements. (p. 65)
Because he relinquishes the aesthetic potential of his medium with its capacity to move at will from one segment of time and place to another, Godard cannot convey the sense of historical struggle. But his choice of an unrelieved placard style, substituting statement for a nuanced development of dramatic conflict exposes as well disturbing features in Godard's new ideology. It is one thing to note that Godard's imagery of primitive idyll as the prelude to class struggle is painfully naive and inadequate given the highly complex social organization Godard hopes to change. But the methods Godard selects as the tools of social change—brutality, terrorism, coercion—are presumably the very abuses of human dignity he finds so appalling in bourgeois society….
An anti-democratic, authoritarian tone pervades both the style of Wind from the East with its preaching narrators and its content as well. The very title gives Godard away. Refusing to use...
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Godard's vision of [the young Maoists in La Chinoise (The Chinese Girl)] is persuasively realistic. And chilling.
And comic. What always saves Godard's work for me is his superb sense of irony. His sympathetic fascination with the outsiders who always people his films rarely deteriorates into sentimentality. Quite the contrary—they are absurd creatures. In La Chinoise, for instance, adolescent inattention and ineptitude keep undercutting everyone's revolutionary fervor, as do the sexual crosscurrents which keep swirling about. And when these humorless idealists move from talk to action, things fall still further apart. They carefully plan an assassination and, of course, gun down the wrong man, then must go back and get the right one. Their bungling perhaps reads as a comment on the futility of revolution, the fact that they go unpunished for their crimes a comment on the impotence and fatuity of the adult world that has driven them to this desperate expedient. Godard's attitude is summed up with admirable economy in the film's throwaway ending…. (pp. 172-73)
In outline, I am afraid the picture sounds simpler, more straight-forward than it really is. Indeed, what I have set down is only my interpretation of Godard's intentions. He hates to cue audience response to scenes and characters, hates to be in the position of begging them for approval. Working in the most seductive of the arts, he has...
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[The distinction of À Bout de souffle] lay in its ability to embody in the texture of the film itself the uncertainties and fragmentariness that form the basic ingredients of its view of life and the view of life of many Godard films to follow. À Bout de souffle abounds in non-sequiturs which become part of this meaninglessness. It also abounds in jump-cuts and restless tracking shots that deprive us of any sense of a logical transition from scene to scene as they deprive us as well of the sense of ever being still. Also in the movie as part of its gangster-film atmosphere, there is the feeling of persecution, a sense of the net closing in. The mechanics of the city seem to work against the protagonists. (pp. 215-16)
One of the most crucial elements that deepen Godard's fractured universe is his technique of allusion. The many allusions lend to all his films the irony of wit, yet sometimes with an indecipherable ambiguity. (p. 216)
It is important to insist upon the contribution that [the] texture of uncertainty in a Godard film makes towards the total impact it has upon us—towards its 'meaning', in fact—helping to underline as it does all the things we cannot know. For in a Godard film, even the most private allusions that are probably missed by us are cumulatively part of the feeling we get from him of a man terribly isolated and uncertain about his ability to make contact with more than a...
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Jerome H. Delamater
Jean-Luc Godard's Pierrot le Fou is an intricate and complex film, rich in visual and verbal allusion to painting, literature, and other films. It moves with its two leading characters, Ferdinand and Marianne …, in a somewhat picaresque journey through a life of trying to escape from society, hypocrisy, and commercialism to a life of crime and violence, ultimately arriving at death, perhaps the only true liberation. Godard's style, an introverted and self-consciously cinematic one, is so closely linked with his narrative and his thematic elements that the two are almost inseparable. Pierrot le Fou is a profound film that contrasts the humane and the inhumane in revelations of the best that man can accomplish versus the worst, which seems to be his more natural tendency.
Godard's use of color is the first noticeable attribute of the film. Pierrot le Fou is not simply a color film; instead, it uses color as part of the journey theme and as an emphasizing device. Colored filters, for instance, show mood and make distinctions, and a progression throughout the film from dark to light signifies the progression of Ferdinand and Marianne from society's strictures to death's liberation. Simply put, it is a film that could not have been photographed in black and white and still have retained its essence. (p. 5)
Godard's use of color is akin to his use of visual and verbal allusions to paintings and...
