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France has lost “a national treasure,” said French President Emmanuel Macron. Godard was one of the most influential film directors and was often credited with revolutionizing cinema.
Godard was born in Paris on December 3, 1930
Franco-Swiss filmmaker Jean-Luc Godard has died at the age of 91, the French newspaper Liberation reported on Tuesday.
Godard was one of the leading figures of the movement. Critics rated him among the top 10 directors of all time, and he has had a direct influence on the likes of Quentin Tarantino, Bernardo Bertolucci, Steven Soderbergh and Martin Scorsese.
French President Emmanuel Macron said France lost “a national treasure” with Godard’s death.
In the late 1950s and early 1960s, a small group of French filmmakers turned the cinema world on its head. They called themselves the Nouvelle Vague — or New Wave — and they broke all the established rules of filmmaking.
Born in Paris on December 3, 1930, Godard moved to Switzerland with his family at age 4. For much of his youth he lived on the Swiss side of Lake Geneva, where his father, a physician, ran a clinic. He returned to Paris after the war, to complete his baccalaureate.
He studied at the University of Paris and planned to pursue a career in anthropology. Although he never completed his degree, his interest in ethnology informed his filmmaking style, as he would use documentary film techniques to create what became called “cinema verite.”
His interest in films blossomed in 1950, when he joined the Ciné-Club du Quartier Latin. There he met Claude Chabrol and Francois Truffaut, who would also become influential members of the Nouvelle Vague. Initially though, his interest in films was purely as a critic. He wrote for the publication Cahiers du Cinema.
It wasn’t until 1954 that he was inspired to make his first short film, while working as a laborer on the Grand Dixence dam in Switzerland. With a borrowed camera, he shot Operation Beton (1954; Operation Concrete). The construction company bought the film and used it for publicity purposes.
Innovative filmmaker and radical intellectual: Jean-Luc Godard, born in Paris on December 3, 1930, has never been interested in conventions; he’s regularly ignored film awards and honors. The director likes to go beyond the boundaries of standard film productions, even doing without screenplays. In 1968, he ventured into a new genre and made an experimental documentary about the Rolling Stones.
A landmark work: Fast-paced and unconventional, “Breathless” catapulted Jean-Luc Godard to stardom. Following its Cannes premiere, the film starring Jean-Paul Belmondo and Jean Seberg established the director’s fame as a representative of the Nouvelle Vague (New Wave) French art film movement.
The seminal importance of “Breathless” was recognized immediately by critics. Godard was undoubtedly a star when he and his wife Anna Karina traveled to the Berlin International Film Festival in 1961. The marriage with the Danish actress, who had acted in many of his films, did not last long, however. They were divorced in 1964.
Reflection and self-criticism were important to the French director, who moved to Switzerland in 1953. Godard considers an intellectual look at politics and society as an inherent part of his work. Brigitte Bardot starred in “Contempt,” a film about filmmaking. Legendary director Fritz Lang had a supporting role in the New Wave drama work.
Anna Karina played the lead role in many of Godard’s films in the 1960s; she was both his muse and counterpart. She embodied a modern, emancipated type of woman, which was rather unusual in French cinema at the time. The pair got along better on set, however, than in private.
Godard ventured further into extremely innovative visual language with a visionary dystopian sci-fi movie. He shot “Alphaville” with expatriate American actor Eddie Constantine (right) as private detective Lemmy Caution in the suburbs of Paris, with their futuristic concrete and glass facades. The film won the Golden Bear award at the 1965 Berlin Film Festival.
Jean-Luc Godard continued to cast Anna Karina long after they were divorced and he was already involved with someone else. The crime comedy “Made in U.S.A,” which is set in France, takes place in a town named Atlantic City, where the protagonist Paula (Anna Karina) tries to track down her boyfriend. Godard dedicated the film to the US director Samuel Fuller (1912-1997), whom he admired.
After a traffic accident in 1971 and a decade spent focusing on political video essays, he returned to the classic film circuit in 1980. He landed a hit with his comeback film “Every Man for himself” starring Isabelle Huppert. It was, he later said, “his second first film.”
