Tuesday, December 09, 2008

5 Essential Jean-Luc Godard Films (60' to 67') without Breathless (TFR Article)

Jean-Luc Godard is one of cinema’s most prolific minds. Because his films were often years ahead of their own time, they might seem difficult to approach, unless you already love them (which I know is kind of a paradox). The challenge is to find the Godard film you like and discover his other films through it. The films below are essential to any fan of movies, but just as important to any fan of Godard.

These five Godard films are in no way an introductory course to the filmmaker (he made 23 features and short films during the 7 year period), but these will help guide your journey in experiencing cinema’s greatest troublemaker.

Le Petit Soldat (The Little Soldier) 1960

One of Godard’s first films was banned for three years in France because of its depiction of the war between France and Algeria. It’s the first film in which Godard works with his cinematic muse, Anna Karina, whose portrayal as an Algerian spy is so subtle that it becomes immediately clear why they will later make eight films together.

Quote: “Photography is truth. And cinema is truth at 24 frames a second.”

Le Mépris (Contempt) 1963

Starring the ultra sultry Brigette Bardot, Michel Piccoli, Jack Palance, Fritz Lang, Greek statues, Italy and cinema, in this exuberant Technicolor masterpiece. The film becomes a template to the Godard romance: A woman, a man, another man, a misunderstanding, a death, a camera and a whole lot of questions.

Quote: “Now it’s no longer the presence of God, but the absence of God, that reassures man. It’s very strange, but true.”

Pierrot Le Fou (Pete the Mad) 1965

Often heralded as the color version of Breathless, Pierrot Le Fou is the essential love story by Godard. A man and woman, together against all odds, struggling to keep sanity in a world strife with gun smugglers and musicals. It’s one of Godard’s best road films and is an example of the work of a master.

Quote: “Poetry is a game of loser-take-all.”

Masculin féminin: 15 faits précis (Masculine, Feminine: In 15 Acts) 1966

In what seems to be a throwback to Rossellini’s disjointed narrative, Pasian, Godard pieces fifteen vignettes showing the volatility and confusion of young men and women in Paris. Brilliantly performed by Jean-Pierre Leaud (a new wave favorite) and Chantal Goya (a ye-ye singer), this film gave Godard a chance to re-establish the theme of banality, which he had begun with Breathless, and also to express realism, through which he used mainly improvised dialogue (most of which was fed through an ear piece to the actors from Godard himself).

Quote: “Human labor resurrects things from the dead.”

La Chinoise (The Chinese) 1967

Godard’s most overtly political film, about a student teach-in, in a Paris apartment that examines/predicts the May 68 riots which would happen a year later. The students engulf themselves (figuratively and literally) with Mao’s Little Red Book and debate and discuss the Marxist-Leninist-Maoist rhetoric of their day-to-day lives. This film would be a clear precursor to the Dziga Vertov Group (JLG and Jean-Pierre Gorin) and marks the time when Godard went “political”.

Quote: “We should replace vague ideas with clear images.”

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