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Jean-Luc Godard's Pierrot le Fou begins with a montage that features some
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.
This is one of the truly great revolutionary movie experiences of all times.
"Pierrot Le Fou" represents what was perhaps the most difficult moment of
Godard's controversial career: he was fighting and struggling for make a not
commercial movie, something almost impossible with the presence of Belmondo
(you have to consider the huge success that this actor had at the time) and
a important figure of international cinema such as Dino De Laurentiis being
responsible for the distribution of the movie at the time of it's original
release. And yet he wanted to put on the screen (well, actually WIDESCREEN)
all his questions about cinema, politic, marxism, literature, music and pop
culture; well, all the questions that he had at that time. And even with all
those problems he was able to make a masterpiece, one of his best and most
accessible moments. For those of you who have seen the movie, imagine only
this (in a allegoric way): Pierrot's Italian wife is the dangerous
commercial international production represented by De Laurentiis, Anna
Karina's role represents the nouvelle vague, Samuel Fuller is Samuel Fuller
and Belmondo's existential search is Godard's own doubts about the
possibilities of cinema. One of the best things that Godard has ever done,
"Pierrot Le Fou" is a landmark for the avant-garde cinema that we all love.
Now I could spend hours talking about the strange beauty of Anna Karina, the
magnificent photography in widescreen Techniscope (utilized at it's limits),
the great use that Godard makes of his ironic narrative and ALL the wonders
of this movie, but all that I'm going to say is this:
LONG LIVE GODARD!!!
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.
I was fifteen when I saw this movie for the first time. I didn't knew
much about cinema at this time. I didn't knew much about art either,
nor music, nor nothing. But I will never forget the shock it was for me
to discover that movie. This was pure poetry, it was the first time in
my life I ever saw blue color, red and yellow. You don't have to be
intellectual to love this movie, just a free child.
About some strange English subtitles I have on my DVD:
At the end of the movie, we can hear in French the first lines of a poem by Arthur Rimbaud (L'Eternité, 1872):
(Here I wanted to write the original french lines, but I'm not allowed. Curious world.)
It's ours again / what is ? / eternity / No that's just the sea And the Sun
It should have been:
It is found again./ What is ? Eternity/ It is the sea/ Gone with the sun./
Minute 41. Ferdinand and Marianne are watching the man on the moon.
F: - He thinks your legs and your breasts are very moving/ M: - Be quiet
But I can hear in French:
F: - I find your legs and your breasts very moving/ M: - Fcuk me
At the end of Godard's "Band of Outsiders" (1964), it's promised that
the next film will be the further adventures of Franz and Odile in
South America, in Cinemascope and color. Well, maybe they didn't get as
far as South America, but "Pierrot le Fou" begins with Anna Karina
dressed in her school girl outfit (with matching braided buns) from
"Band of Outsiders": this film gets as far as the Riviera, but it is in
Cinemascope and color, as Ferdinand and Marianne try to escape from the
trappings of the bourgeoise world (as exemplified by the cocktail
party, in which Ferdinand meets the American director Samuel Fuller,
who tells him "What is Cinema?"). For Godard, "Pierrot le Fou"
represented an important milestone in his career: in it, he would
document the end of his relationship with Anna Karina. It is the most
agonizingly romantic of his films: there are constant reminders as the
narration insists on the ultimate mystery, the inability of one person
to know another (there is the moment when Anna Karina is seen in
close-up, as the narrator wonders when she says it's a nice day, does
she really mean it's a nice day?), and the desolation of romantic
Yet the brilliant color, the rapid rhythms, even the song-and-dance numbers (there are three) color the unhappiness, making this a vibrant tragicomedy. The film veers between exuberance and exhaustion, yet for all its free-wheeling formal invention, this is one of Godard's most emotionally direct films, a piercing lament on the perils of love.
(Godard would make two more films with Karina, the short "Anticipation", and "Made in USA", both films far more "formal" and less emotionally engaged; the end of the Godard-Karina marriage, the subtext of "Pierrot le Fou", would also inspire Jacques Rivette's "L'Amour Fou".)
Perfect movie, which passes its message like no other film ever did. An incredible first part, in Paris, where the people are taken by capitalism and consumist habits, shows us that society is corrupted in an unique way, as Belmondo's Ferdinand drifts by the various colors which reflect only the emotionless. When Marianne gets in his way, he finds an escape and lets go his mad feelings, and they both run away. This story is told by Godard by the means of the fantastic, depicting madness and foolishness as a true art form, making two unlikely characters enjoyable and engaging. This one goes to the podium of the pictures that stand out and will never age, acting also as an influence to everyone who sees it.