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In the programme notes to Mahagonny, the notes which Yves Montand refers to in Tout va bien, Brecht defines epic theatre in terms of a radical separation of its elements and distinguishes three such elements in the opera—the music, the text and the setting. In cinema, thanks to the work of Christian Metz, we can distinguish five different elements: the moving picture image, recorded phonetic sound, recorded musical sound, recorded noise and writing. Considered from the position suggested by the notes to Mahagonny, Deux ou trois choses can certainly be considered as an epic film, for its whole progress is a constant separation of its constitutive elements. Perhaps the element which is most obviously separated out in the film's progress is writing. So accustomed are we to a cinema which hides its writing away at the beginning or end of a film that it is with some shock that we discover it at all in Metz's classification, but such a cinema is directly challenged in Deux ou trois choses where it is impossible to ignore writing, as the book covers punctuate the action. This punctuation recalls Brecht's demand for a literalisation of the theatre; which literalisation was conceived exactly as the punctuation of representation with formulation, and this is exactly how the writing functions in Deux ou trois choses—constantly forcing us back to the problem of theoretically articulating the incidents which are...
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The idea of participation is integral to Godard's films: it confronts us on every level. To paraphrase Le Gai Savoir, these are not the films that should be made, but when those films are made they will have to follow some of the lines these films have laid down. The main focus of Godard's energies, ever since he started writing about film in 1952, has been towards an understanding of the phenomenon of film (and by extension other arts)…. (p. 102)
[The phrase "The sign forces us to see an object through its significance"] will be Godard's motto as a filmmaker a decade later: it is typically hermetic, almost mystical; it is as ambiguous as a line of modern poetry, yet it urgently wants to state a basic axiom: that there is no way we can sense the objective world without first understanding how our systems of signs—our languages, both verbal and non-verbal—"signify," how they mean, and how they thereby change our perceptions. (p. 105)
What impresses us about Godard's films is their collage of cultural data and artifacts. Godard's characters—all of them, from Michel Poiccard and Patricia straight on through to "He" and "She" in Tout va bien—are afloat in a raging sea of images and sounds, metaphors and syllogisms, political half-truths and cultural clichés. And if there can be said to be one central action that unites and connects the various films, it is the battle to rescue life...
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Weekend is the last film of Godard's contemplative phase, a film which prepares the break of 1968. With Deux ou trois choses of the previous year, it is a site on which Godard discovers the economic structures which motivate human behavior….
In Weekend, Godard reveals civil society in its most corrupt form from the viewpoint of an entomologist; in Deux ou trois choses he shows the subjective problems of an individual caught in the economic meshes of this "society of needs." Civil society … is characterized by an unreal split between political and economic society. The civil man (Corinne, Roland, Juliette) finds political matters external to his life….
With Godard's 1968 break, this individual isolation disappears from his films. The personal interests of the disparate radicals in Vladimir and Rosa (1970) become united by the Chicago Trial into a community of emotion and purpose. In speaking of his break, Godard finds the same passage from the pursuit of personal needs to the realization that he need not film alone, that his cause is the cause of others, that he can break out of his selfish isolation by a communal act of filming…. (p. 170)
Godard makes the leap to the Marxism which was tempting him, yet outside him. No longer is there the question, "What am I; what am I to do?" for Godard or his characters. He now films the Marxist...
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Terry Curtis Fox
While his work still graces repertory houses and college classrooms, it is no longer the predominant oeuvre, the major topic of conversation it once was. The man who, in a typical mixture of ego, self-mockery, and dead accuracy, once signed himself JEAN-LUC CINEMA GODARD has disappeared. (p. 1)
Godard is not a case of a man who, like Hitchcock, was simply a generation ahead of his critics. Godard never imagined our dreams so much as we imagined his. There is a remarkable consistency to the man: He began life as a film critic, and, while at times we imagined him to be simply self-conscious, it is, in the most profound sense, a critic he has remained.
Godard has consistently turned his work against itself. His films examine themselves, thus necessarily shrinking in scope and appeal as every word, every movement is challenged and reconsidered. He has felt compelled to make the camera define things, to limit the scope of view. While he began praising a tradition of filmmaking in which depth of field was everything—in which the more you could see in a single shot, the more happy ambiguities could be found—Godard's radical departure turned out to be the one-shot-for-one-idea cinema. Balance Married Woman (1964) against Comment Ca Va and one notes not a similarity of style but of intent. They are both movies concerned with showing the viewer how society's means of communication influence personal...
