Sunday, March 14, 2010

1965: Pierrot le fou (Jean-Luc Godard)

1965: Pierrot le fou (Jean-Luc Godard)
When I was a junior in college, I went to France on one of my school's year long programs.  Part of the deal was that the school paid some young French kids to show us around and, in some ways, be our friends.  


One day, another American and I were sitting in a cafe with one of these French "paid friends", a girl (Magali Faventines), and we got to talking about American culture.  Magali asked us to jot down on a piece of paper our three favorite American movies and three favorite American books.  Then we asked if she'd reciprocate by giving us her favorite French titles.  At this point, I can't remember what books she suggested.  But I distinctly remember her going on and on about this one French director, this guy Jean-Luc Godard.  In fact, two of the three titles she listed were Godard films, Breathless and Pierrot le fou.   


I was 20 at the time and could probably count on one hand the number of foreign films I'd seen.  So of course I'd never heard of Godard.   Lucky for me though, I was living in Paris, cinephile mecca, and it just so happened the following week that Pierrot was playing at one of the local theaters.  So I took this girl I was kinda seeing and we set out to learn a little more about this Godard guy. 


When we saw Pierrot, of course it was in French with no English subtitles.  The girl I was with, another American, definitely found it interesting.  I thought it was absolutely mind-blowing.  In fact, it struck me as the most personal, most intelligent, most liberated film I had ever seen.  And really from that point forward, you could certainly make the argument that my life changed.  I became more and more interested in seeking out films like Pierrot.  In fact, that year, I must have easily seen over 100 movies in the theater.  I had found my path.  


I tell this story because it's hard for me to separate the discovery of Pierrot from Pierrot the film. It is easily the film that has had the greatest impact on me and the one that is almost singlehandedly responsible for me becoming a cinephile and filmmaker.  


What do I think about it now?  I still think it's one of the most personal, liberated, and intelligent films I've ever seen.  I also think it's one of the most beautiful, lyrical, playful, romantic, and dangerous.  A friend of mine used to say, he would show each new girlfriend Pierrot, and if they didn't care for it, that was his litmus test that the relationship was doomed.  My wife has never seen it, and it's not for everyone.  But I think it's in a small group of films that has that "Beatles or Velvet Underground power".  In other words, the kind of film that has some rare transformative charge.


If nothing else, see it if you want to see "passion on fire".  It's not every day the opportunity comes around.  




Other contenders for 1965:   I still have quite a few things to see. These include:  Luis Bunuel's Simon of the Desert, Sam Peckinpah's Major Dundee, Marco Bellocchio's Fists in the Pocket, Sergio Leone's For a Few Dollars More, William Wyler's The Collector, Sidney Lumet's The Pawnbroker, Ousmane Sembene's Black Girl, Jerzy Skolimowski's Walkover, Milos Forman's Loves of a Blonde, Wojciech Has' The Saragossa Manuscript, and Miklos Jancso's The Round-Up. It's been too long since I saw Roman Polanski's Repulsion and Orson Welles' Chimes at Midnight.  At some point I need to revisit both of them to know where they'd place on this list.  And, although I don't have any close runners-up this year, I do really like Jean-Luc Godard's Alphaville and Masculin feminin and Howard Hawks' Red Line 7000.


5/14/11 I watched Milos Forman's Loves of a Blonde.  Forman shows a very effortless style and subtle, unforced humanity.  There's also a good bit of humor.  After awhile though, I found it a little aimless to a fault, but overall, a nice, early work.  


5/19/11 I watched Sidney Lumet's The Pawnbroker.  A tough, uncompromising film with an incredibly depthful and pained Rod Steiger performance at its core.  The ending seems to defy plot logic though (the police never come into the pawn shop?), and Lumet seems a little too enamored with his cross-cutting flashback technique.  


5/20/11 I watched Wojciech Has' The Saragossa Manuscript.  Offbeat, novelistic, and one of the most labyrinthine narratives I have ever seen. Has seems to have influenced later Bunuel and pulls this extraordinarily tale off in a way that seems so confident and effortless. Not totally my thing, but I have the utmost admiration for the cinematic achievement on display.    


