Vivre Sa Mort: The Passing of Film Giant Jean-Luc Godard at 92

Vivre Sa Mort: The Passing of Film Giant Jean-Luc Godard at 92
Jean-Luc Godard, the director who spearheaded the Nouvelle Vague and became perhaps France’s greatest filmmaker of the 20th century (one might throw in the 21st for good measure), has died as willfully as he lived. Godard was cantankerously opinionated as ever until fairly recently but developed “pathologies” affecting his quality of life. He opted for assisted suicide, which is legal in Switzerland, where he lived for many years. The Franco-Swiss Godard’s youth and student years were indelibly associated with Paris. The late 1950s saw the death throes of France’s Fourth Republic and the colonial debacles in Algeria and Dien Bien Phu. France’s old institutions, including its cinema, were being called into question. Godard was influenced not only by his Swiss Protestant background, moralistic and nonconformist, but also by the prevailing mood of French artists and intellectuals, who were turning against the influence of America’s materialistic culture in favor of leftist idealism. Jean-Luc Godard © Shutterstock The young Godard found refuge in two institutions that still had integrity: the Cinémathèque Française and the magazine Cahiers du Cinéma. He began as an irascible critic lacerating conventional French cinema but praising the Hollywood films of directors like Howard Hawks. Godard and his fellow Cahiers critic François Truffaut soon put their money (what little they had) where their mouth was, making a short film called Une Histoire d’Eau. The New Wave was inspired by Italian neo-realism, with the additional influences of Jean Rouch’s great ethnographic documentaries and Hollywood genre films. Une Histoire d’Eau is one-part documentary, about a massive flood that had struck France (with much real footage), but with a screwball rom-com narrative. That movie laid the groundwork for Godard’s first feature, Breathless (A Bout de Souffle). That movie was another screwball romance, with a hardboiled crime story giving it a darker hue. Godard paid homage to Hollywood but with a backhanded critique, showing how the Bogart clichés led to the hero’s demise, and the charming American girlfriend was a femme fatale in the most literal sense. Breathless had the advantage of a Truffaut script, and two charismatic young stars, Jean-Paul Belmondo and Jean Seberg. Shot on location, Godard extended his improvisatory ethos, resulting in a style that was new and kinetic. As fast as one of his jump-cuts, he and Truffaut, who’d had a big success with Les 400 Coups, were at the forefront of a new generation of French filmmakers.

Lead photo credit : Jean-Luc Godard at Berkeley, 1968 by Gary Soup at Creative Commons

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Dimitri Keramitas was born and raised in Connecticut, USA, and was educated at the University of Hartford, Sorbonne, and the University of London, and holds degrees in literature and law. He has lived in Paris for years, and directs a training company and translation agency. In addition, he has worked as a film critic for both print and on-line publications, including Bonjour Paris and France Today. He is a contributing editor to Movies in American History. In addition he is an award-winning writer of fiction, whose stories have been published in many literary journals. He is the director of the creative writing program at WICE, a Paris-based organization. He is also a director at the Paris Alumni Network, an organization linking together several hundred professionals, and is the editor of its newletter. The father of two children, Dimitri not only enjoys Paris living but returning to the US regularly and traveling in Europe and elsewhere.