If there is such a thing as a common contribution of the 1960s, it is no less than the reorientation of seeing on the terrain of art, literature – and above all film. One who completely tested our habits was Godard. He died in Paris at the age of 91. “We have lost a national treasure,” said French President Emmanuel Macron in a first reaction.
Instead of shooting in the studio as usual, Godard captured the cafes and streets of Paris with his handheld camera, in front of which Jean-Paul Belmondo moved freely. His cuts followed neither rules nor rhythm. With “Breathless” with Jean Seberg and Belmondo, Godard created a masterpiece that revolutionized film language in 1960. As a result, the French-Swiss doyen experimented tirelessly with form, content and the viewer’s viewing habits – to the point of complete mystery.
Mood instead of stories
Godard was one of the most important and idiosyncratic directors in France. While his gangster story “Out of Breath” and “The Contempt” about a screenwriter with Brigitte Bardot and Michel Piccoli still had plots in the classic sense, from the mid-1960s he increasingly broke the narrative structures in films such as “Weekend” and “The Chinese Woman”. on. His films became more fragmentary, images and scenes lost their relation to each other in terms of content and time.
He heralded his phase of total renunciation of common design forms with “The Happy Science”. Emile Rousseau, a descendant of the French philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau, and the daughter of a murdered Congolese freedom fighter met in the creative and intellectual cinema experiment. They discussed the oppression of society and the meaning of images and words. The film was shot just before the student riots in France in May 1968. After 1967, Godard no longer spoke of films, but of images and sounds.
“Adieu au Langage”
In his late work, Godard continued his quest for formal and stylistic freedom more radically than ever. This is also the case in his last work “Bildbuch”, a kaleidoscope of images and film excerpts, which were accompanied by Godard’s comments and sometimes also by a cacophonous soundtrack.
Godard addressed topics such as war and war crimes and showed, among other things, murders by the terrorist militia Islamic State (IS). While the previous collages “Film socialisme” and “Adieu au langage” still featured protagonists, in his work “Bildbuch”, for which he was awarded a special palm tree in Cannes in 2018, the doyen dispensed entirely with characters.
Godard’s films are manifestations of an intellectual cinema, in which there is history and reflection on history, narrative and the questioning of narrative. And that includes the question of image and language and their relationship to one another. Godard rejected the idea that language and words are copies of reality.
A commuter between France and Switzerland
Godard was born in Paris on December 3, 1930 to a Protestant middle-class family living in France and Switzerland. After attending school in Nyon in the Swiss canton of Vaud, he returned to Paris after his parents divorced, where he met the Nouvelle Vague co-founders Francois Truffaut, Jacques Rivette and Eric Rohmer in the late 1940s. Together with them he founded the critical film magazine “Cahiers du Cinema”.
His character was just as difficult to fathom as his work. Several biographers have dealt with his person, most recently Antoine de Baecque. The nouvelle vague specialist and film critic describes Godard as a natural provocateur: distant, brilliant, funny, insufferable and venomous, especially towards friends and relatives. Godard has been married twice. Both wives, Anna Karina and Anne Wiazemsky, acted in several of his films.
Secluded by Lake Geneva
From the early 1980s, Godard lived in seclusion in Switzerland, in Rolle on Lake Geneva. He rarely appeared in public, and when he did, it was often surprising, as in Cannes, where he held his press conference for “Bildbuch” via FaceTime.
The doyen of the Nouvelle Vague asked his viewers to think for themselves, to concentrate, and not to look for logical or temporal references. Godard wanted to question the perception of the film and focus on an analysis of one’s own subjective perception. But it was often the trademark Godard that held the last works together. Or a sworn audience.
However sensual the Nouvelle Vague could be, one of his late films, Nouvelle Vague, in 1990, showcased it. Alain Delon and Domiziana Giordano come a little closer to realizing that love is a mystery, but above all very sensually.
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