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Two singers, best friends Lorelei Lee and Dorothy Shaw travel to Paris pursued by a private detective hired by Lorelei's fiancé's disapproving father to keep an eye on her, a rich, enamoured old man and many other doting admirers.
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Murderesses Velma Kelly (a chanteuse and tease who killed her husband and sister after finding them in bed together) and Roxie Hart (who killed her boyfriend when she discovered he wasn't going to make her a star) find themselves on death row together and fight for the fame that will keep them from the gallows in 1920s Chicago.
Artists are often remembered more for their brasher, earlier work - films, novels, paintings, etc. that pushed the boundaries of their medium to create something bold and unique. Sometimes, though, we ignore the faults of those earlier works, while more mature, more perfect later works are ignored because they lack the visceral shock of the new inherent in the artist's first pieces.
Godard strikes me as an artist of which this occurrence is particularly true. His Breathless ushered in the Nouvelle Vague of French cinema and has long been held as not only a classic, but also his masterpiece. As wonderful and fun as Breathless is, I find it much slighter Godard's later work, most notably Vivre Sa Vie, Le Mepris, Bande A Part, Weekend, and, of course, Pierrot Le Fou.
Breathless represents more technical innovation than anything else. It is a terrific story, but one that lacks the thematic depth of those other films. Godard touches upon the ideologies that will concern him later, but he does not delve into the plight of woman, the pitiful nature of the bourgeoisie, or the nature of film as much as he would in a couple years.
For me, the greatest achievement of Godard is Pierrot Le Fou. In it, he combines comedy, the road picture, extreme pathos, a scathing indictment of Capitalism, and a critique of contemporary society in an unimaginable way. The film moves along, following Ferdinand and Marianne, but any semblance of a normal narrative gets lost along the way. This is, of course, welcome. You do not come to Godard expecting the ordinary.
Though it lacks the photographic beauty of Le Mepris, Pierrot nevertheless represents one of Godard's most brilliant uses of color. The use of color filters in an early scene, reminiscent of Ivan the Terrible II's final scenes, is quite arresting and the overall use of the eastmancolor pallet is gorgeous. This is a very, very colorful film, which is appropriate for such a playful narrative.
The acting is similarly brilliant. Belmondo gives a more nuanced and more demanding performance here than he did in Breathless, and Karina matches him. Like one of the great starlets of the 40s and 50s, she bestows a grace, beauty, and elegance to her scenes. It helps that Godard's camera absolutely adores her (not quite as much, though, as it adored Brigitte Bardot's rear in Le Mepris), but much of what she does in this film derives from her talent rather than Godard's.
Again, though, I must warn that Pierrot is not a film for everyone.
Yes, it's a funny, brilliantly acted, and beautiful film, but it's also Godard, one of the most acquired tastes in the history of cinema.
That said, if you've not seen this film and consider yourself a fan of this director, see it soon - you'll not be disappointed.
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