AN ODE TO JEAN-LUC GODARD

AND THE FRENCH NEW WAVE OF FILM THAT CAME THROUGH HIM JOLIAMOUR DUBOSE-MORRIS
2022
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On September 13th of 2022, the perceptive and dynamic filmmaker known as Jean-Luc Godard said his goodbyes. Passing at 91 years old, while his physical presence may no longer be tangible—his legacy continues. Godard’s experience in the film industry precedes itself as he was around to see film from its early stages into its 21st-century evolution. Godard’s relationship with cinema has catapulted the industry and his effects not only can be seen in this day and age but will live on with the cultural industries.

Before he went behind the camera, Godard began his immersions into film through critiques. In the early 1950s, he was an attendee of the Cinémathèque Française, a usual place that he went that prioritized cinema. The Cinémathèque worked as a vessel for Godard, stretching his lens to a world within a world, that from the outside looked quite narrow.

His understanding of film expanded past his own interpretations of it, and that kind of experience led to new beginnings.

Godard created two different publications, La Gazette du cinéma— a five-issue publication in 1950, and the co-founded Cahiers du Cinéma in 1951. Cahiers du Cinéma was a fresh exuberant air as it reflected on films beyond the European scene. One of Godard’s major critiques stemmed from his review of No Sad Songs for Me, an American film.


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In these years, Godard perfected his artisanship as he watched, and observed taking in other films like water. To produce standalone projects meant taking heed to the ideas that have already found themselves spliced in film rolls.

The late 1950s for Godard were moments of trial and error. The prodigy filmmaker began producing short films up until his first feature film, A Bout de Souffle (Breathless). From Opération béton, a sixteen-minute bit of establishing and montage shots based on construction with the usage of classical scoring and narration inspired by Jean-Pierre Laubscher’s commentary. This film examined the angle of cinema-verité before the style even had a name. Through the rest of the 50s came Une femme coquette in ‘55, All the Boys are Called Patrick, A Story of Water in ’58, and more. These years served as the groundwork for Godard’s most innovative moments in the film: the 1960s.

Breathless marked a crossroad in film history for its improvisatory and ambiguous techniques used throughout production.

Godard wasn’t a director who overanalyzed his work. He was quite open to change which allowed the poise of spontaneity to expand his ideas. As his ideas served to be unconventional, regardless of his unconstrained attempts at moviemaking, Godard’s ability to produce adequate and significant shots was telling. Specifically, in Breathless, his establishing and close-up shots were detailed and personalized. Plus, Godard’s attention to dialogue meant niche one-liners that added to the film.

From his first to his last film of the ‘60s, Godard attacked filmmaking with a political and outspoken edge.

The ‘60s in many countries proved to be a highly controversial time due to the many pinnacles stemming from Politics: Algerian War, Vietnam War, Civil Rights Movement, etc., media was a heavy tactic to push commercialization and propaganda. Yet, Godard didn’t shy away from advertising his own opinions on these moments of history. He spoke about the Algerian War of Independence in Le petit soldat, and participated in Loin du Vietnam, a film banding against the war. His short films were a setup for Godard’s future films, as Godard’s main priorities were to create discourse amongst ideologies, consumerism, and human experiences.

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This era of Godard’s work alone served as an inspirational board to come for future filmmakers. Godard raised an impressive standard to what film could be—not just a feature to entertain, but to provoke the comfortable, and question the hegemony our society faces unconsciously.

Godard’s usage of Anna Karina in his films is reflective of the many muses used today. From, Wes Anderson and Bill Murray, to Quentin Tarantino and Uma Thurman, Alfred Hitchcock and Grace Kelly to even, Sam Levinson and Zendaya are all resemblances to Godard. The popular style of cinema verité anchored by Godard has become a popular style as seen in Mark Kitchell’s Berkeley in the Sixties (1990) and Chris Hegedus and D.A. Pennebaker’s The War Room (1993).

This style of realistic filmmaking and purposely limited equipment is extremely precious in the film as it upholds the plot and morale of the film without the aesthetics. It relies solely on the material; on the angle. Godard’s usage of messages has shown itself in the 21st century, as other filmmakers have come forward to produce think-pieces. Milos Forman’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975), Tony Kaye’s American History X (1998), Boots Riley’s Sorry to Bother You (2018), and Bong Joon-Ho’s Parasite (2019) are all major films to critique societal philosophies and capitalistic norms.

Godard’s usage of improvisation has been an anonymous tip to future filmmakers, showing them to not solely rely on the paper's words.

Instead, to find inspiration—to find it-moments through creativity and spontaneity. The Safdie Brother’s Good Time is the epitome of the voice of improv and allowing dialogue to be free-flowing. The scene in The Wolf of Wall Street where Matthew McConaughey improvises a song becomes a vital scene for the film.

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So, Godard’s passing isn’t a funeral to his work, as his ideas and films have acquired a veteran appeal that will always be the drawing board fellow filmmakers return to. Just like his first feature, audiences after his reign in film will always be left breathless.

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