Dir./Scr. Jean-Luc Godard
Pierrot le Fou is the first Godard film I have ever had to stand on line to see, and thus another coterie taste has been engulfed by the crowd.
But I wonder what the crowds make of Godard now that he has become popular as well as fashionable. In 1966, when Pierrot le Fou graced the New York Film Festival along with Masculine Feminine, Godard's films never had much of a first run. The pattern was always the same. Each new film would be assailed by his detractors as his biggest mess yet, and even his friends would look a little uncomfortable. A year later, the same film would look like a modern masterpiece, and two years later, like the last full-bodied flowering of classicism.
Pierrot le Fou, however, was something very different, the last local stop for Godard's express train of history. If I prefer Pierrot le Fou to, say, Weekend, it is because I find the end of an affair an infinitely more interesting subject than the beginning of a revolution, and Pierrot is nothing if not a lament for a lost love. Time has sweetened the song as it has soured the singer. Why? The main reason is Jean-Paul Belmondo. He gives Pierrot more charm, dignity, and resignation than Godard himself alone is capable of, and the jokes that worked in Breathless, those churlish jests that haven't worked since, work once more.
Without Belmondo's too-many-drinks-and-cigarettes-the-night-before-this-morning face to serve as ballast, Godard's giddiness becomes too flighty for the gravity required of any effective humor. Belmondo's appeal, like Bogart's, lies not in the actor's insolence, but in the weary gallantry the actor's insolence never quite conceals. Also, Belmondo, again like Bogart, testifies with his face to a life lived to the hilt.
Godard's very unique sensibility spills over every frame of the film from the first illustrations of the Velazquez aesthetic — white tennis tunics against pink flesh, Paris as a night landscape against the blue-green Seine, Belmondo gazing at the sensuous stream of colors on a bookstall — to the last shot of the sea that reconciles the doomed lovers after death to the recited lines from Rimbaud: "Elle est retrouvée./ Quoi? - L'Éternité./C'est la mer allée/Avec le soleil."
Pierrot le Fou is a film of fireworks and water, of explosion and immersion, the metaphorical expression of passion being cooled by existence, the visual equivalent of feelings being chilled by words. The influence of Renoir, Jean even more than Auguste, is everywhere, even in Belmondo's hilarious imitation of Michel Simon, but especially in the pervasive wetness of Pierrot le Fou, itself at least partly an ode to liquid pastoral à la Lautréamont in Weekend. It is, of course, no accident that Anna Karina's alter ego is an Auguste Renoir print plastered on the screen in Godard's peculiar montage-collage style that seems less peculiar with each increasingly fragmented year. Even the "inside" cinematic jokes — Sam Fuller in person describing the cinema as a battleground of emotions, the umpteenth joke about Nicholas Ray's Johnny Guitar, a reverent reference to Jean Renoir's La Chienne—seem to slide into the stream of sensibility without any bumps.
Audiences may still be jarred somewhat by the violent clash between blood-red melodrama and sky-blue contemplation, by the contradictory rhetoric of musicals and metaphysics and by the director's lingering affection for what he considers to be dying genres, but that is precisely what I love about Pierrot le Fou. Belmondo and Karina and Coutard and Antoine Duhamel (music) translate Godard's most tentative ideas into sensuous spectacle so that what is actually on the screen is usually more interesting than anything that can be said about it. Interestingly enough, none of the topical satire has dated in the slightest, not Godard's first tentative comments about Vietnam or his relatively gentle gibes at car culture or even a breathtakingly romantic defense of the love-struck moon against the calculating Cold War onslaughts of American and Russian astronauts.
There is not the slightest intimation of sexual intercourse in Pierrot le Fou, and yet, time and again, I felt the chilling sublimation of love into art and then the warming translation of art back into love. Nevertheless, I'd hate to imagine Pierrot le Fou without Belmondo, if only because Belmondo magnifies Godard's soul on the screen, much as Mastroianni magnified Fellini's 8l/i and Chaplin the inspired actor always magnified Chaplin the ignoble self-pitier. The bleary-eyed Belmondo undoubtedly looks the way Godard felt when Godard was making Pierrot le Fou, and the resultant unity of feature and feelings is beautiful to behold. [Andrew Sarris, 1/23/69]
Basically Godard's version of a location thriller, Pierrot le Fou is shot, widescreen, in primary colors, mainly in the south of France. It looks sensational, as does Anna Karina, who, as she captivates and abandons Jean-Paul Belmondo, is herself the movie's documentary subject. The insouciant grace of Karina's spontaneous outbursts is paralleled by the film's: culturally, Pierrot le Fou is all over the map, juxtaposing Sam
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Fuller and Garcia Lorca, Vietnam and Auguste Renoir. Possibly no Godard film has ever been more hostile to Americans and more devoted to their cars.
Pierrot is hardly free of Godard's romantic misogyny, but it radiates the joy of cinema. "Let's go back to our gangster movie," Karina tells Belmondo after an idyll on the beach. Chantal Akerman says this is the movie that inspired her to becomes a filmmaker, and I hardly think she's alone. I first saw Pierrot le Fou when I was seventeen, having sneaked into a press screening at the New York Film Festival, and was convinced it was better than Duck Soup, maybe the greatest movie ever made. It probably is, for a seventeen-year-old — two hours, as we used to say, of Technicolor Marx Brothers projected on the wall. [J. Hober-man, 10/19/89]
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