Tag Archives: Jean-Luc Godard

241. PIERROT LE FOU (1965)

“Velazquez, past the age of 50, no longer painted specific objects. He drifted around things like the air, like twilight, catching unawares in the shimmering shadows the nuances of color that he transformed into the invisible core of his silent symphony. Henceforth, he captured only those mysterious interpenetrations that united shape and tone by means of a secret but unceasing progression that no convulsion or cataclysm could interrupt or impede. Space reigns supreme. It’s as if some ethereal wave skimming over surfaces soaked up their visible emanations to shape them and give them form and then spread them like a perfume, like an echo of themselves, like some imperceptible dust, over every surrounding surface.”–opening lines of Pierrot le Fou, supposedly from the book on modern painters Ferdinand reads throughout the film

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DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING,

PLOT: Ferdinand, who is married to a wealthy Italian woman and has recently lost his television job, leaves a bourgeois cocktail party early and skips town with babysitter Marianne, with whom he had coincidentally had an affair years before. After knocking out an intruder, the two go on a crime spree and end up living on a remote island, but Marianne grows bored and wants to return to city life. Things get complicated when Marianne, who claims her brother is a gun runner, kills a man in her apartment, and the lovers are separated.

Still from Pierrot le Fou (1965)

BACKGROUND:

  • Pierrot le Fou is a (very) loose adaptation of Leonard White’s pulp novel “Obsession.” In the novel, the babysitter is much younger than the man she runs away with, creating a “Lolita” dynamic; when Godard decided to cast Belmondo and Karina, the nature of their relationship had to change.
  • “Pierrot” means “sad clown,” a stock character from commedia del arte. Pierrot is archetypically foolish, in love, and betrayed by his lover.
  • Two days before the film was to shoot, Godard still had no script. Some of the film was therefore improvised, although, according to Anna Karina, the extent to which the film was made up as it went along was later exaggerated.
  • Godard and Karina were married in 1961; by the time Pierrot was released, they were already divorced.
  • The film was booed at its debut at the Venice Film Festival, yet went on to do well at international box offices.
  • Director has a cameo as himself in the cocktail party scene, where he gives his theory of the essence of cinema.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: The despondent Ferdinand, speaking on the phone, grabs a paintbrush and begins daubing his face blue. Once finished, he goes out into the Mediterranean sun, carelessly swinging two bundles of dynamite—one red, one yellow—around his body. He’s off to end the movie.

THREE WEIRD THINGS: Topless cocktail party; scissored dwarf; Pierrot is blue

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Inspired by a film noir plot, but shot in a sunny primary-color pop art style that banishes all shadows, Pierrot le Fou is a bittersweet contradiction, and a story that refuses to sit still: it’s a road movie, a romance, a comedy, an adventure, a musical, a satire, a meditation, a surreal fantasy, and a postmodern lark (sometimes, it’s all of these in a single scene). Godard’s personality holds it all together with a lighthanded unity that he would seldom pull off.


Video review of Pierrot le Fou from Lewis Senpai (MoviesEveryday)

COMMENTS: “Fou” means “crazy” in French. Ferdinand’s lover, Marianne, calls him “Pierrot” throughout the film, although he constantly Continue reading 241. PIERROT LE FOU (1965)

CAPSULE: A WOMAN IS A WOMAN (1961)

Une Femme Est une Femme

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DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: ,

PLOT: When striptease artist Angela says she wants a baby, reluctant boyfriend Emile dares her to conceive with his best friend Alfred, who has a crush on her.

Still from A Woman Is a Woman (1961)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Une Femme has that certain Godardian edge to it, but it’s not strange enough to grace a list of the weirdest movies ever made.

COMMENTS: Just as Godard’s debut feature, 1960’s Breathless, deconstructed gangster movies by contradicting cinematic conventions and defying audience expectations, his followup A Woman Is a Woman deconstructs the already unreal world of the Hollywood musical. In these early films Godard shows a fondness for the genre material, even as he rips it to shreds– he’s only taking it apart, like a curious schoolboy, to see how it works. For an alleged musical—Godard actually called it “the idea of a musical”—there are remarkably few songs, and those that do come and  go in fragments. Michel Legrand wrote a lush score for the film, but Godard chops it up and doles it out in bits and pieces, just to call attention to the emotional artifice of film music. When Emile and Angela argue over whether they should have a baby, a few seconds of angry strings punctuate each of their statements; at other times, happy woodwinds pipe up, but are laid over the dialogue, partially obscuring the couple’s words. As Angela walks down a Paris street, the soundtrack cuts back and forth at random between orchestral cues, loud street noise, and silence. When she sings her cabaret number while stripping out of a sailor suit, the piano accompaniment conspicuously stops whenever she opens her mouth to sing. A background chanson cuts off as soon as she drops a coin into a jukebox and punches in the numbers. And so on.