The previous commentator criticizes Pierrot Le Fou as a movie that
cannot be classified.The fact that a movie cannot be pigeon-holed is
surely a plus,as it doesn't conform to a single cliché as Godard
achieves a synthesis of many genres :noir,gangster,political
thriller,love story and musical to name a few.The film is a history not
only of cinema but of art and civilization, what Proust or Joyce
attempted with the novel Godard does with the camera.
Another criticism is the use of loud colors,this was intentional as he uses the primary cinematic colors in addition to the recurring theme of red,white and blue- France's national colors as well as those of imperialist Russia,United Kingdom and America.At the time recent history in Europe was one of grainy monotone austerity, death-camps and ration-books, the use of loud colors was a celebration of life and reaction against this.
The next criticism leveled is that it is too personal, indeed this is cinema-auteur at it's best and it is intentional.Just as in Pulp Fiction the Travolta/Jackson dialog about the cultural nuances between America and Europe(Royale with cheese/Didn't go into burger king) is basically Tarantino's travelogue of his time on the other side of the pond.
The film is deeply political and still relevant today.Take Pierrot's explanation of the Man on the the moon's suffering at the expense of Soviet and American expansionism as they vie for control of the heavens(the space-race) "He is trying to escape in a hurry, the Russians tried to stuff his head with the complete works of Lenin so he sought refuge with the Americans but Uncle Sam stuffed a bottle of Coca Cola in his mouth,having forced him to say thank you beforehand." Indeed a parallel could be drawn with the ungrateful Iraqis who don't appreciate their liberation.
Another criticism is the disorientating effect of the voice overs and out of sync sound effects.Pierrot himself refers to this at the party at the start of the film "A machine to see:my eyes, to speak :my mouth, to hear :my ears but instead of having the impression of being a single person I feel like many." Which conveys modern man's fragmentation and dislocation while reminding us of the power of image and sound to disorientate for the purposes of political propaganda.
As for no trace of beauty, my god are you blind? As the entire film is one continuous flirt between the foxy Marianne and the camera.
"Why does Pierrot paint his face blue?" .Well why does Travis Bickle shave himself a Mohican's hair do in Taxidriver? These may seem rather arbitrary at first but then again so are all the other thousand and one clichés in cinema such as the man offering the femme fatal a light for her cigarette,wanna take in a movie? wanna grab a coffee? What in the name of God are they all about?A cliché has too start somewhere, unfortunately the lead man painting his face blue didn't catch on.Mores the pity.
"Film is like a battleground", tells Samuel Fuller Ferdinand in the
beginning of this film: "Love, hate, action, violence, death. In one
word: emotion." 'Pierrot le fou' is a 110 minutes film by Godard and
his tenth feature. It's roughly based on a crime novel written by
Lionel White. Tho, don't expect a linear adaptation. In fact, Godard
and his actors mostly improvised and therefore deliver a dodgy
The plot summary therefore must be given a little superficially: It's about a wannabe writer, Ferdinand Griffon (Belmondo) who escapes his every day life and runs off with his mistress Marianne (Karina) to the Mediterranean Sea. Far away from his family, he lives for the moment, reads books and tries to work on a diary. Meanwhile, the police and Algerian killers are chasing Marianne because she has committed a murder.
Godard assembles philosophical texts with shots of posters and screens, sets in musical elements and achieves to encode his film in a very inspiring way. Sometimes the imagery is fair and beautiful (i. e. Belmondo and Karina are running along a silhouette like forest which is photographed in front of a white, flat background), sometimes odious and angry (i. e. Belmondo finds an Algerian murdered with scissors and he keeps on raking in the wound), sometimes stirringly artistic (i. e. Karina takes the murder instrument, the scissors holds it in front of a wide-angle-lens and creates an unbelievably coherent effect of distortion).
Those who take the film with a living mind will experience a fascinating, beautifully filmed love story with two protagonists who do everything within the power of their tremendous acting potential. Concerning the contents, it is a cinematic toying with the duality of the characters (Ferdinand and Pierrot or Ferdinand or Marianne) or rather with schizophrenia. Belmondo plays a mad crackpot who first has a pretty martialistic based life as a husband and father whose world view staggers because of upcoming converse feelings - personated by Karina. She, married with Godard at that time, plays the character Marianne with wit, depth and anarchic charme. Her role is the symbolic enlightenment in Ferdinands being. While he strives melancholically for wisdom and always throbs on the importance of the arts, Marianne is a lackadaisical playgirl and swinger who wants to be instead of having. Belmondo as Ferdinand shows in all of his agility a vulnerability that hides behind the same gruffness of 'Une femme est une femme'.
