Jean-Luc Godard Stanley Kauffmann - Essay

Stanley Kauffmann

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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 to the making of his art. (pp. 139-40)

Godard, a man of [large and desperate] hungers, keeps snatching at themes to nourish his interest. He has gobbled at blood (a midget with scissors in his neck in Pierrot), alienation, the Vietnam war, Maoism, fantasy youth revolt, real youth revolt. If anything ever gripped him profoundly, even if only for a couple of months, what a film we might get! (p. 140)

Stanley Kauffmann, "'Pierrot le Fou'" (originally published in The New Republic, Vol. 160, No. 8, February 22, 1969), in his Figures of Light: Film Criticism and Comment (copyright © 1967, 1968, 1969, 1970, 1971 by Stanley Kauffmann; reprinted by permission of Harper & Row, Publishers, Inc.), Harper, 1971, pp. 138-40.