Godard in the ’60s: ‘Breathless’ to ‘Weekend’

Posted in Movies, Retrospective, Theatrical by - July 01, 2019
Godard in the ’60s: ‘Breathless’ to ‘Weekend’

TIFF is doing a Godard retrospective. As I remember, this is their third one in ten years, if the Jackman Hall days count. This time around, they’re only showing his filmography between 1959 to 1967 because they didn’t want us to suffer. This is, after all, Godard at his most delightful, the marquee Godard. Who else but him can direct Breathless. Clocking in at 90 minutes, that film is the most fun funeral a sub genre can get. Film noir was dead, existing, eighteen years after The Maltese Falcon, as fun caricatures. Instead of Humphrey Bogart he gives us Jean-Paul Belmondo.

This new generation remembers the previous one’s stories but celebrates its romances and its sense of play. And that sense of play is present even when Godard chooses to depict brooding protagonists. Like the one we see in Masculin Feminin. There, urban noise and everything it represents frequently interrupts Paul (Jean-Pierre Leaud) from writing. It even interrupts a meet cute between him and his eventual pop star girlfriend Madeleine Zimmer (Chantal Goya).

Godard artfully interrupts his characters’ lives even and especially in his more serious work. He uses them to show the innate polarities of human thought. Godard’s characters are simultaneously afraid and horny, philosophical and petty. The latter pair is more prominent in Le Weekend. There, a couple (Mirellie Darc and Jean Yanne) drive off into the countryside and find chaos and life. They come to the place where they have to shake off their bourgeois grievances.

Pierrot le Fou has the same trajectory but is more fun. This time around, Belmondo and Anna Karina play the couple. They drive off into a wilder, swampy part of France, committing the occasional murder along the way. Godard’s work is still intellectual and quintessentially French. But here, he has a unique way of interrupting the serious nature of his characters’ existential dread. He uses a song that’s an undeniable ear worm.

Cinephiles know Godard for his diversions and how he plays with genre. However, he’s equally adept in conventional storytelling. Simplicity is his key asset in Vivre Sa Vie, where Karina plays Nana, a sex worker. Godard does what any smart director would do. He points out that sex worker or not, women still have to navigate a world of men. He also warns us that not everyone benefits fro the incoming sexual revolution. His camera glides, observing Nana while rendering her clients almost invisible. Both die hards and neophytes can see, through this retrospective, Godard’s surprising versatility.

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While Paolo Kagaoan is not taking long walks in shrubbed areas, he occasionally watch movies and write about them. His credentials are as follows: he has a double major in English and Art History. This means that, for example, he will gush at the art direction in the Amityville house and will want to live there, which is a terrible idea because that house has ghosts. Follow him @paolokagaoan on Instagram but not while you're working.
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