5/22/11 I watched William Wyler's The Collector.  Terence Stamp is absolutely fantastic in the role.  But the movie's too one-note and eventually becomes pretty tiresome.


5/24/11 I watched Ousmane Sembene's Black Girl.  My first experience with Sembene, and on first look, it feels like a cinema under the influence of the Nouvelle Vague.  It has its moments of poetry and lyricism, but some of the acting felt forced, and the the direction a little passionless.  Of interest, but didn't impact me at the level of its reputation.  


6/12/11 I watched Luis Bunuel's Simon of the Desert.  Another irreverent and satiric look at religion from Bunuel.  This one definitely experiments in an exciting way Bunuel's continued interest in surrealistic techniques, but as is often the case with his work, his irony and lack of much warmth keep me at a pretty good distance.  

4/12/14 I watched Marco Bellocchio's Fists in the Pocket.  It is an incredibly assured and confident debut film.  The acting is probably what impresses most of all at first glance and then Bellocchio's ability to shift between tones and styles.  It is a grim, nearly nihilistic work that is easy to admire but harder for me to love.  

14 comments:

  1. As it is Jeffrey I just saw Drew McIntosh's review of the film at his place, and lo and behold you have the film here in the top spot. Can't say I fault you as it does rank among the directot's most unforgettable film, along with CONTEMPT, 2 OR THREE THINGS, and WEEKEND for me. The attacks against commercialism and modern society, the rapturous references of film and artists and that electrifying finale are unforgettable. That's a fabulous anecdote about your personal experiences with Godard and how you came upon him. There's nothing to match that, and every true film fan is surely envious.

    My Own #1 Film of 1965:


    The Round-Up (Jansco; Hungary)


    Runners-Up:

    Simon of the Desert (Bunuel; Spain)
    Black Girl (Sembene; Kenya)
    The Saragosa Manuscript (Has; Poland)
    The Pawnbroker (Lumet; USA)
    Intimate Lighting (Passer; Czechoslovakia)
    Loves of a Blonde (Foreman; Czechoslovakia)
    Juliet of the Spirits (Fellini; Italy)
    The War Game (Watkins; UK)
    Alphaville (Godard; France)
    The Spy Who Came in From the Cold (Ritt; USA)
    Red Beard (Kurosawa; Japan)
    Repulsion (Polanski; USA)
    Pierrot le Fou (Godard; France)
    The Sound of Music (Wise; USA)
    Pharaoh (Kawalerowitz; Poland)
    Dr. Terror's House of Horrors (Francis; UK)
    The Shop on Main Street (Kadar; Czechoslovalia)
    Bunny Lake is Missing (Preminger; USA)

    As you can see, I have some others here that I favored, with the Jansco masterpiece on top, but I love all of these films.

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  2. Sam, thanks so much for the wonderful comments. I love everything you say above about PIERROT and couldn't agree more. I thought Drew did a wonderful job with the film, too (http://thebluevial.blogspot.com/2010/03/godard-marathon-day-5-pierrot-le-fou.html).

    Thanks, Sam. Always a treat to hear from you!

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  3. Yes! Thanks so much for the kind words guys, it means a lot, this film indeed absolutely blew me away! I find it especially interesting Jeffrey that your first viewing came without the benefit of subtitles; if ever there were a movie that could have the kid of monumental impact you described from just the sheer force of its images, it's Pierrot le fou. What an experience and treasure this movie is.

    Of course as always, wonderful selections for your runner-ups as well, with probably my two favorites being Bunuel's fiery Simon of the Desert and Polanski's haunting masterpiece Repulsion

    Also I must absolutely praise both you and Sam for your inclusions of The Saragossa Manuscript, sadly the only Has that I've seen, but what a mindbending, extravagant work of art that film is!

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  4. Thanks so much, Drew. I thought you did a remarkable job in your post describing many of the reasons why I first fell in love with (and still love) PIERROT.

    Always great to have you here. Thanks so much!

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  5. I haven't seen this yet...but it's been in my Netflix queue for awhile. I'm hoping to get to it soon. Great post, Jeffrey.

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  6. Thanks, Kevin! Always great to hear from you. If you love it even 1/10th of the way I love it, it'll be a good watch.

    Hope all's great in your world! Thanks so much for stopping by.