'Pierrot le fou' is a film that dines from various influences, having some sort of private, economic, cultural or political natures. More than every other 'auteur' Godard manifests himself once more as the chronologist of his time.
We often overlook the flaws of an artist's earlier work and then ignore
their later, more perfect and mature pieces because they lack the
daring boldness and innovation evident in the first ones. This is
especially true in Godard's case. Breathless was new, fresh, fun and
stylish; it was and still is considered a classic and his masterpiece.
But as great as it is, Breathless is mostly about technical innovation
and lacks the thematic depth of its creator's later work. Godard only
brushes along subjects such as class division and the nature of film
which, among many others, he will devour in films to come, in our case,
Pierrot le fou.
I said 'perfect and mature' but those are qualities not typical of Godard. His films are always 'a work in progress' and he's not afraid of taking risks. That's why his work is usually considered ugly, childish, pretentious etc. But one should always be open-minded and never expect the ordinary when going to a Godard film. To begin with, it's impossible to confine Pierrot le fou to a particular genre as it doesn't adhere to a single form or convention but is, instead, a blend of comedy, romance, political thriller, noir, musical and so on. It is a road picture that is able to follow a straight narrative as much as a car is able to follow a straight road with Ferdinand behind the wheel. The director confesses that when he began working on his movie "one week before, I was completely panicked, I didn't know what I should do. Based on the book, we had already established all the locations, we had hired the people... and I was wondering what we were going to do with it all."
Godard has been criticized time and again for the purposeful disorientation of his audience. On top of a discontinuous plot he employs a wide array of 'sensorial techniques that serve to fragment the cinematic narrative.' Some of his trademark stylistic devices, including loud colors, obtrusive voice overs, rapid jump shots, out of sync sound etc. along with the abrupt interchanges between tones (e.g. comic serious) constitute for a greater alienation of the viewer. The film opens with the voice of Ferdinand reading a passage, "Velázquez, past the age of fifty, no longer painted specific objects. He drifted around things like the air, like twilight, catching unawares in the shimmering shadows the nuances of color that he transformed into the invisible core of his silent symphony". Similarly, Godard is on a quest for another kind of cinematic art, one that isn't concerned with visual presentation of objects and characters as much as with "what lies in between people: space, sound and color."
With Pierrot le fou, Godard wanted to break away from conventional cinema's chains, go beyond any forms and formulas and attain something out of the ordinary clichè. At one point in the movie Ferdinand is at a social gathering and meets an American director. When asked for the definition of cinema, he responds: "A film is like a battleground. It's love, hate, action, violence, and death. In one word: emotions." This explains precisely what Godard sought to achieve. He wanted to transfer emotions directly onto the viewer - not through actors and their characters but by means of style. Abandoning all conventional drama and substituting it with flickering prime colors, godlike voice overs, eerie music etc. in the ultimate search for an instant, sublime surge of feelings was a chance Godard was willing to take. He considered this destruction of old rules and creation of new as something natural and necessary. As he himself asserts, "literary critics often praise works like Ulysses or Endgame because they exhaust a certain genre, they close the doors on it. But in the cinema we are always praising works which open doors."
Godard has created a film in the free form. A film deprived of structure. One that does not make any promises to the viewer but the assertion that love is beyond human control. Just like with love, nothing makes linear sense and every moment is more important than the last. Pierrot le fou is not an easy film to take in. It places great demands on its audience. Some might find them overwhelming, not worth the effort. But others, those that manage to let go and keep going forward into Godard's chaotic but passionate exploration of reality, might just enjoy the ride.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Pierrot Le Fou represents Jean-Luc Godard at his best: it is a film that is extremely episodic and spontaneous, often maddening and frustrating, but always interesting, and ultimately awesome. The lovely Anna Karina plays Marianne, a girl who is on the run from a bunch of hitmen, and the charismatic Jean-Paul Belmondo plays Ferdinand (but she keeps calling him "Pierrot"), who escapes with her to the Mediterranean Sea, where they lead a kind of "Bonnie and Clyde" style of life filled with car chases, romance, robbery, and ultimately death (Pierrot's life ultimately comes to a (literally) explosive ending). It is said that Godard worked without a script (he just based Pierrot Le Fou loosely on a book called "Obsession") and just made up scenes as he went along! But it is a true confirmation of his genius that he's able to pull it off and to make a film that is consistently dazzling to look at, and which feels fresh and alive even after all these years. This film is a true masterpiece and a very fine example of what the French "New Wave" was all about.
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