Jean-Luc Godard enjoyed a comfortable and cultured upbringing, acquiring a literary sensibility that would inflect the whole of his career in the cinema. Godard began to study anthropology at the Sorbonne, but dropped out, and the subsequent decade of his life was spent drifting between various occupations. It is this period of Godard's life in particular that has given rise to speculation, rumour and apocryphal stories. Along with other critics at Cahiers du cinéma, including Truffaut, Rivette, Chabrol and Rohmer, Godard's writing on film in the 1950s played an important role in shaping the canon of great film directors that would influence the development of both French and anglophone film studies. A mixture of playfulness and reverent cinematic homage is to be found in the film language that Godard employs in A bout de souffle. The film became famous for its use of jump-cuts, and it may be difficult for today's viewers, familiar with the ultra-rapid editing of music videos and advertising, to appreciate how disruptive this technique appeared to contemporary spectators. Vivre sa vie, like Le Petit Soldat, appears, in places, to appropriate a kind of existentialist narrative form, only to move beyond it into something much stranger and more troubling. Jean-Luc Godard's Masculin féminin is about young people in Paris in the winter of 1965-1966. Godard in the 1970s is doubtless addressing issues such as the nature of capitalism, and the possibilities for revolt. France tour détour deux enfants is a fascinating glimpse of what television could be.
Little is known about Jean-Luc Godard's early life and, although the first authoritative biography of the director was published very recently, the details of his youth remain somewhat sketchy. Godard began to study anthropology at the Sorbonne, but dropped out, and the subsequent decade of his life was spent drifting between various occupations. Along with other critics at Cahiers du cinéma, Godard's writing on film in the 1950s played an important role in shaping the canon of great film directors that would influence the development of both French and anglophone film studies. The questionable nature of some of the tales surrounding the director's youth is reflected in Godard's own admission that he amused himself by making up stories which would subsequently be reported as true in the press. Godard was a particularly sensitive commentator on the new American cinema, two of his finest articles being devoted to Hitchcock.
Jean-Luc Godard once famously remarked that writing film criticism was, for him, already a kind of filmmaking. A mixture of playfulness and reverent cinematic homage is to be found in the film language that Godard employs in A bout de souffle. The film became famous for its use of jump-cuts, and it may be difficult for today's viewers, familiar with the ultra-rapid editing of music videos and advertising, to appreciate how disruptive this technique appeared to contemporary spectators. The playfulness of À bout de souffle is visible, too, in the lengthy central scene between Michel and Patricia in the latter's hotel room which constitutes by itself around one third of the whole film. This tendency to balance his generic action narratives with extraordinarily long sequences representing the domestic life of a couple is one that characterises the whole of the first period of Godard's career.
The separation of Godard's early career into two distinct categories of film is an artificial and a necessarily unsatisfactory gesture. The domestic scenes between couples recur in both of the films À bout de souffle and Le Mépris. The films discussed in this chapter are characterised by an interest in political and social issues that would become more marked in Godard's cinema of the late 1960s: the Algerian war and prostitution. Le Petit Soldat, made after À bout de souffle but banned from release until 1963, could be looked upon as an existential drama. There is a general impression of a poor fit between the reality Bruno inhabits and reality as it exists in his head. Vivre sa vie (1962), like Le Petit Soldat, appears, in places, to appropriate a kind of existentialist narrative form, only to move beyond it into something much stranger and more troubling.
Jean-Luc Godard's Masculin féminin is about young people in Paris in the winter of 1965-66. As the title suggests, Masculin féminin is principally concerned with the sexual relations of these young people. The opinion of young people is constantly surveyed with regard to their sexual behaviour. Meanwhile, the steely monochrome photography places Masculin féminin much closer to the grim realism of Vivre sa vie than to the wild romanticism of Pierrot le fou. La Chinoise documents the activities of a group of young Maoist revolutionaries, centred around the apartment belonging to Véronique (Anne Wiazemsky)'s parents where they hold their meetings. There is a degree of uncertainty as to what the ' elle' in the title of Godard's 2 ou 3 choses que je sais d'elle refers. The jarring violence of Week-end's film form its brutally confrontational style makes it an ultimately irrecuperable work.
Le Gai Savoir marks, within Jean-Luc Godard's œuvre, the mythic return to zero that had been repeatedly called for over the preceding two years. If this is the case, it is doubtless largely because the film is articulated around the rupture represented by the student revolt and accompanying strikes and demonstrations associated with May 1968. Godard and Jean-Pierre Gorin's collaborative approach is bound up with a certain rejection of auteurism on Godard's part, which he considered to be incompatible with radical socialist politics. Pravda, filmed in Czechoslovakia by Godard and Gorin with a Czech documentary team, but edited by Godard alone, is perhaps exemplary in this regard. Tout va bien, co-directed with Jean-Pierre Gorin, was Godard's first broadly commercial film since he turned his back on the mainstream film industry in 1968. The scene is filmed in one long tracking shot behind the checkouts at this enormous supermarket.
Godard in the 1970s is doubtless addressing issues such as the nature of capitalism, and the possibilities for revolt. After Six fois deux, France tour detour deux enfants was Godard and Mieville's second attempt at making a television series. Consisting of twelve 26-minute episodes, France tour was conceived in order to be broadcast, like any other television programme, one episode at a time during prime-time on France's second state TV channel, Antenne 2. The work's actual broadcast history proved rather different. Based around interviews with two children, Arnaud, aged 9, and Camille, 11, each of the twelve episodes follows the same format. France tour détour deux enfants is a fascinating glimpse of what television could be: a powerful medium for the study of human interaction, capable of showing the reality of political lives with an immediacy and a subtlety that all the rhetoric of theory can only dream of.
This chapter demonstrates the validity of Alain Bergala's assertion regarding the thematic and aesthetic parallels between Jean-Luc Godard's four films: Sauve qui peut, Passion, Prénom Carmen, and Je vous salue Marie which were made between 1979 and 1984. In the films of the early eighties, Godard is seeking nothing less than a new way of seeing, a way of looking afresh at those things (bodies, nature) and those activities (love, work) that are at once most familiar and most profoundly unknown. If love and work are connected, as Godard repeatedly insists, it is perhaps because love - whether physical or spiritual love - involves renouncing possession, which ultimately amounts to renouncing the self. By the same token, the work of art - which is a labour of love - if it is truly to become art, must involve a similar renunciation, a dispossession.
This chapter considers why Jean-Luc Godard's late 1980s films have often attracted a negative response, looking at their claustrophobic settings and offputting themes of failure and regret. A consistent complaint develops across these films whereby Godard seems to argue that art, or even civilisation itself, have been consigned to the past. It is this discourse that has led to the characterisation of the director as a grumpy hermit, an image Godard willingly plays up to in his own roles in Soigne ta droite and King Lear. The chapter argues that even if Godard's citational aesthetic is in some senses postmodern, his films maintain a critical stance with regard to the post-industrial cultural economy. It also shows how Godard continues to search for images of resistance to this economic organisation, and finds them in images of the body as well as elemental images of fire and water.