Week End

Aah… Week End. A film that would have made John Waters proud. It wasn’t until this film that I got a firm hold on the roller coaster that was Godard. Fully bloomed, Godard plays with the medium like a potter does with his sand – only more carefully careless. Self-proclaimed end to Godard’s most celebrated period is fittingly over-the-top, with the evidently characteristic Godardian magic oozing out of each second of runtime. Closer to conventional narrative than La Chinoise (1967) but overtly more political than his Anna Karina period, Godard leaves no stones unturned to lay open himself and chart out what was to become his mainstay.

Week End (1967)

Week End (1967)

The film follows the road trip of a French couple immediately following a notoriously extended narration of an erotic tale. They come across everything but the kitchen sink (or may be that too…) on their way as Godard employs the unsuspecting leads to paint the screen with his bubbling political ideologies and cultural stand. With intriguingly long tracking shots (including the instant classic traffic jam where Godard pulls off an unimaginable 10 minute odyssey that is as dynamic as it is static) Godard distorts space and time and disorients the viewer from “expecting” anything. So all the viewer can do is to live the moment and reflect on what’s happening on screen. Hmmm… the Brechtian influence has most definitely paid off this time Monsieur Godard.

Progressively mad, Week End ironically takes civilization backwards to the point where we meet cannibalistic guerillas waging war with catapults and stealing picnic baskets (Yes, they are smarter than the average guerilla!). Intense meditation on African colonialism and featherweight moments of self- glorification (to the point of calling himself The Saviour) intersperse to form an oddly entrancing landscape that has to be seen to be believed. An addictive masterwork or decidedly camp, depending on how much you appreciate Godard’s style.

Pierrot Le Fou
(Pierrot Goes Wild)

Pierrot Le Fou is perhaps Godard’s most loved film after Breathless and it isn’t a coincidence that the films are often placed on the same platform for discussion. Pierrot Le Fou intentionally reverses the narrative that Breathless offered which just reinforces Godard’s stand on the nature of the medium. Breathless ended with a murder while Pierrot Le Fou essentially starts with one. The previous film had wandering souls falling in love whereas the latter has two lovers on the run. And even the starting quote of Breathless resembles the final one of Pierrot. He bends the rules all right, but what is more interesting is that he redefines film grammar that he had constructed.

Pierrot Goes Wild (1965)

Pierrot Goes Wild (1965)

Godard continues to play with the genre system, paying homage at times and ridiculing it at others. Early on in the film we see Samuel Fuller putting forth his definition of cinema as being one about emotions alone. And Pierrot tries to do exactly that. As with most Godardian characters, Pierrot knows that he is in a film and also that we know that he is in a film. He tries to make his journey as “cinematic” as possible by trying to indulge in all possible emotions that he can cook up. Surely, Pierrot stands for Godard himself as he moulds his life as per his whims as Godard does with the film itself.

But the film works the most on a personal level as Pierrot Le Fou sharply marks the end to what I would like to call Godard’s Anna Karina years. The film was made after the couple got divorced and Godard seems to lament the years gone by. Pierrot’s suicide in the final scene may be a manifestation of Godard’s own mental landscape. He even insinuates his future moves in the form of the impromptu play that Pierrot and Marianne put up, where he comments on the attitude of the west towards the Vietnam War (and this was when the war was going on, mind you). So, in a sense the film forms the junction between the two starkly different periods of Godard’s filmography. On the whole, a film about a man dissatisfied by conventions and with nothing to lose made by a man dissatisfied by conventions and with nothing to lose.

Bande À Part
(Band Of Outsiders)

Godard proves that Breathless was not a fluke with his next film Band of Outsiders (1964). Band of Outsiders was the first Godard movie I saw and I had mixed reactions about it. And having watched quite a few of his films now, I understand that my perplexity was warranted in every way and that’s the way probably Godard would have wanted his audience to react. For sure, I will be revisiting it shortly and know for certain that I will gain more out of it now. Godard’s most lovingly directed work works on many levels and is perhaps his best take (or homage) on the genre.

Band Of Outsiders (1964)

Band Of Outsiders (1964)

I won’t be surprised if people rate it higher than Breathless for Band of Outsiders remains warmer and mellower today than at its time and would most probably elicit more “aaaws” than “huhs” unlike Breathless that still remains iconoclastic. A special mention for the DVD edition by Criterion – ranks among their best releases. Loaded with fantastic features including great interviews with Karina and Coutard, a gallery where Godard’s film is deconstructed stylishly and a short film Les Fiances du Pont Mac Donald (wanna bet Godard decided the title?) by Agnes Varda that is as charming as the main movie itself. A definitely great addition to your DVD collection.