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No Godard film since Pierrot le fou has excited me as much as Sauve qui peut (La Vie) [released in the United States as Every Man for Himself]. Though his feeling for narrative has still not progressed from A to B and his disdain for psychological consistency and sociological probability is as outrageously apparent as ever, his zest for cinema is undiminished. Sauve qui peut is perhaps more like a piece of music than a movie. Every image is suffused with such elegant and exquisite insights into what makes the medium interact with its material that the total effect is intoxicating. Godard once wrote that the late Nicholas Ray was cinema. Perhaps the same can be said of Godard today. I would not care to debate Godard's "ideas" or speculate on his knowledge of the world and its people, though he is undoubtedly wiser and more reflective than many of his detractors imagine, and no great art can reflect entirely the triumph of intuition over intellect.
Is Godard's cinema, then, great art? I would argue that it is, without challenging Wilfrid Sheed's gibe that Godard had the talent of a fifth-rate Albanian novelist….
What is the film about? It is what Godard now feels after his 50th birthday from moment to moment….
Godard reminds us again and again of many of his films, but he provides something new as well, a mellower tone and a genuinely funny wryness about his own...
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Though I have some serious reservations about [Every Man for Himself] and the post-modern tradition it exemplifies, it is nonetheless an important work of art, a signal event in film history.
Godard's most impressive achievement is to refashion the formal tools of naturalism. Until now, the approach has been not to call attention to the medium but to focus attention on the development of plot and characters. He expands the mode by employing a whole range of cinematic devices—slow motion, freeze-frames, intertitles—that in the hands of lesser directors typically announce the triumph of empty form over trivial content.
I initially suspected that Every Man for Himself was also pretty inconsequential. We follow the meandering misadventures of a trio of seemingly negligible individuals without, at first, having a great deal of interest in their fates….
As the film unfolds, instead of engaging our emotions, Godard overcomes our indifference by using his dazzling command of film syntax to provide startlingly naturalistic flashes of the complexities of their lives. For instance, at the end of the movie (it would be wrong to call it the climax of the skeinlike structure), Paul by chance spots his wife and daughter on the street and rushes toward them. Since a previous meeting had been unsatisfactory for all concerned, we expect that he will be angry or even violent. Our expectation is...
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"Every Man for Himself" has been widely hailed as a return to [Godard's] great, innovative work of the sixties. It's wonderful to feel the pull of Godard's images again, to feel the rhythmic assurance. There was a special, anarchic sensuousness in the hasty, jerky flow of a Godard film. And there still is. In "Every Man for Himself," he demonstrates his nonchalant mastery; he can still impose his own way of seeing on you. But the movie may also make you feel empty. More than the fat has been burned out of "Every Man for Himself": the juice is gone, too.
The film is about money and people selling themselves—their minds or their bodies…. These characters (and the people around them) have lost hope, are without direction, and don't take pleasure in anything. Sex has become an aberrant, mechanical way to connect, and work yields no satisfaction. They go through the motions of living and searching, but they're dead—and they don't deserve to live. We might almost be back in the world of Antonioni, except that Godard has a gagster's temperament.
His philosophical shorthand jokes give the film a dry whimsicality. The camera may suddenly have a lapse of attention and wander off from the ineffectual principal characters (ineffectuality is a rule of life here) to follow the more entertaining movements of a passerby. Or Godard will toss a joke into the background of a scene: two young motorcyclists yell "Choose!" to the...
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Numero Deux is a mirthless caricature of domesticity. In addition to some startlingly explicit sex scenes, the film is crammed with garrulous grandparents, battles over the TV set, family members retreating into the world of stereo headphones, curious children, and sullen marital disagreements. While Two or Three Things was sumptuously cinemascopic, the fact that everything here is shown on two small TV monitors contributes to the bleak sense of isolation and claustrophobia. Even the few exteriors appear to have been shot looking down from a window.
But none of this withstanding, Numero Deux is among the most visually compelling films Godard has ever made. He uses his video monitors to invent a dozen new ways of splitting the screen or layering the image…. Godard is a master of expressive cacophony. When he piles up his TV sets so that fractured movie trailers are blasting out on top of the nightly news, the film becomes exhilaratingly kinetic….
Yet the film is bound to be misunderstood—for all his interest in realism, clinical sex, naked old people, Godard is hardly a naturalist. His notion of a human being is as stylized as Giacometti's, and about as cuddly….
Like many Godard films, Numero Deux bogs down in the home stretch, then rallies for a poignant ending. The light shifts in his studio so that we see the exhausted filmmaker sitting and resting his head on...
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