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  7. Jeffrey, Pierrot is often brilliant visually and satirically but it's one of those films in which Godard's visibly struggling with his impulse to read aloud and lecture. In my opinion he's done better before and since but there's an undeniable power of feeling here that transcends the director's struggles. Since I considered 1965 on Dave's blog I've finally seen Repulsion, which now sits on top of my list for this year, followed by Lumet's other film, The Hill, and then by Simon and Pierrot.

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  8. What a great post, Jeffrey. It's fantastic to hear that not only do you love this film so much, but that it's actually had such a life-altering effect on you. I think many of Godard's mid-60s films — depending on which one you see first, in many ways — could potentially have that kind of effect. But there's definitely something very personal about Pierrot, which was Godard revisiting and distilling his entire career to that point into a single fiery statement of intent: this is where I've been, and this is where I'm going next. It's the ultimate apocalyptic road movie, at least until Godard made Weekend, which might be an even more brutal, pessimistic sequel of sorts.

    Other favorites of this year:
    Alan Schneider's Film, with an aging Buster Keaton
    In Harm's Way (Preminger's epic years again)
    Intimate Lighting
    Man is not a Bird
    Peyote Queen
    Alphaville
    For a Few Dollars More
    Juliet of the Spirits

    And my personal favorite: Simon of the Desert, quite possibly Bunuel's best film and certainly his funniest by some distance.

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  9. A fantastic post Jeffrey, such a wonderful influential experience for you. Thanks for sharing! Sadly, I have not seen this film but you emotional connection makes me want to very much. What a great experience the whole Paris thing must have been.
    My own pick is “Repulsion”, a film I saw for the first time as a teenager and was blown away by Polanski’s use of the camera reflecting Carol’s breakdown. The hands coming out of the wall, the odd camera angles showing her continuous downward spiral. I am a big admirer of Polanski’s work

    Another strong contender for me was Sidney Lumet’s “The Pawnbroker”, one of his strongest works among many. It has been too long since I watched “Juliet of the Spirits” to say anything one way or the other and “The Spy Who Came in From the Cold” is among the missing.

    #1 Repulsion

    RUNNER UPS

    The Pawnbroker
    The Collector
    Bunny Lake is Missing
    Battle of Algiers
    Help
    Darling
    Juliet of the Spirits
    The Cincinnati Kid
    King Rat
    Loves of a Blonde
    The Sleeping Car Murders
    For a Few Dollars More

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  10. Samuel, thanks so much for your comments! I completely agree with your statement that Godard is "visibly struggling with his impulse to read aloud and lecture." I guess for me (and you mention it, too) his incredible ability to be lyrical is so present here that it dwarfs some of the other tendencies.

    Lumet's THE HILL is another I still need to see.

    Thanks so much, Samuel. Always wonderful to have you here!

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  11. Ed, so well put. A friend of mine and I have often discussed if you're trying to introduce someone to Godard, where do you start them? I think it's an interesting question. And I'm still not sure of the best answer.

    Most of the other films you mention -- FILM, IN HARM'S WAY, INTIMATE LIGHTING, MAN IS NOT A BIRD, PEYOTE QUEEN, and JULIET OF THE SPIRITS -- I still need to see.

    Thanks, Ed. I know you're a real fan of Godard, and it's a treat to hear from you here!

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  12. John, thanks so much! I really feel so fortunate to have had that experience in France. It's still probably the most powerful year I've ever had.

    I still need to see THE SPY WHO CAME IN FROM THE COLD, HELP, DARLING, THE CINCINNATI KID, KING RAT, and THE SLEEPING CAR MURDERS.

    I have BATTLE OF ALGIERS for 1966 so it will be coming up.

    And BUNNY LAKE is one I unfortunately struggle with a little.

    Thanks, John, I really appreciate the incredibly kind words, and it's always such a treat to have your perspective here!

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  13. I have to stick with Repulsion... I still think it is probably Polanski's best film. On the whole, though, this is something of a down year for me, with not a lot of contenders. Welles' Chimes at Midnight might eventually reach the #1 spot though, because I seem to like it more each time I watch it.

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  14. Dave, great to hear from you! I really need to see REPULSION and the Welles film again. I look forward to both of them.

    Thanks so much, Dave!

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