Friday, August 31, 2007

Godard 101: A Girl and a Gun

(Jean-Luc Godard, France/Italy, 1965, 35mm, 110 mins.)


Marianne: Pierrot le Fou!!!
Ferdinard: My name is Ferdinard. I have told you often enough. Christ almighty!


Like Wong Kar-Wai's 2046, some movies seem more like a collection of a
director's greatest hits than the celluloid version of an original album. For
Jean-Luc Godard, Pierre le Fou was that film. But as Melissa Anderson notes
in Time Out New York, it isn't just a replay of previous themes and techniques,
but "a sneak peek at the dense cine-tracts that would follow."

Shot in CinemaScope by Godard regular Raoul Coutard-who uses red as a
recurring motif-and inspired by Lionel White's Obsession, Pierre le Fou plays
like Joseph H. Lewis's hopped-up Gun Crazy as only JLG could remake it.

Ferdinand (Jean-Paul Belmondo) is an aspiring novelist with a wealthy wife
and two cute kids. One evening he hits the town with his spouse, while a wo-
man named Marianne (Anna Karina) keeps an eye on the children. The hot
babysitter happens to be Ferdinand's ex-girlfriend. And just like that, he
leaves his bourgeois life behind for a trip with her to the French Riviera.

The duo are without ducats, so they steal what they need. In short order, they
set up shop in an abandoned villa. They've got books, a bird, a fox, a beauti-
ful view, and each other. It should be Heaven on Earth. And it is. For a while...
First of all, there are Godard's iconic avatars: Belmondo and Karina-and
their potent on-screen chemistry. Then there's the criminal element, which
recalls Breathless (Belmondo), Band of Outsiders (Karina), and Weekend.
Then there are the musical interludes, which recall A Woman Is a Woman
(Belmondo and Karina). Then there's the bathtub torture, which recalls
Le Petit Soldat (Karina's first film with her future husband), and the trag-
ic ending, which recalls Contempt. And that's the abridged edition. There
are numerous allusions to the rest of Godard's filmography.
Like Two or Three Things I Know About Her, Tout Va Bien, and other 19-
60s and '70s works, Pierre Le Fou also serves as a condemnation of
the Vietnam and Algerian Wars and of the Americanization of France.
For instance, to make a little money, Ferdinand and Marianne put on
a play for some happy-go-lucky US sailors. He portrays America, she
portrays Vietnam. It's a gleefully offensive piece-Marianne mincing in
yellowface-that leaves neither nation unscathed. From that point on-
wards, the tone turns darker and darker until it all goes up in smoke.
So, Pierre Le Fou is beautiful and ugly. Violent and peaceful. Pretentious and primitive. Or, to quote Ferdinand (quoting Marianne), it's "tender and cruel...
real and surreal...terrifying and funny...nocturnal and diurnal...usual and
unusual." It's Jean-Luc Godard in a nutshell-all for the price of one ticket.
Pierre Le Fou is not a film, but an attempt at film.
-- Jean-Luc Godard, Cahiers du Cinema (1965)
Pierrot le Fou opens at the Varsity Theater (4329 University Way
N.E.) on Friday, 8/31. For more information, please click here or
call 206-781-5755. Images from Janus Films and Senses of Cinema.


  1. That still of Anna Karina with the scissors--does anyone else see Beatrix Kiddo in it?

  2. Now that you mention it, yes! Also, the IMDb notes that "Sin City (2005) uses the same trick with various colored lights lighting the car in the sequence directed by Quentin Tarantino."

  3. David Jeffers says:
    'The Godard dossier should always include Jean-Pierre Leaud's brilliant caricature from Last Tango in Paris (1972). "Cinema is all about boys chasing girls."'