Imagine a scene in which a lady is driving a car and a man is sitting beside her. They are incessantly in conversation with each other. How many cuts do you expect a conventional filmmaker to take for this scene? Not more than five to six I guess. However, Jean-Luc Godard had different ideas. He thought that it can be done with as much as 25 jump cuts, which makes the scene edgier. That tells a lot about Jean-Luc Godard’s avant-garde filmmaking technique.
Jean-Luc Godard is a revolutionary and influential filmmaker who rose to fame in the 1960s’ and became a pioneer of French New Wave Cinema. He emerged as an iconoclast who was against the conventional style of filmmaking and made kind of films that were never made in French Cinema before. In short, he is to French Cinema what Satyajit Ray is to Indian Cinema.
Here is our list of 5 best Films by Jean-Luc Godard –
1. A bout de soufflé or Breathless  –
“Breathless can leave you breathless.” Satyajit Ray mentions this in one of his essays about Jean-Luc Godard from his book “Deep Focus”. Breathless is a story of a thief in mid-twenties who steals a car and runs away to Paris. He reunites with his girlfriend who studies journalism and spurs her to run with him to Italy. Breathless had a near-documentary feel and was entirely shot with hand-held camera backed by almost no lighting. The film has a strange character treatment.
It is quite conspicuous that the male protagonist is a gangster who wears a hat, a chain-smoking nonchalant killer. However, he is afraid of the Police. On the other hand, an audience gets very less idea about the protagonist’s girlfriend. The enigma behind her character makes the film even more interesting. Breathless is the film that defied all the conventions of French cinema and its essayistic context (particularly when it comes to showing Paris), gripping storyline and a teasing end (it’s all smoke that comes out of his mouth when he runs out of breath) makes it a must watch.
2. Le Mepris or Contempt  –
Contempt happens to be the film that showcases Godard’s impeccable talent as a filmmaker. It is a story of the dysfunctional marriage of a screenwriter. This happens on a film set where his wife spends a lot of time with the producer. The story of the film sounds more like a comment on the culture of French movie production in that era. The most ironic part of the film is that it had Brigitte Bardot in it, but there was not a single erotic sequence. However, Godard tantalizes the audience with an elaborate skin show sequence that he had shot in retaliation of the producers’ demand.
Just like all other Godard movies, this film depicts his way of breaking the fourth wall and communicating with the audience in a way as if he is satirically commenting on conventional ways of communication. The best thing about ‘Contempt’ is the widescreen shots that are often held for a long time, use of color (especially red which happens to be an integral part of a Godard film) and its unmistakable dramatic premise, the factors that collectively make it an outstanding cinema. However, it is also termed “a beautiful yet failed experiment” which taught Godard a lot of things about filmmaking.
3. Alphaville  –
Alphaville again happens to be an ambitious and overly audacious Jean-Luc Godard film. It combines the elements of dystopian science fiction and that of film noir. It is a story of a U.S. secret agent who has to go to Alphaville. He needs to find a missing person and help the city get freedom from a dictator. The most audacious thing about Alphaville is the way he had shot scenes of the night. There are no lightings and the scenes evoke nearly creepy air and give a nightmarish feeling.
Just like all other films by him, he plays with ideas in this one too. The most iconic part of the film is its black-and-white photography which somehow translates every object and settings into the elements of the dystopian future world. What remains the best part of Alphaville is how it entertains the audience with everything right from love, hate, action, violence, and death. In short, it connects with viewers’ emotions and that’s what makes it a must watch.
4. Pierrot le Fou  –
Pierrot le fou is a story of a man who abandons his monotonous life in Paris and travels to the Mediterranean Sea with a girl whom some hit-men from Algeria chase. What follows is an exciting journey where both of them are always on the run. The film also demands an audience to be in comprehensive acquaintance with Jean-Luc Godard’s universe as some of the sequences are discombobulating and often frustrating. The film displays an intermittent introduction of conventional ideas in a rather unconventional screenplay.
At one point of time, the film looks like a conventional Hollywood Gangster movie, but the scene doesn’t lead to anything that you can find in such movies, but they rather add to the “attitude”. What’s best about Pierrot le fou is not the narrative structure or screenplay, but the way he shoots scenes, which makes the film a montage of impeccable technique. Even if the scenes don’t fit together, they add up to the essence of cinema. That is what makes it a must watch.
5. Weekend  –
Weekend is a story of a married couple going on a road trip to kill wife’s parents for inheritance. By the time Jean-Luc Godard had started shooting Weekend, he had established himself as a French New Wave filmmaker who experiments a lot. However, the only difference he made in Weekend is the fact that Godard tinkers the language of cinema even further in this one. Fans and critics had abhorred Godard for this film.
Apart from eminent filmmaking techniques that Godard always reinvents in his film, this one stands out in its textual context. The film brilliantly exploits the intricacies of the human psyche. It displays a picture of a dystopian societal structure that the world was yet to see. That’s the reason the film evokes a surrealistic aura that not all audiences could appreciate at that time. Among Godard’s humongous contribution to world cinema, Weekend happens to be the most inventive attempt.
It’s not like Jean-Luc Godard had stopped making films after the 60s’. However, we can say that it was his golden period. That period had led to a discovery of ways to communicate with the audience. Jean-Luc Godard’s rebellious approach and his idiosyncratic visualization make his films a treat to watch.