Founder of the French New Wave, film critic, theorist and radical intellectual, director Jean-Luc Godard (1930 – 2022) will be celebrated at the 22nd edition of the Transylvania International Film Festival (TIFF). Between June 9-18, eight of his most appreciated films will be able to be viewed in the Close-up Jean-Luc Godard section, organized with the support of the French Institute in Romania.
Passes for TIFF 2023 have been put up for sale here.
Jean-Luc Godard’s interest in film appears in his youth, when he coagulates a team of enthusiastic critics around the magazine Cahiers du Cinéma, including Jacques Rivette, Claude Chabrol and François Truffaut. In 1960 he debuted with what would become a cult film that shook the existing paradigms in the world of cinema. A masterpiece adored by audiences and critics alike, À bout de souffle/Breathless portrays the life of a young American woman in Paris (the elegant Jean Seberg) and her doomed love affair with a delinquent (played by a seductive Jean- Paul Belmondo, whose meteoric career is launched by this film).
Noted film critic Roger Ebert considered Godard’s first feature to be “the most influential debut since Citizen Kane”. Based on an idea developed together with Truffaut and Chabrol, À bout de souffle quickly became the flagship film of the Nouvelle Vague, with Sight and Sound magazine calling it “the movement’s intellectual manifesto”. The film won the Silver Bear at the Berlin Film Festival and the Jean Vigo Award, an important mark of recognition in French cinema.
“It’s a simple film about complicated things,” Godard would say about Le Mépris (Contempt, 1963), a film about the conflict between love, art and the film industry. An aspiring playwright finds himself caught between a tyrannical producer and director Fritz Lang in a film adaptation of Homer’s Odyssey. His desire to ingratiate himself with the producer, by any means, has unexpected consequences, causing his wife (masterfully played by Brigitte Bardot) to look upon him with increasing disdain. Inspired by Alberto Moravia’s novel, Le Mépris is perhaps Godard’s most heartbreaking film, marked by a deep sense of melancholy and disintegration.
Bringing together two great stars, Anna Karina – the director’s muse and representative figure of the French New Wave – and Jean-Paul Belmondo, Pierrot le fou (Pierrot the Fool, 1965) is another shining example of Godard redefining stylistic boundaries and narrative techniques. Pierrot gives up the boring constraints of an unhappy marriage and flees Paris with a young woman pursued by Algerian assassins. What seems like a standard thriller narrative with road movie accents is actually a tender and personal statement about the world, unfulfilled love and the essence of artistic work.
Winner of the Golden Bear at the Berlin International Film Festival in 1965, Alphaville becomes one of Godard’s iconic works. A combination of science fiction and film noir, the story follows the journey of secret agent Lemmy Caution (Eddy Constantine) through the dystopian city of Alphaville, where emotion is a terrible crime that carries the death penalty. Stylistically reminiscent of German expressionism, the film revisits aspects of human existence that have always preoccupied Godard, such as love, art and anxiety in the face of an absurd world.
A radical work of cinematography and a turning point in Godard’s career, La chinoise (1967) loosely adapts Dostoevsky’s Demons into a political film about a group of five Maoist students who plan an assassination. Starring Anna Wiazemsky – another of the director’s faithful collaborators – and Jean-Pierre Léaud, the film is the result of a completely frantic production process, with improvised and autonomous scenes, later assembled on the editing table. The film won the Jury Prize at the Venice Film Festival and marks Godard’s abandonment of the idea of narrative film.
“This scathing satire from the late 60s by Jean-Luc Godard is one of cinema’s great anarchic works”; thus begins the Criterion Collection’s presentation of Weekend (1967), a surreal story about a bourgeois couple who resort to murder to secure their inheritance from their wife’s parents. Made in the same year as La chinoise, Weekend stands at the opposite pole, offering a nightmarish picture of a society on the brink of collapse.
In fact, the film ends with inserts like “the end of the story”, “the end of the cinema”, which question Godard’s very future as a director, and present an extremely critical view of the role played by the commercial film and, implicitly, by he, in this downward current in which the society was. Fortunately, his decision to stop making films for a while was interrupted by the events of 1968, which gave him a new impetus to create.
Sauve qui peut (la vie) (1980) competed for the Palme d’Or and stars Isabelle Huppert, Nathalie Baye (César Award for Best Supporting Actress) and Jacques Dutronc. The film is structured in a prologue, three episodes (Imagination, Fear and Commerce) that follow the three main characters and their interactions with others, and an epilogue that tries to provide a final resolution to the protagonists. Considered one of Godard’s most mainstream films after a long period of low-budget experiments and militant films, Sauve qui peut (la vie) is profoundly inventive and beautifully performed, a symphony about people trying to get used to their messy lives , in a society where everyone is on their own. The film was a significant financial and critical success in France, and enjoyed a warm reception in the US, with English subtitles by Charles Bukowski.
Probably the only Godard film that could fit into the comedy category, Soigne ta droite! (1987) stars himself as a director who is guaranteed funding as long as he manages to finish the film in 24 hours. With a title that references Jacques Tati’s short film Soigne ton gauche, the film is a collection of sketches against a background of rock music; “a filmed poem, a slight electroshock, a Dadaist collage”, according to the critic Michel Boujut.
Fiercely politically engaged, interested in the limitless possibilities of cinema, constantly experimenting with forms and ideas, with astonishing intellectual force, Godard is a unique filmmaker whose influence transcends the audiovisual field, something that has led critic Peter Bradshaw (The Guardian) to consider the director’s demise as the death of the last great modernist of the 20th century.