Pierrot le fou
The 51st New York Film Festival is now over, but Film Society's Jean-Luc Godard series continues. A celebrated figure from the French New Wave, the three-week retrospective, Jean-Luc Godard – The Spirit of the Forms, is a comprehensive look at the French-born filmmaker's features, shorts, television series and more.
On Closing Night of the New York Film Festival, several of this year's Critics Academy members were discussing the series, debating their favorites and which films they wanted to see for the first time or re-visit. FilmLinc had the bright idea to ask Diana Drumm, Shelley Farmer, Mark E. Lukenbill and Gus Reed to give their thoughts on several Godard films in the series of their choice. Also weighing in on his Godards of choice is Erik Luers, who is currently working at FilmLinc and a knowledgable cineaste at that…
Jean-Luc Godard – The Spirit of the Forms continues through October 30.
Critics Academy Picks:
Mark E. Lukenbill
It's hard to believe that “Contempt” was made so early in Godard's career, as it feels like the culmination of all of his 60s films: a sweeping, wistful epic that seems more mature and introspective than his other early work, and his first to deal with his soon to be favorite topic of movies about cinema. It also happens to contain a heartbreakingly gorgeous, classic Georges Delerue score, which definitely doesn't hurt.
2. Made In USA
I once heard someone write this movie off as “Bright Colors and Anna Karina's Face: The Movie,” but first of all, guys, I would watch that movie. Energetic, irreverent, and unhinged, “Made in USA” is a perfect send off to Godard's most beloved muse.
3. A Woman Is A Woman
Putting aside the questionable, outdated sexual politics (as is the case with most Godard), “A Woman is a Woman” is 90 minutes of unfettered joy. A lively, colorful tribute to American musicals featuring Anna Karina at her most iconic.
4. Hail Mary/Every Man for Himself
'80s Godard is incredibly subjective; his films during this period tend to be a grab bag of philosophical musings and cinematic ideas and some stick with you more than others. “Every Man,” Godard's so-called “second first film,” is probably the most accessible and likable film from this period, whereas “Hail Mary” jumps out as being one of the most emotionally powerful films Godard ever made, anchored by a commanding performance from Myriem Roussel.
Total cinematic chaos. Beguiling, hilarious, infuriating, and so, so colorful. “Weekend” tends to be one of Godard's films that I think the most about, even if while watching I'm frequently totally baffled.
A Woman Is A Woman (Une femme est une femme)
Pierrot le fou
This vibrantly unhinged love story with Anna Karina and Jean-Paul Belmondo feels as elemental as the primary colors that blare through it. It’s the first movie that got me excited about Godard, and probably the most accessible (and downright fun) point of entry into his world.
Not just for Maoists! A claustrophobic chamber piece focused tightly on five student radicals living together in a small Parisian apartment, La Chinoise features Godard at his most self-lacerating. It’s fascinating to see, in the course of a single film, the seismic shift he was beginning to make into exclusively political and increasingly non-narrative terrain.
For Ever Mozart
Godard’s chilling meditation on art and war is as frenetic and dense as anything he made in the 1960’s, but is also overflowing with disarmingly plaintive moments. I still have no idea what’s going on for most of the movie—but that makes me all the more excited to see it on a big screen.
A Woman Is A Woman (Une femme est une femme)
If film school syllabi are anything to go by, A Woman Is A Woman is a must-see and actually was the first Godard I ever saw. One scene that struck me then and strikes me now is early on when Angela (Anna Karina) performs a striptease, exemplifying the contradictory nature of French New Wave womanhood – being put on a pedestal for men to knock down. Similarly contradictorily, the film acts as both homage and criticism of old Hollywood with its bright Cinemascope colors and songs paired with biting wit and a neorealist aesthetic that came from shooting with lightweight cameras.
My Life to Live (Vivre sa vie: film en douze tableaux)
Delving into a gritty tale, Vivre Sa Vie centers on Nana, another beautiful woman (also played by Anna Karina) who, rather than turning to striptease, goes down a bit further into actual prostitution. In 12 sections, the film is set up like a Victorian serial about a wife and mother turned fallen woman, but Godard in his way turns this concept on end with a cinema verite shooting style. The juxtaposition makes Nana’s slide all the more cutting as the audience can neither fully remonstrate or sympathize with her.
