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Jean-Luc Godard's Pierrot le Fou begins with a montage that features some of the most beautiful images ever caught on film. (Tellingly, the only other '60s film to feature such lush photography was Godard's Contempt). But even before these images appear, we've been captured by the soundtrack. Some of the most creative exposition ever follows and things only get better from there on in.
To summarize Pierrot is to betray its essence -- it's as much about its own making as any story -- but here goes nothing: Pierrot, a bored man stuck in a bourgeois marriage, runs off with his children's babysitter, Marianne, herself hiding from gangsters. Bizarre musical numbers and hilarious conversations with no relevance to the plot sometimes break up the story. Characters talk to the camera, and Pierrot yells "Mais, je m'appele Ferdinand!" ("But I'm named Ferdinand!")
Still, plot hardly seems to matter while watching the film. Godard is often called elitist or inaccessible. That's not true, however, and Pierrot is, above all, wild, anarchic fun. Try not to laugh during the absurd bits featuring a sailor who complains that he's had a song stuck in his head for several decades. Try not to grin when Pierrot and Marianne "reenact Vietnam" for a group of American tourists.
Pierrot is one of cinema's essential films, perhaps because it came at the precise moment when Godard hit his all-time peak. Made in 1965, it came during the eight-year period ('59-'67) during which the man made a jaw-dropping fifteen films. Some of them work better than others -- no wonder, for he was experimenting with all of cinema's possibilities -- but many are masterpieces, and Pierrot is the crown jewel.
In many respects, Pierrot is flawless. In all others, it remains great art.
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