What Is So Great About Godard?

Pierrot le fou
Anna Karina in Pierrot le fou
Bande a part
Anna Karina in Vivre sa vie
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Introducing our Godard programme

Half a century later they still vivify the way we watch these films and are aroused by their slippery romantic allure.

Director: Jean-Luc Godard
Year:
Country: France
Running time: 288 mins

What's so great about Godard? Well… for starters, there’s the films he made with Anna Karina. If you want to experience the volatile conflation of emotion and intellect, of joy, pain, lyricism, acute self-awareness and bad attitude with which one man exploded the art of cinema in the 60s, you could start by watching what happened as he trained his camera on his wife, the ineffably remote and touching Karina.

Their second film Vivre sa vie opens, famously, with a scene that denies us the view of her face. What follows is an account in 12 chapters of small, telling incidents in the life of Nana, a provincial beauty who comes to Paris to be an actress and ends up on the game (la vie in the patois of the day. Godard loves to play with words.).

In Bande à part (Band of Outsiders), for which Tarantino named his production company, Karina is Odile, sheltered but impulsive, who lives in the suburbs with her aunt and meets two small-time wannabe crooks at English-language class. Just when you think their gangsta style is all movie bravado, hapless Odile finds they mean business. Godard’s deeply sceptical love of Hollywood is all across this film, most notably in the poignant, eternally hip sequence where the trio dance the Madison to a café juke box.

In Pierrot le fou, a cracked masterpiece of romance on the run, Karina is Marianne, the baby-sitter (with a side line in the illegal arms trade) who induces advertising man Jean-Paul Belmondo to ditch his family and head to freedom in the idyllic south of France. Marianne, alas, is easily bored. Amongst many things Pierrot is a break-up movie, smouldering with the mutual disillusionment of its director and star.

There is no relationship in cinema to touch this. Karina is equally transfixing at her most withholding and at her most transparent, the merest flicker of emotion as vivid as distant lightning. Godard gazes at her with delight, amazement, tenderness, bafflement and sudden, abrupt flares of detachment, galled by his enthralment and his suspicion that it’s just the movie of her that holds him. Superb digital restorations of these three key films provide an irresistible opportunity to become bound up in a love story that heralded a new epoch in gender relations. Half a century later they still vivify the way we watch movies and are aroused by their slippery romantic allure. — Bill Gosden 

Vivre sa vie

France | 1962 | 83 minutes 

Bande a part

France | 1964 | 95 minutes | B&W

Pierrot le fou

France/Italy | 1965 | 110 minutes