The jokes are in the lightly absurd mode we expect from hip French films of this era (see also Zazie; Catherine Demongeot grinning off the cover of “Le Cinema” magazine is one of the many nods to his contemporaries that Godard spreads throughout the film). When they are not speaking, Angela and Emile carry on heated arguments using the titles of books they collect from their apartment’s shelves. Angela flips an omelet into the air, runs off to answer a phone call, then excuses itself and returns to catch it as it falls back onto the skillet a minute later. The subject matter (unmarried Bohemians, one of whom dances naked for strangers, casually discussing having a child out of wedlock) and a glimpse of female nudity (not from Karina) made it a naughty picture in 1961, though it was far too sweet-natured to be a dirty one. There’s a pleasant silliness to this souffle that we do not associate with Godard, who usually comes across as angry even when he’s joking (especially when he’s joking). That could be due to the presence of the vivacious Anna Karina, the Danish pixie girl Godard offers up here as the nouvelle vague’s answer to Audrey Hepburn. Between her pout and her smile there isn’t room to fit in a centimeter of cynicism. Godard married Karina during the shoot; they divorced four years later. Perhaps not coincidentally, the director’s work turned towards the sour soon thereafter.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Analytical whimsy, captivating dissonance… Infinitely inventive gaiety is but a veil for anxiety…”–Fernando F. Croce, Cinepassion (DVD)

CAPSULE: GOODBYE TO LANGUAGE (2014)

Adieu au Language; Goodbye to Language 3D

Beware

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Héloise Godet, Kamel Abdeli

PLOT: A squabbling couple who speak in philosophical fragments adopt a stray dog.

Still from Goodbye to Language (2014)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Godard might as well have called this one Film Socialisme 2: This Time, It’s Even More Inscrutably Personal. After a 55 year filmmaking career, Godard has earned the right to amuse himself with indulgent experiments. That doesn’t mean we have to like it.

COMMENTS: Random quotes. Snatches of flamenco tunes or classical music. Audio channels switching from side to side, turning on and off. Sudden explosions of abrasive noise. Clips of classic Hollywood movies. Brief slice-of-life episodes from a couple’s love life. Contextless voiceovers declaiming on historical, political and philosophical topics. Clips from the Tour de France in supersaturated color. A dog exploring the woods. Intertitles with words like “language,” “oh” or “la metaphore” flashing onscreen. Mary Shelley composing “Frankenstein” in real time, with an ink pen. No overarching plot, discernible conceit, or visible structure. Godard approaches Adieu au Language like a senior thesis film student, breaking narrative and cinematic rules with the glee of a budding avant-gardist who believes he’s taking cinema into bold new territories no one has yet imagined. But of course, someone has already created the radically fragmented anti-cinema Adieu strives to discover: Godard himself!

Godard’s dog is the third most prominent being (you could not call them “characters”) in the film. I wonder if perhaps Adieu isn’t Godard’s attempt to view the world the way he imagines his dog sees it: a non-linguistic reality where words are just part of the bewildering barrage of nearly incomprehensible sensory information, and the non-food bits are wholly uninteresting.

I should add a caveat: Goodbye to Language was originally released in 3D. Most of us will have to imagine whether viewing the film in pop-out format would have improved it. Since I don’t find this film visually spectacular—and I have never seen any film in my entire life, with the possible exception of Cave of Forgotten Dreams, that was improved by the gimmick—I doubt the extra dimension would have made a huge difference to my recommendation.

A former film critic himself, Godard has always deliberately aimed over the heads of ordinary people, making emotionless intellectual art for the theorist elites. I believe that Godard made this movie (at least partially) with the intent to annoy. I’m not sure I am part of the core audience he intends to annoy, but he hits the mark with me.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…the everyday world is made vivid and strange, rendered in a series of sketches and compositions by an artist with an eccentric and unerring eye.”–A.O. Scott, The New York Times (contemporaneous)

FOR EVER MOZART (1996)

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Vicky Messica, Madeleine Assas

PLOT: Although there are many digressions, the two main plotlines involve a group of actors traveling to Sarajevo to put on a play and a movie director trying to make a film called Fatal Bolero.