Band of Outsiders (Bande a part)
I may have just killed whatever film critic cred I gained as part of the Critics Academy with this choice, but that would be found out at some point and could be over worse things than Godard. Considered his broadest, most accessible film, Band Of Outsiders is another homage to Hollywood starring Anna Karina and involving a love triangle, but this time around, the film combines crime, comedy, and an iconic run through the Louvre. Keep a look out for the Madison dance scene, you should see something very familiar, especially for you Tarantino nuts.
1. Pierrot le fou
Pierrot le fou is a beautiful summation of Godard's early period, as well as one of his most poignantly personal works. Filmed during the breakup of his marriage with Anna Karina, and starring Karina and Breathless star Jean Paul Belmondo, the film references many of his previous works and, like many of his previous films plays with the conventions of film noir. The film is one of Godard's most visually stunning works, full of humor and fascinating Brechtian techniques, making it (for me) the peak of Godard's early period.
2. Le Mepris
Le Mepris may be a perfect film. Aesthetically, it is a work of exquisite formal beauty, and the narrative progresses with a feeling of tragic inevitability. The tension between the way the camera gazes at Bardot, both worshipping and owning her body, and her willful strength within the frame is thrilling.
3. A Woman Is A Woman (Un femme est une femme)
This was my first Godard film, and it irrevocably shaped my view of the French New Wave as a movement about joy: the joy of cinema, of love, of life itself. The color cinematography is beautiful, the tone playful, and Anna Karina's charisma is overwhelming. Watching it recently, I've been most struck by the Godard's experimentation with the soundtrack, which still has the power to surprise.
One of the films that completely demolished all I thought I knew about film. Watching this in high school, I realized that there were no limits to how a film could be structured and what it could accomplish.
* Masculin Feminin
Not a favorite, but one that I have found challenging. Watching this film in high school was the fist time I felt truly dehumanized by a film. Perhaps it was seeing Godard's views of women so starkly, without the charisma of Anna Karina to soften the blow, but I felt that, for Godard, women were sneaky, intellectually limited sirens who existed solely in relation to men. I adore Godard, but I have wrestled with his depictions of women ever since.
And an additional several suggestions:
2 or 3 Things I Know About Her
As with many Godard films, multiple viewings are essential, but perhaps none more so 2 or 3 Things I Know About Her, the director's intriguing look at the Paris region and her mindful surveyors. The urban, industrial and commercial combine for this Godard-narrated tale of intertextuality as we set our sights on a housewife who turns out to be anything but ordinary. A personal favorite among critics, I once dedicated over four thousand words to my love of this film.
I first viewed Weekend downtown at Film Forum in 2011 in a 35mm print. Two weeks later, I viewed the film again on a digital file screened in a class I was taking. End of cinema, indeed. Equally frightening and hilarious, this film surveys the pleasures of both sex and death, and its go for broke morbidness adds to its charm. Its crudeness and charming grindhouse sensibilities filled me with giddy pleasure.
In Praise of Love
Having already viewed the film several times before on DVD, I was excited to see In Praise of Love in 35mm for the first time last Fall at the Museum of the Moving Image. The opening movie of Film After Film, a series curated by J. Hoberman for the release of his new book Film After Film: Or, What Became of 21st Century Cinema?, In Praise of Love was seen anew by me when viewed on celluloid. The film, philosophically romantic and emotionally pure, was shot in two halves, one in 35mm and the other on over-saturated video. Viewing video on film provides quite a contrast (unlike watching the movie on DVD where the celluloid portion becomes digitized) and was what Godard intended.
Neither anti-Semitic nor a condemnation of organized religions, Notre Musique is a beautiful elegy for those lost at war and in life. Identifying one's self via one's religion (or identifying one's self in contrast to another's religion) is just one of the many fascinating concepts Godard bravely wrestles with here. It also features the filmmaker playing himself and giving the role poetic justice. Told in three parts, the story offers Godard's perhaps concrete view of an ideal purgatory: young people reading books and frolicking about carefree on a beach.