With Band of Outsiders, Godard obtains a kind of inherent copyright for his work in the sense that a remake of the film is near impossible. Godard has already made a universally acceptable film with just the backdrop of Paris, literally. The gang of three is an anomaly in the relatively conservative city of Paris much like the Nouvelle Vague itself. The minute long silence (embodying Godard’s style of working), the impromptu dance (his theory of fluidity of the genre), the race through the L’ouvre (tribute to Truffaut’s Jules and Jim and a poke at the American cinema and its way of life) and the English class (well, er…, see for yourself) remain pieces of cinema to be cherished for ever. More than anything, the film is a celebration of unbridled youth, unsupervised freedom and unconventional cinema.

Les Carabiniers
(The Riflemen)

Godard first real failure looks much funnier today than it would have been at its time. Perhaps because we have realized the futility of war or perhaps because we enjoy it more. Whatever the case, Godard’s light-hearted satire on war, cinema and society remains one of his most accessible films of his early years. The film follows two simpletons who are lured by the idea of unbound wealth and drafted to serve in the war. Sure enough, they fall for the trick and go places committing the entire sanctioned massacre according to their whims, only to become the victims in the end

The Riflemen (1963)

The Riflemen (1963)

Godard’s stand against commodification of life shows its clear roots in Les Carabiniers. Also, Godard’s concerns for the position of women in the society and in the way they are treated especially as portrayed by the cinema of the west is established in a very comical way. One of the lead character asks what all he can steal without punishment during a war and keeps going “Cars? Cigarette Lighters? Chocolates? Women? Diamonds? Casinos?…” . And there is this extremely extended scene where the men show their women hundreds and hundreds of photographs of various vehicles, places and animals (and women) from across the world one after the other. It feels like Godard is cherishing (or ridiculing) the idea that cinema is photographs in rapid succession.

Made in an oddly fascinating way, that is as Keatonesque as it is Godardian, the whole film feels like a warmly delivered tribute to the masters of the past especially the silent gems of the 20’s. In probably the funniest scene in the film, Michelangelo tries to get a follow a woman who goes off-screen to undress on screen and also tries to evade a train that seems to come towards him. Given that such incidents did take place after the Lumiére revolution, it is quite possible that Godard is portraying what may be the lost innocence of cinema.

Vivre Sa Vie: Film En Douze Tableaux
(My Life To Live)

After three decidedly crazy ventures, Godard shuts the mouths of critics with his next film My Life to Live (1962). More sober than all of his previous ventures, Vivre Sa Vie follows the life of a wannabe-actress who takes up casual prostitution to make ends meet. With significantly long shots that are as intriguing as his jump cuts, Godard organically captures the quotidian and empty life of his protagonist. My Life to Live is probably one of the few Godard films to get universal acclaim. Supposedly one of the most distressing shoot for the crew, especially for Anna, because of Godard’s sporadic fits of anger and frustration.

My Life To Live (1962)

My Life To Live (1962)

The film is divided into 12 segments each of which consists of an encounter that Nana has with the people she meets. Godard employs a range of film techniques – Drama, cinema vérité, newsreel and documentary – without relinquishing the staple film references along the way. Probably the most famous scene in the film, Nana’s rendezvous with Dreyer’s hypnotic classic The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928) encompasses everything the film stands for. We see a shattered Nana breakdown at the trial of Joan of Arc as Godard replicates the extreme close-up, definitely as homage to Dreyer too, as if suggesting that Nana herself is like Joan of Arc – tried by the cruel society forcing her to recant her belief of a respectable life.

Godard studies his main character with religious focus. I don’t know what was running through his mind while filming Anna at various distances and angles, but I’m guessing that whatever is presented in the film is a manifestation of their personal relationship and how Godard perceived Karina. Godard’s fascination with prostitution begins here and would go on to take up multiple meanings in his future films, especially the political ones. And there is also the typically self-indulgent Godard’s philosophy that occupies a whole chapter towards the end of the film.

