A small-time thief steals a car and impulsively murders a motorcycle policeman. Wanted by the authorities, he reunites with a hip American journalism student and attempts to persuade her to run away with him to Italy.
Ferdinand Griffon, married to a wealthy Italian wife, has recently been fired from the television station where he worked. His wife forces him to go to a party at the home of her influential father, who wants to introduce him to a potential employer. Her brother brings babysitter Marianne Renoir to take care of their children. Feeling bored at the bourgeois party, Ferdinand borrows his brother-in-law's car to head home. He meets Marianne, who was his mistress five years ago and insists on calling him Pierrot, and offers to take her home. They spend the night together and he learns that she's involved in smuggling weapons. When terrorists chase her, they decide to leave Paris and his family behind and go on the run, on a crazy journey to nowhere.Written by
Claudio Carvalho, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Ferdinand mentions the story of William Wilson who saw his double in the street. This is a reference to "William Wilson", a short story by Edgar Allan Poe, about a man who is haunted by his double. See more »
On the French Studio Canal Blu-Ray release, the green tinting is missing in the party scenes near the beginning of the film. It is intact on the American Criterion Collection Blu-Ray release. See more »
Just because he's deliberately awkward doesn't mean Godard can escape from all the criticism
"I've never been able to appreciate any of his films, nor even understand them... I find his films affected, intellectual, self-obsessed and, as cinema, without interest and frankly dull... I've always thought that he made films for critics." That's Ingmar Bergman openly expressing his opinion about Jean- Luc Godard's movies, his 'contempt' to play on words.
For a novice, this statement might sound awkward from a director whose movies aren't exactly devoid of intellectual material, except that Bergman and Godard don't play in the same league, the oeuvre of Bergman is far more monumental and substantial. Bergman approached in cinematic terms and hypnotic cinematography the human condition with a constantly questioned involvement of God, a brainstorm that spanned four decades of cinematic creation. What Godard offered is a questioning of cinematic (and storytelling) conventions, which he's entitled to do after all, except that by doing so, he confines his movies into the very cinematic medium they're supposed to free themselves out. Godard strikes like the rebellious teenage son of cinema, trying so hard to be different that it actually conditions him.
That's Godard's paradox; the man who denounced the traditional cinema is perhaps the most cinematic of all directors, always indulging to a trick, a false connection, a disenchanted voice-over, a sudden change of color and many outbursts of spontaneity within the script, to prove that he exists, that he wouldn't let any cinematic requirement affect his work, that this movie we're watching is a movie, and he's the director. Many shots are creatively done and "Pierrot le Fou", for all its craziness, is a beautifully shot movie, in fact, Godard IS a talented film-maker and some scenes are absolutely mesmerizing, I especially love the little dance between Jean-Paul Belmondo and Anna Karina, it captures that idle casualness, that nonchalant free-spirited charm of youth in the 60's. But for one masterstroke like this, you have countless moments where you're just wondering "what the hell am I watching?".
I know Godard is being deliberately awkward, sometimes for the sake of a gag (the film can be labeled as a comedy to some degree) or because of the "forbidding is forbidden" philosophy. But just because you do something deliberately doesn't make it any immune to criticism, it's only fair to determine to which extent the freedom of the director affects the appreciation of the story. And that's a parameter you wouldn't ignore unless you're wrapped up in a huge ego. To Godard's defense, I don't know if he held himself in such high esteem or if the cohort of fans didn't simply build the colossal monument out of his "Breathless" making any movie he'd make a masterpiece. Well, in 1965, I guess French youth was in demand of newness, something that would echo their rebellious spirit, something post- modern, and yes, I concede that "Pierrot le Fou" is far more interesting than "The Sound of Music", but that doesn't say much.
Indeed, isn't it the height of irony that the post-modern masterpiece is now stuck to its era and became the true embodiment of the "Nouvelle Vague"? To be honest, I've never been a fan of the New Wave in the first place, I thought the movies that predated its beginning like "Bob le Flambeur", "Elevator to the Gallows", "400 Blows" were more interesting than the revolution itself, but when you look retrospectively, the New Wave was only the occasion for self-absorbed directors to prove how 'different' and modern they were. Time did justice to the French popular cinema of the 50's and 60's, and people would rather watch "The Sicilian Clan", "The Wages of Fear" or any gangster flick with Gabin and Ventura than these pseudo-intellectual, flashy movies. "Pierrot le Fou" exemplifies how hard creativity could damage credibility, it's Godard at its most intrusive, and it's a shame because the story had elements to grab the viewers.
It's one of these romances on the lam with Ferdinand, a man struck in typical bourgeois ennui takes the control of his life, and escapes from his condition with Anna Karina, Belmondo has fun playing Ferdinand aka Pierrot, a role that allowed him to make a fool of himself, but Godard want to steal the actors' thunder instead of letting the two of them run the show, he uses them as puppets to the very statements he wants to make, or non-statement. I maintain that the New Wave's greatest achievement was to inspire the New Hollywood generation and when you look at "Bonnie and Clyde", "Badlands" or even "Sugarland Express", you can measure the differences between French and American cinema, one school is entrapped in its obsession with originality, another is busy telling the stories, one rejects the classics, another explores them and makes something fresh of it. Finally, one feels like cinema, one gets so experimental it's boring.
And believe me, I gave it a third chance, I put it with the commentary on, with Godard's number-one fan talking, maybe he'd tell me things I couldn't see but he actually confirmed my suspicion, in every shot, it was "Godard did", "Godard defied", "Godard changed". Godard is the real star of the film, "Pierrot le Fou" proves that he's an iconoclast, twisted and certainly talented director, he just forgot that the essence of a movie is to plunge you in a world, tell you a story and make you forget it's movie, except if the self-referential aspect is central to the plot. Not a chance with Godard, he epitomized what's wrong with the New Wave, self-awareness, self- obsession confining to intellectual masturbation, self-selfism I want to say.
The film isn't boring for all that and possesses a few moments of genuine tenderness and creativity, but Godard, once again, is being his worst enemy and destroys the very edifice he's building, for one scene that works, you have five or six leaving you scratching your head or wondering if you won't going to watch "Predator" instead.
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