An intellectual revolutionary, forever investigating the essence of cinema, Jean Luc-Godard has secured his place in film history. In “New Wave,” Alain Delon plays the role of a hitchhiker. The film combines literary quotations from different sources and periods, from Aristotle to Kafka.
Two legendary directors: Jean-Luc Godard and Francois Truffaut (right) who were best friends, colleagues and companions until the student riots in May 1968. They fell out completely over Truffaut’s 1973 film “Day for Night.” The break-up was radical, according to the documentary “Two in the Wave.”
Without Godard’s radical visual language and innovative editing technique — he established the contemporary use of jump cuts — filmmakers including Germany’s Rainer Werner Fassbinder would not be conceivable. Many copied his style. He may be an icon, but he’s shy about celebrating it: He didn’t show up to accept an honorary Oscar in 2010 and a special award at the Cannes Film Festival in 2018.
Author: Heike Mund
A keen admirer of German playwright Bertolt Brecht, Godard wanted to translate Brecht’s concept of “epic theater” into the language of film. Over the next few years, Godard, Truffaut and others worked to produce a series of short films. They developed a new take on filmmaking, using lightweight equipment, natural lighting, long takes, sometimes with improvised dialogue. The established rules of filmmaking and narrative continuity fell to the cutting room floor.
Then in 1960, Godard made his first feature film, A Bout de Souffle (Breathless). The film, produced by Francois Truffaut and starring Jean Seberg and Jean-Paul Belmondo, was the turning point in his career.
A Bout de Souffle heavily referenced American film noir of the 1940s and 50s, but also combined the Nouvelle Vague’s groundbreaking new techniques. The story of a car-thief who shoots a policeman and is then turned over by his girlfriend used hand-held camera work, incidental lighting, actor monologues to camera and jump-cuts.
It was the start of his most successful and influential period of filmmaking.
Between 1960 to 1967 was a period of intense activity for Godard, in which he made the dozen films which form his Nouvelle Vague canon.
The most successful was the 1963 feature Le Mepris (Contempt), starring Brigitte Bardot. It was the most expensive film he made, and his only orthodox film, though it took Nouvelle Vague techniques and solidified them as the accepted way of modern cinema.
After Pierrot le Fou (1965), his second film starring Belmondo, he was asked to direct Bonnie and Clyde, but he knocked back the offer, saying he distrusted Hollywood.
Godard’s political views had already appeared in films such as Le petit soldat, about the Algerian War of Independence. But in his final film in the Nouvelle Vague genre, Week-End, he delivered a scathing attack against consumerism and bourgeois society. Then in the closing credits, instead of simply “Fin,” he screen lit up with “Le Fin du Cinema,” or “The End of Cinema.”
Inspired by the May 1968 protest movement that shook Paris and other European cities, Godard became increasingly politically outspoken. With his longtime friend Francois Truffaut, he led protests that shut down the 1968 Cannes Film Festival, to show solidarity with the students and workers.
Godard’s revolutionary and Marxist rhetoric pervaded both his films and his public statements. He openly criticized the Vietnam War. Between 1968 and 1973, he and Jean-Pierre Gorin made a series of films with a strong Maoist message. The best-known of them is Tout Va Bien (Just Great, 1972), starring Yves Montand and Jane Fonda. But towards the end of 1970s, Godard lost faith in his Maoist ideals.
Although Godard’s movie-making slowed down in the 1980s, later in life he continued to attract controversy. The Catholic Church accused him of heresy after Je Vous Salue, Marie (1985). Critics described his interpretation of Shakespeare’s King Lear (1987) as “tired and labored,” and “sad and embarrassing.” Godard was accused of trashing his own legend.
Accusations of antisemitism dogged Godard since he traveled to the Middle East in 1970 to make a pro-Palestinian film, which he never completed; and remarks about Moses which he made on French television in 1981.
But in his book Everything is Cinema: The Working Life of Jean-Luc Godard, author Richard Brody argues that Godard’s work treats the Holocaust with “great moral seriousness,” and says that the Moses comments have been taken out of context.
His 2018 film, an avant-garde essay film called The Image Book (2018), was nominated for the Palme d’Or at the 2018 Cannes Film Festival. The influential director remained active into his 90s.