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The French New Wave Films of Jean-Luc Godard

Posted on the 29 August 2012 by Tjatkinson @T_J_atkinson

The French New Wave Films of Jean-Luc Godard

If you’re a cinephile, chances are you’ve probably heard of Jean-Luc Godard, even if you haven’t seen any of his films. He seems certainly to divide audiences. Many of his movies are easy to hate, and I know some people who loathe him. However I must say with some pride that I am a huge fan. Recently I finally finished watching all his 60s’ films and decided, since there are so many of them, to write a post about each and every one of his key French New Wave works, from Breathless to Week End and every single one in between! Let’s start way back in the year 1960, when the French New Wave (or Nouvelle Vague) was just dawning…

The French New Wave Films of Jean-Luc Godard
1960: Breathless / À Bout de Souffle

Godard’s first film, and probably his most popular. An endearing classic of wonder and accessibility starring Jean-Paul Belmondo and Jean Seberg, it establishes many of Godard’s styles and themes without the nagging politics that seem to bother so many that would later become prevalent. My Rating: 9/10. Godardian Rating (rating based on how Godardian the film is): B+

1961: A Woman is a Woman / Une Femme est Une Femme

Here’s where I take a stand against Godard – this is the only film of his I’ve remotely disliked, which is strange because it’s one of his most popular and interesting. A romantic comedy starring Anna Karina, it starts off promising but soon descends into crazy madness. The problems I had with it are the same I had with Louis Malle’s Zazie dans le Metro, released around the same time: it’s just too damn crazy and full of itself. My Rating: 6/10. Godardian Rating: A-

1962: My Life to Live / Vivre sa Vie

This is not Godard’s best film, but it is my favorite. One of the saddest movies ever made surely, it tracks prostitute Anna Karina’s slow downfall and eventual grim end with distinct mise-en-scene and clarity of directorial vision. The conversation in the diner between Karina and an older gentlemen remains one of the best scenes Godard ever directed. My Rating: 10/10. Godardian Rating: B+

1963: The Little Soldier / Le Petit Soldat

Though not released until after Vivre sa Vie, this Godard film was shot before A Woman is a Woman and remains one of the director’s more underrated films. Starring Michel Subor and – of course – the stunning Anna Karina, it hints at the politics to come in later Godard movies without ever being too overwhelming. For the most part, it’s an interesting, good film. My Rating: 8/10. Godardian Rating: B-

The French New Wave Films of Jean-Luc Godard
1963: The Carabineers / Les Carabiniers

I love this movie. Severely, incredibly underrated, it’s one of Godard’s funniest, most upbeat and enjoyable movies which unlike A Woman is a Woman never loses its plot or sense of sanity. It’s a strange little wartime comedy admittedly, but one that’s damn difficult not to love. My Rating: 9/10. Godardian Rating: C+

1963: Contempt / Le Mépris

This was the first Godard film I ever saw, and while it didn’t win me over to the director straight away, I did enjoy it and warmed to it with surprising ease. It’s a slow, beautiful little film starring the mindblowing Bridget Bardot, a wonderfully cool appearance from Fritz Lang, and of course, a marvellously dark ending. My Rating: 8/10. Godardian Rating: A-

1964: Band of Outsiders / Bande à Part

If I had to make a call, this is probably Godard’s most mainstream movie. Like Les Carabiniers, it is not overwhelming and relatively easy to watch, and features great performances and a strong plot. I saw it twice and found myself having fun both times. It’s excellent. My Rating: 8/10. Godardian Rating: B-

1964: A Married Woman / Une Femme Mariée

Of all the 60s Godard films, this is probably the most difficult to come by, but I found an Australian DVD while surfing the local rental parlour and picked up in an instant. It’s not a particularly special film (one can’t help but think the lead performance by Macha Meril would be played better by Bardot or Karina) but it does have a few defining moments, such as the use of subtitles to underline what a person is thinking but not saying (a technique credited to Woody Allen’s Annie Hall but assuredly present here). My Rating: 7/10. Godardian Rating: C-

The French New Wave Films of Jean-Luc Godard
1965: Alphaville

Popular with some mainstream audiences, this science-fiction film from Godard starring American actor Eddie Constantine never ringed true with me as I’d hoped. Parts of it are weak and overall it’s less interesting than Godard’s more thought-provoking films, but it ain’t bad. My Rating: 7/10. Godardian Rating: C-

1965: Pierrot Goes Wild / Pierrot le Fou

Damn good fun, and so much more. My Rating: 9/10. Godardian Rating: A+

1966: Masculine Feminine / Masculin féminin: 15 faits précis

The first time Godard would cast Jean-Pierre Léaud in a prominent role after his “good buddy” Francois Truffaut made him famous, this clever, fun film reminiscent of Bande à Part and Breathless makes prominent use of the lengthy conversations and dialog sequences that are well written, shot and almost melodically paced. My Rating: 8/10. Godardian Rating: B-

1966: Made in USA

Don’t be fooled by the title, this is as French a film as Godard movies get. Not great or particularly memorable, but Anna Karina is good in the lead role and pretty much makes this film her own. My Rating: 7/10. Godardian Rating: B-

The French New Wave Films of Jean-Luc Godard
1966: 2 or 3 Things I Know About Her / 2 ou 3 choses que je sais d’elle

This is it. This is pure brilliance. This is Godard. He revisits the theme of prostitution and human emptiness from almost all of his earlier films but brings it out in full force here. Starring Marina Vlady as both herself and a married woman named Juliette Janson, Godard gives his actress plenty of thought-provoking dialog (much of which is actually improvised) to present to the audience in a sparse, flat, but powerful manner, and uses his directorial skills to wash the audience with images of the growing presence of “products” in our society, and just how artificial we’re becoming. I loved it. This is amazing. This is Godard’s best film. This is it. My Rating: 10/10. Godardian Rating: A-

1967: The Chinese / La Chinoise

A powerful film about French “revolutionary” wannabes studing Mao and planning terrorist attacks. Jean-Pierre Léaud, Anne Wiazemsky (from Au Hasard Balthazar) and Juliet Berto (the Celine of Celine and Julie Go Boating) are the three revolutionaries, whose endless dialog deliberately turns into mindless, lifeless droning. Very good film. My Rating: 8/10. Godardian Rating: B+

1967: Week End

What a way to end the French New Wave for Godard. Instantly a masterpiece for me the moment I saw it, Week End is a scathing attack at absolutely everything normal. Godard goes mad, and the result is amazing. Incredible camerawork (and I’m not just talking about the famous traffic jam scene), senseless narrative insanity and purposefully controversial content punctuate every second and it never, ever lets up. I adore it. My Rating: 10/10. Godardian Rating: A+

What are your thoughts? How many of these films have you seen? Leave a comment below.

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