A Jean-Luc Godard Retrospective (1930-2022)

The name ‘Jean-Luc Godard’ brings to mind images of cigarettes and chic French girls, romantic Parisian cafes, and the faces of Anna Karina and Jean-Paul Belmondo. Perhaps, to some, it may conjure thoughts about pretentiousness or film-school snobbery. His films seem to be made for people that know cinema, appreciated by many of us largely for their aesthetic value. Regardless of the many various opinions on the work of Godard, there is no doubt that we have recently lost an icon of filmmaking.

The pioneer of French New Wave passed away aged ninety-one on the 13th September, by assisted suicide. “He was not sick, he was simply exhausted,” said an unnamed source, quoted in the French paper Libération. It seems to be a dignified, peaceful way to leave a world where your legacy will not be soon forgotten. Godard had dedicated his life to breaking the rules of the cinema and searching for new methods, a role that has earned him a mourning period in film classes around the world. He is associated with the French cinematic movement La Nouvelle Vague, which aimed to capture French life at both its most mundane, and its most wild. Elements of the French New Wave used skilfully by Godard include unusual editing and moving cameras, show most notably in À bout de Souffle (1960). Godard and his group of young filmmakers did not try to make editing invisible. They wanted audiences to be aware that they were watching a film, a highly stylised, carefully constructed piece of art. In this way, Godard is remembered as a rule-breaker, rejecting the conventions that had governed cinema in previous decades. 

I am not a film student nor filmmaker; the technical aspects of Godard’s work were admittedly lost on me until I did my research. I always found the dialogues distant, perhaps because of the poorly-translated English subtitles, so it was the beauty of his shots, the existentialism and the romance, that drew me in and compelled me to write about Godard. That stylishness and effortless cool. I don’t know if he was a ‘good’ man, or if that flippant approach to female characters in his movies was a thread drawn from his real life. His revolutionary contribution to filmmaking is what interests me. 

If our readers have not yet explored the films of Godard, here are a few to begin with. The noir-inspired film that kick-started his career is ‘À bout de Souffle’, a crime drama about an impulsive petty thief and his American lover. ‘Chinoise’ (1967) is one for those interested in political theory, a witty story of Maoist university students in Paris. Another gem is ‘Pierrot le Fou’ (1965), in which an unhappy man leaves his bourgeois lifestyle for a life of crime and excitement. Godard wasn’t alone in his ground-breaking contributions to French cinema. If these films generate an interest in French New Wave, then his contemporaries, such as Agnes Varda and Eric Rohmer, are definitely worth exploring.

Jean-Luc Godard is truly an iconic name within film history, a name that had a powerful role in 20th century cinema. His original approach to cinema as an art form has served as inspiration for modern figures such as Quentin Tarantino and Martin Scorsese. While the picture of French life that Godard’s films painted may no longer be as accurate as it was in the 60s, his work remains loved and admired decades later.

[Lauren Maclaren – she/her]

Image credits: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/entertainment-arts-62886470

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