Still from For Ever Mozart (1996)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: It feels like assigned homework for Professor Godard’s graduate-level “Advanced Semiotics in Cinema” course.

COMMENTS: A woman, the granddaughter of Albert Camus, wants to stage a play in war-torn Sarajevo (for reasons that are never made completely clear). Her uncle (I believe) is casting a movie called The Fatal Bolero, and she convinces him to fund their expedition. They set off for Sarajevo (in Camus’ car), but the director ditches them along the way. The three actors are captured by soldiers, who plan to commit war atrocities on them while running around slapstick-style dodging shells lobbed from unknown destinations. We then return to France to follow the director, who is struggling to make his movie on a tight budget. The crew discovers two bodies in a burnt-out building—either sleeping derelicts, or corpses—and puts a red dress on the female, who later awakens and plays the lead role. The ending is a cute self-referential bit where audiences lined up to see Bolero ask if there will be nudity; when they’re told the answer is no, they threaten to leave to go see an American film, and the desperate producers spontaneously change the movie. It takes some work for the viewer to figure out those basic outlines. That plot, per se, is not of much concern to Godard; what he is interested in, as his directorial stand-in directly proclaims, is the “a saturation of glorious signs bathing in the light of absent explanation.” By design, the characters aren’t well-defined or established (it’s not even clear what their names are, and there are a lot of “who’s that guy again?” moments). There are gaps in the action, non-sequiturs, and scenes that begin suddenly without orienting the viewer. Everyone in the movie talks like an off-duty philosophy professor waxing poetic after two glasses of Cabernet Sauvignon. “There is no death. There’s only me, who is going to die,” muses a young actress while staring out of a train window. Later, sitting around a campfire, her sister responds, “the sensation I have of existence is not yet a ‘me.'” Godard glancingly addresses a multitude of issues, from the existential to the cinematic/theoretical, and sometimes his almost absentminded reflections are brilliant: his thesis that cinema has a greater mystery and dignity than literature because film incorporates actors and props that have a separate existence outside the imagination of the author, uttered by the movie’s director while the camera focuses on the face of an actress huddling against a cold beach wind, is fascinating to consider. But the absence of humanity exhibited by the nearly anonymous characters makes the movie too cold to be involving, and the lack of rigor in its intellectual musings means many of its tossed-off insights come off as hot air. It’s vintage late Godard: brainy, but boring, too thoughtful to be totally dismissed, but too flighty to be embraced.

Spoken phonetically, the title For Ever Mozart sounds like “faut rêver Mozart” (“dream, Mozart”) in French.

The previous New Yorker DVD of For Ever Mozart contained no extra features; the 2014 Cohen Media Group release includes a commentary by film critic James Quandt and an interview with Godard.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

 “…full of deep musings, potent symbols and academic references from every corner of Western culture, but they’re thrown up on the screen in a manner that will confuse and infuriate anyone expecting a conventional narrative or readily identifiable characters. If what you’re expecting is an austere, lyrical essay that takes many tangents and requires serious deciphering, ‘For Ever Mozart’ is a film to be savored.”–Stephen Holden, The New York Times (contemporaneous)

130. WEEKEND (1967)

“What a rotten film, all we meet are crazy people.”–Roland

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Mireille Darc, Jean Yanne

PLOT: Corrine and Roland are a married couple who are cheating on each other and who hope to inherit money from Corrine’s dying father. They set off on a weekend trip to travel to the father’s deathbed, but find the French countryside is a giant traffic jam filled with burning wrecks. As they struggle to reach their destination they meet fictional and historical characters, magical beings, and feral hippie terrorists.

