A WRITER from Paris in the Atlantic Monthly a while ago lamented upon the scarcity of exceptional literary talent in France today, and suggested that this talent has been channeled into film.
Jean-Luc Godard has said that he would have been a writer had the medium of film not been available to him, but that film is simply the best way of expressing himself. Like Orson Welles, he is a prime exponent of the auteur theory of filmmaking, i.e., that the director is responsible for all aspects of his film.
Watching Pierrot Le Fou, a film that should be seen at least twice, is the best way of getting to know Godard's highly personal style: his revolutionary jump cuts, blue and red filters, characters set against a blank wall, references to his other films, and heavy use of literature. Above all, Godard makes the viewer acutely aware of the film-making process. His point here is to make the viewer acutely aware of the film-making process. His point here is to make the viewer realize that his is not an "art film," divorced from life, but is rather a film of life itself.
Released in this country last year, Pierrot was made in 1965. This is very important because it should be thought of in the context of his earlier films (Breathless, A woman is a Woman, Contempt), which deal with the more traditional themes of the New Wave movement: man's alienation from his past and future, from his immediate environment and the world around him, and from woman and himself.
Jean-Paul Belmondo, hero of Breathless, plays the lead role of Ferdinand (the name of a king of Spain during the Inquisition), a man whose life has drifted away from him without his realizing it. He had sold out when he married an Italian girl who had a lot of money and now he is bored. He goes to a party with his wife. The camera follows his point of view as he wanders around the party aimlessly staring at the people there, always puffing on his Gauloise Bleue. In a highly stylized sequence, different groups of Beautiful People repeat verbatim ads they had heard on the tube about cars and shampoo. Belmondo reacts to this with the same inane nonchalance that he showed when he ambled past his wife necking with another man.
In a flash, he makes the existential choice to completely break with his past. Ferdinand becomes Pierrot Le Fou. He acts. He grabs a huge chunk of cake, flings it at the Beautiful People, and bolts out the door into a world of ecstasy and destruction. Like a desperate gambler, he is going for broke. As with Michael Poiccard in Breathless, it is all or nothing.
He meets the girl he had been in love with five years before (Anna Karina, Godard's former wife). She joins him in his desperate adventure and they return to her apartment to murder the guy she was staying with.
The sequence of their flight from Paris is an example of the brilliant editing that Godard is noted for. He has succeeded in revolutionized the close-up.
Pierrot and his love, Marianne Renoir, who resembles Auguste Renoir's nudes, reach the sea and eternity and set out to lead their idyllic existences together. As they walk along the beach, the sea washes over and erases their footprints.
GODARD HAS the uncanny ability of fusing the cosmic with the mundane. Almost every action has some larger importance. He appeals to his viewers on the level of their emotions. He films with his instincts. One comes away from Pierrot either emotionally satisfied or emotionally jarred, but either way exhausted, and in this sense Godard is successful.
In his easy, Pierrot Mon Ami, he writes, "we'd be better off for the time being not so much with questions and answers as with streams of feelings flowing into the sea of reflections or vice and versa instantaneously."
Pierrot started asking Marianne questions, trying to find out what she was like. "You speak to me with words and I look at you with emotions," she lamented.
Godard doesn't provide any answers; he doesn't explain. He simply imparts his view of the nature of existence.
Pierrot is not a pessimistic statement on the meaningless of human existence. There is too much beauty in the film to be able to come away with a feeling of total despair. In Godard's words, "the cinema, by forcing reality to unfold itself, reminds us that we must attempt to live."