The 100 Essential Directors Part 4

Samuel Fuller - John Huston

by PopMatters Staff

11 August 2011

 
Jean Luc Godard
(1930 - present)

Three Key Films: Breathless (1960), Vivre Sa Vie (1962),  Contempt (1963)

Underrated: Made in U.S.A. (1966): Godard’s movies are often imbued with political subtext, but Made in U.S.A. essentially eschews with the sub and simply makes the political discussion its blatant focus. It’s perhaps a little more obviously ideological than other Godard efforts, which might explain why it is in a position to be considered underrated. Either way, what it lacks in subtlety, it makes up for in seemingly spontaneous wit. Made in U.S.A. provides a rather intriguing conversation about politics and a careful snapshot of 60s France. Through the eyes and ears of Godard, it’s always a fascinating place to be.

Unforgettable: There’s a delightfully playful scene in Masculin, Feminin (1966) where main male character Paul is engaged in a conversation with a friend at a café. When a man enters the café to ask the worker for directions, Paul waits until he leaves and then stands up, strolls to the entrance, and essentially re-enacts the stranger’s brief action. After asking the same question as the man he is oddly impersonating, he sits back down with his dumbfounded friend, who questions what just happened. Paul explains that he wanted to experience the sensation of walking in another person’s shoes, before brushing off the experience as an underwhelming exercise. This moment epitomizes Godard’s love of imaginative observation and his desire to embrace originality while simultaneously shrugging it off with a smile.

film

Breathless (1960)

The Legend: The brilliant master who helped open the floodgates to the French New Wave, Jean-Luc Godard is a true cinematic revolutionary. His movies are ablaze with a strikingly passionate spirit that fills every corner of the frame. The very act of entering his world is endlessly exciting because of the potent possibilities that are promised by his wide range of intriguing talents. There’s nothing quite like the world as seen through Godard’s eyes and his many movies (his filmography stretches far and wide) amaze with their originality.

Born in 1930 to a Franco-Swiss family in Paris, Godard grew up with Protestant influences and eventually sought education in both France and Switzerland. The 1950s brought his beginnings in cinema criticism and creation, which soon culminated with his hugely popular hit Breathless, released in 1960 and still regarded as one of Godard’s most famous and beloved films. From there, Godard embarked on a filmmaking journey that continues to this day. His incredibly fruitful period in the ‘60s (that portion of his career that is considered a part of New Wave cinema) concluded with Week End (1967), but he would go on to make many more movies in the decades that followed. In 2010, he received an Honorary Academy Award from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

Godard’s cinematic voice seems to speak an entirely new language, one of wonderful whimsy and vibrant vivacity. His words leap off the screen and the combination of adventurous editing, playful musical cues, daring dialogue, and succulent photography ensures that the very unique viewing experience provided by his movies is both visually and aurally intoxicating. There’s a dreamlike quality to his movies that is extended to invade our own reality. It’s all very self-reflexive and self-aware, with Godard often choosing to use his camera as a mirror in order to look back on the real world.

His approach to filmmaking and storytelling tends to be very imaginative and extremely energetic, but keeping up with his vision is always a delight and never a bore. His work doesn’t alienate, but rather draws us in with its fascinating blend of political satire and gender commentary. He refuses to take the easy way out and he enjoys challenging the audience in a rewarding manner. He is an iconic and incredible director who plays by his own rules. His movies are true treasures. Through them, Godard speaks to us with passion erupting and his genius flowing over.  Aaron Leggo

 
 
 

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