Still from Weekend (1967)

BACKGROUND:

  • According to writer/critic Gary Indiana, Godard based the structure of his story on Friedrich Engel’s “The Origins of Family, Private Property, and the State,” but reversed the historical progression so that the movie proceeds from civilization to savagery.
  • Mireille Darc, who had starred in the types of popular comedies and spy films Godard despised, petitioned the director for a part in one of his movies. He agreed to cast her in Weekend; when she asked him why, he answered, “because I don’t like you… and the character in my film must be unpleasant.”
  • The scene where Mireille Darc tells her lover about a threesome with another man is a parody of a similar scene from ‘s Persona (1966), and also a reference to George Bataille’s surrealist/erotic novella “The Story of the Eye.”
  • Godard often makes literary and historical references without announcing them. Some of the characters who appear in the film are Robespierre’s lieutenant Louise Antoine de Saint-Just, Tom Thumb, and Emily Brontë.
  • Weekend was condemned by the Catholic Legion of Decency.
  • When Weekend wrapped, Godard reportedly told his usual crew to look for work elsewhere, as he would be abandoning commercial film from that point forward. (This story is probably apocryphal, since Godard’s cinematographer Raoul Coutard didn’t remember such a formal announcement; nonetheless, Godard did cease making commercial movies after Weekend, and Coutard and the other regular crew members didn’t work with the director again for many years).

INDELIBLE IMAGE: The celebrated traffic jam, an eight-minute tracking shot scored to the sound of honking horns. The camera surveys a lineup of stalled vehicles, and our interest never flags as we pass people tossing balls from car to car or playing chess in the middle of the highway, autos upturned on the side of the road or smashed into trees, and trailers housing monkeys and llamas, until we reach the tragic source of the congestion. Roland and Corrine zoom past increasingly angry motorists in their convertible, sometimes racing ahead of the camera and sometimes falling behind it, and we slowly realize the strangest feature of the backup: there’s nothing blocking the opposite lane, and no reason the other drivers can’t simply zoom around the trouble.

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Introduced as “a film adrift in the cosmos” and as “a film found in a scrap heap,” Weekend is, more than anything, a nasty and bitter assault on bourgeois French culture of 1967: a revolutionary rejection of consumerism, propriety, and even (or especially) of the need for plots that “make sense.” Today, Godard’s mix of Marxism, alienation, transgression, Surrealism and fourth-wall breaking seems “oh-so Sixties”; but the passionate hatred that fuels this ambitious attack on good taste and good sense endures, giving Weekend an anarchic vitality that survives its turbulent era.


Original French trailer for Weekend

COMMENTS: Weekend is both a satire and a wish-fulfillment fantasy. Certainly, Corrine and Roland, who care for nothing that can’t be bought (a Continue reading 130. WEEKEND (1967)

CAPSULE: CINEMA 16: EUROPEAN SHORT FILMS (EUROPEAN EDITION) (2007)

DIRECTED BY: Lukas Moodysson, Patrice Le Conte, , Virgil Widrich, , Peter Mullian, Nanni Moretti, Jan Kounen, Roy Andersson, Juan Solanas, Krzysztof Kieslowski, Jan Svankmajer, , Lars von Trier, Javier Fesser, Anders Thomas Jensen

FEATURING: Paddy Considine, Sten Ljunggren, , Isis Krüger, Thomas Wolff

PLOT: Comedies, dramas and experimental films are collected together in this anthology of sixteen award winning short films made by Europeans.

Still from My Wrongs #8245-8249 & 117 ()

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Compilations themselves aren’t eligible, and although some of the shorts here are quite weird, none of them are powerful enough to displace a feature film from the List.

COMMENTS: Short films have almost no commercial prospects: filmmakers generally make them as calling cards, for festival competitions where artistry is more important than marketability, and as a way to fiddle around with the medium of film. Experiments, whether visual or narrative, that might grow wearisome at 90 minutes can be refreshing at under 15 minutes, and directors can indulge their outré aesthetic impulses without fear of alienating audiences and distributors. There are, therefore, a higher proportion of weird works in the world of the short film than are found in the feature film universe: here, nine out of the sixteen offerings—more than half of the total—make at least a nod towards the strange, surreal, or fantastical.

Although we will run down all the films on the set, our primary interest here is in “My Wrongs #8245-8249 & 117,” provocateur ‘ first self-contained short film after years of making blackly absurd, boundary-pushing sketches for British television. Our interest in “Wrongs” stems both from the fact it’s likely the weirdest offering, and because a reader suggested it to us for review. Before we get to the unique films in this collection, we need to explain a little about the “Cinema 16: European Short Films” sets. For reasons that are somewhat unclear, Cinema 16 released two different discs entitled “European Short Films,” one for the European market and one for the U.S. market.  The two editions share seven films in common. We reviewed the U.S. release previously, and mini reviews of the overlapping shorts will be found in that article. The seven repeats are:
Continue reading CAPSULE: CINEMA 16: EUROPEAN SHORT FILMS (EUROPEAN EDITION) (2007)

CAPSULE: FILM SOCIALISME (2010)

Beware

DIRECTED BY: Jean-Luc Godard

FEATURING: Marine Battaggia, Catherine Tanvier, Christian Sinniger, Gulliver Hecq, Eye Haidara, Élisabeth Vitali

PLOT: Snippets of scenes involving passengers on a cruise ship are followed by a long segment exploring a rural French family who run a gas station; it’s topped off with impressionistic travelogues to Egypt, Palestine, and other locales.

