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A film series currently running at TIFF Bell Lightbox in Toronto.

In 1950’s France, there was a film journal called Cahiers du Cinema. Its members were filmmakers and scholars who aimed to not only define, but defy film conventions. The idea of “auteur theory” came from this group of film critics and their magazine, which completely changed the way cinema was looked at. Not only was this group creating a massive body of film critique that elevated the dialogue of film, they were actually making movies they wanted to see made. Thus, towards the end of the decade, La Nouvelle Vague (The New Wave) was born. Among this group was its youngest member, Jean-Luc Godard, a film critic and short filmmaker whose debut feature film, A BOUT DE SOUFFLE (BREATHLESS) is now regarded as one of the most important films, not only of the French New Wave movement, but in cinematic history.

When American Film Noir borrowed German Expressionist style but brought the story outside instead of filming on sets, it changed the possibilities for cinema altogether. In the similar fashion, Godard did the exact same thing when he unleashed his own filmmaking style on French audiences in 1960. Techniques like jump-cuts were seen as amateurish and actors breaking the fourth wall just wasn’t something that was done, but Godard made these part of his signature trademarks to show how they can be incorporated into the narrative of film. American pop culture, philosophy, literature, politics (especially Marxism) and The Vietnam War always found their place among his films.



Godard’s knowledge and love of American cinema is evident throughout his work, beginning with BREATHLESS, an homage of sorts to the American Film Noir style and film legends such as Otto Preminger and John Huston. BREATHLESS features Jean-Paul Belmondo as Michel, a thief who fashions himself as some sort of suave crook, his idol being American film star, Humphrey Bogart. After stealing a car and killing a police officer in the country, Michel meets a young American woman who is selling newspapers on the roadside. Patricia (Jean Seberg) agrees to hide him in her apartment, but she soon discovers the truth about Michel and turns him in.

If you’ve never seen it, you should know that you won’t be able to watch it passively. BREATHLESS comes across as jumpy, unorganized and unfocused, but is one of those films that viewers will appreciate from its beginning to its most famous ending, for its serious story yet playful narrative. American director, Gregg Araki, referenced this film in his hyper violent road trip movie, THE DOOM GENERATION; Noah Baumbach’s THE SQUID AND THE WHALE mentions the final scene; and Bernardo Bertolucci recreates a scene in his own movie, THE DREAMERS. From its release in 1960, its influence can still be seen today, so whether you are a fan of Godard or just wondering where the heck to start, BREATHLESS is the perfect place to discover this daring filmmaker.

Godard, Contempt


In 1963, Godard made LE MEPRIS (CONTEMPT), which was his most commercially successful film, and on a personal note, one of my absolute favorites by this French auteur. With the opening scene, Godard immediately breaks down the fourth wall, turning the camera on his audience, letting us know we are watching a movie about the making of a movie. As a result, CONTEMPT instantly draws us in to its story. Why is the camera pointing towards us and not the actors? Are we part of the film or is actually having an audience part of the narrative? CONTEMPT is about an American producer (Jack Palance) who has hired Fritz Lang (actually Fritz Lang too!) to film an adaptation of Homer’s Odyssey, but then hires Paul, a playwright (Michel Piccoli), to rewrite the film after he sees the initial treatment. After working at the studio and agreeing to go back to the American producers house for lunch, Paul’s wife, Camille (the stunning, Brigitte Bardot) is acting quiet and uninterested. What follows is one of the greatest breakdowns of a relationship ever filmed, from the absolutely engaging apartment scene, that is an incredible 35 minutes long, to the final scene on those intoxicatingly blue Mediterranean waters. Godard’s way of filming in such claustrophobic spaces reminds us of theatre, as if CONTEMPT should be a stage play instead.

In 1965, Godard gave us the dystopian sci-fi detective film, ALPHAVILLE, which is the namesake of the futuristic city that secret agent, Lemmy Caution (Eddie Constantine), has been sent to on a mission. Posing as a journalist driving a Ford Mustang, Lemmy is attempting to destroy Alphaville and its sentient computer dictator, Alpha 60. It sounds pretty straight forward, but I’ll admit I’ve often struggled to follow the dialogue and oft meandering plot points. ALPHAVILLE was shot in high contrast black and white with noir styling, right on the nighttime streets of Paris. Unlike Godard’s idol, Fritz Lang, who used massive painted set pieces to distort the viewers perception, ALPHAVILLE looks like a 1960’s Paris with much darker secrets. Its influence can be seen in musics videos from The Cranberries and the Prince of Darkness’ daughter, Kelly Osborne. Remember her?

Pierrot le fou

Pierrot le fou

In PIERROT LE FOU (Pierrot the Madman), Godard reunites with Belmondo and pairs him with Godard’s then wife, Anna Karina, in a tale about a dissatisfied man who runs away with the babysitter to go on a spree of crime and murder. Again Godard’s use of cut-jumps, diverging from the main story line, and breaking the fourth wall come into heavy play here. If ever you were looking for a prime example of postmodernism in film, look no further than PIERROT LE FOU. The film is full of blatant references to American pop culture and filmmaking, and features a vibrant primary colour palette. The party scene in the beginning of the movie is pop art on film, intentionally cutting from character to character, flooding the screen with blues and reds. The final scene is laterally explosive, and if you’ve made it through the whole film without falling asleep, you’re definitely in for a treat. PIERROT LE FOU may not be as strong a film as CONTEMPT, or even BANDE A PART (That cafe dance scene? Amazing!), but is still an integral part of the Godard oeuvre, which explores the many possibilities of filmmaking at all times.

TIFF Bell Lightbox in Toronto is currently screening Godard Forever: Part One, a film series that features these fantastic Godard films, as well as many others, including some rarely seen short films. For more information and tickets, visit  #GodardForever

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