Une Femme Est Une Femme
(A Woman Is A Woman)

Godard has a field day in A Woman is a Woman. What better genre to employ Godard’s influence of Brechtian theory than a musical! The sheer rhythm of the movie is enough to give it the instant classic status and the quirky humor just adds to the effect. More than being a novel attempt, the film seems like a celebration of the New Wave with references and homage to the biggies of the 50’s. And the wild child he is, Godard doesn’t miss out on opportunities to glorify himself too! (Émile says at one point, “I don’t know if this is a comedy or a tragedy, but it’s a masterpiece“)

A Woman Is A Woman (1961)

A Woman Is A Woman (1961)

The film flows like a dew drop on a leaf with each moment topping the previous. “Expect the unexpected” would make a great tagline for the film as Godard intentionally disorients us from any predictions. And the effect works for sure. We see Angela tossing up an omelet and gathering it after a small talk. She enters a magic chamber and gets her costume changed like that. Godard seems to elicit the craziness, or rather the magic of the medium employing such moments that not only break movie traditions as we know them but also add to the radiance of the film. Godard uses blue and red colours aptly but is nowhere close to what he would do with them in his later films.

Godard, at times, interrupts key conversations with sounds and at others, interrupts sound with conversations. So, one doesn’t follow the story line closely which is precisely what Godard wants. As a result, you can’t help but enjoy the individual and “present” moments of the film for what they are rather than connecting their relevance with the past or analyzing the direction towards the future. Anna Karina at her charming best and one can see why Godard was so smitten. It is a treat watching her dance and a restrained Belmondo accompanying her.




Le Petit Soldat
(The Little Soldier)

Godard ran into controversy with the very second film he made. Le Petit Soldat got banned for graphic depiction of torture of its protagonist by both parties involved in the war against colonialism. Though very mellow and even fantastic when viewed today, it would most definitely have raised a few eyebrows especially because of the cinéma vérité style the scenes adopt. And as an interesting point, for Godard, is that he surprisingly does not take a stand at all. His focus remains his central character whose freedom and happiness have become functions of factors beyond his control.

The Little Soldier (1959)

The Little Soldier (1960)

Though a typical Godard character, I felt like watching a Truffaut written one at times. A chap full of ironies. He says that he won’t describe his torture and follows it up by exactly that. He says he will not commit a murder and flips to the other side in no time. Michel Subor’s quirky portrayal goes down as another underrated performance in the director driven New Wave. The narrative’s fluidity and emphasis on the mundane stays intact and Godard seems to assert his control over the medium with ease as he happily weaves his ideologies in the form of daring monologues.

Le Petit Soldat remains Godard first and most superficially personal statement made on film. It is not incidental that Godard himself had a childhood that was divided between Switzerland and France like the little soldier. But the film is, more importantly, of interest for its romantic significance that would define Godard’s first phase of filmmaking. Godard employs Anna Karina in the lead role for the first time and Coutard’s camera seems like Godard’s own eyes, never once stepping off her in the photo-shoot scene. According to fellow technicians, there was clearly a chemistry developing between them from the first few days of shoot. Godard’s least talked about film of his early years retains its power to charm.

À Bout De Souffle

Start of Breathless – End of Cinema. Infinity has been written about the film and any further writing on the film is just a formality – a formality that every film buff must perform. At a time when Alain Resnais had made the intense drama Hiroshima, Mon Amour (1959) and when Truffaut was riding high on the success of The 400 Blows (1959), fellow Cahiers du Cinéma critic Jean-Luc Godard hit the filmmaking world with Breathless.

Breathless (1959)

Breathless (1959)

The story is as simple as it gets, which is perfect for Godard’s loosely but meticulously constructed style. A man on the run, a woman on the road, a kiss before death. It is near impossible to tell anything about the film without romanticizing it. Godard’s love for cinema shows in every moment of the film as he places charming cameos of fellow New Wave filmmakers here and there. Jean-Paul Belmondo is an instant hit with his Bogart-loving borderline-misogynistic attitude and it is no surprise that he went on to become one of the most famous French actors ever. And poor Coutard’s groundbreaking techniques are overloaded to the point of nausea nowadays. And Godard’s own contribution lies in his avoidance of being analyzed by traditional methods of film criticism as he reconstructs film grammar using the alphabets created by his own predecessors. No wonder he said retorted “Yes, A film must have a starting middle and an end, but not necessarily in that order”. He, in effect, disorients traditionally trained minds by speaking in a commonplace oral language, but in an entirely different cinematic one.

I wouldn’t hesitate to say that Breathless is the coolest thing that ever happened to cinema. And most wouldn’t deny. But that isn’t what it is all about. It revolutionized the way movies were made and more importantly, the way movies were watched. Things that we now take for granted in films – the outdoor shoot, the jump cuts (incidentally begot by a runtime crisis), the fluidity of narrative and the hand held camera work – show their roots in Breathless. No one makes movies like them any more and any close attempts seem like nothing more than cheeky use of camera and scissors. To plagiarize a quote on The Lord of the Rings book, “The movie-watching world is divided into two – ones that have seen Breathless and the ones yet to see them.”