Still from Film Socialisme (2010)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST:  It’s weird—by way of being random and impenetrable—but it’s also boring.  Really boring.  Had Jean-Luc Godard’s name not been attached, this movie would remain happily unseen by all but a handful of unlucky film festival attendees.

COMMENTS: Jean-Luc Godard has been telling French magazines that “cinema is dead” (though he would say “le cinéma est mort” and translate it as “film    dead.”)  Film Socialisme is the work of an auteur who truly believes that sentiment: it’s a dispassionate, bloodless dissection of moving images.  It offers us actors but no characters, situations but no drama, incidents but no story, ideas but no argument, and challenges but no rewards.  Deliberately obtuse, Film Socialisme sets out to frustrate: the first thing English speakers will notice is that Godard chooses not to fully translate the French dialogue, opting instead to tell the story through what he calls “Navajo English.”  Large portions of the French dialogue are left untranslated, and when the viewer does see subtitles he reads only snatches like “watch    notell    time” and “itshim    wariswar.”  Sometimes the language will switch from French to English or German or Russian, sometimes in the middle of a conversation; one presumes that this provides brief  opportunities for Francophones to enjoy “Navajo French.”  Structurally, Film Socialisme is divided into three chapters.  The first, titled “Des choses comme ça,” takes place aboard a cruise liner and explores fragments of stories from various travelers that don’t appear to add up to anything: a woman is trying to learn to speak cat by watching kitties on her laptop, a couple have a conversation about the Allied landing in North Africa while ignoring an apparently drunk woman Continue reading CAPSULE: FILM SOCIALISME (2010)

AVANT OPERA ON FILM, PART 3

In 1987, producer Don Boyd brought his labor of love, Aria, to the screen.  The concept was to have ten directors, each with a distinguished style, visually interpret ten arias.  Jean-Luc Godard, Robert Altman, Nicolas Roeg and Ken Russell were among the directors.  Predictably, many less than erudite American critics put their working class hero noses to work, sniffed it out like the gold old boy guardians of true blue Americana, and immediately pounced on it, pretentiously charging high pretension as they are usually apt to do.  Whenever the subjects of opera or classical music are involved in film, rest assured American critics are going to become engaged in loudly espousing anti-pretension pretensions. Actually, Aria is a stylishly, irreverent and satirical, if uneven, treat.

ariaroddamFranc Roddam’s “Liebestod” from Wagner’s “Tristan und Isolde” is set in Las Vegas with Bridget Fonda and James Mathers excellently capturing the pathos of the doomed pair.

Ken Russell, an expert eccentric at this sort of thing, memorably tackles Puccini’s “Turandot” with hallucinatory model Linzi Drew, inlaid rubies and diamonds, and an operating table in a typically heady Russellesque mix of bizarre, mystical excess and eros.

Godard, tongue delightfully in cheek, sets Jean Baptiste Lully in a work-out gym as two women contend with narcissistic male body builders.

Charles Sturridge’s interpretation of Verdi’s “La Forza Del Destino” subtly grows brighter upon repeated viewings. Sturridge’s “Destino” aptly paints troubled youth on a joy ride through an apathetic adult world in a lament to the Virgin.

Bruce Beresford’s film of Korngold’s “Die Tote Stadt,” starring a young Elizabeth Hurley, captures the music’s superficial sheen.

Nicholas Roeg, Robert Altman, Derek Jarman, Julian Temple, and Bill Bryden interpret Verdi, Rameau, Charpentier, and Leoncavallo to lesser effect, but even the slight failures here are far preferable to the bulk of Hollywood drek.

Ken Russell has had an ongoing obsession with composers: Tchaikovsky in The Music Lovers, the justifiably infamous Lisztomania, and Elgar, but his most hallucinatory and, oddly enough, Continue reading AVANT OPERA ON FILM, PART 3