Tuesday, December 15, 2009

#421: Pierrot Le Fou

(Jean-Luc Godard, 1965)

I am one of those people that is mystified and challenged by Godard, which is to say I am a person. His films make me angry, confused, and excited about film, often at the same time. Breathless, his most widely praised and accepted classic, is the only one of his films I truly love. Contempt is rough going, an angry, violent film, violent in its depiction of men and women just as much as it is in its bitter ending. I think it is a great film, but I can't say I love it in the way Breathless simply oozes love for film and Hollywood.

Pierrot Le Fou is somewhere between the two when it comes to Godard's attempts to reconcile the movies he loves with the movies he wants to make. At its heart, the film is a noir - and in fact, it is based on an entirely different conventional crime novel, the kind that inspired so many of the classics that Godard championed in his former life as a critic and then relied upon for the underpinnings of Breathless. But the film has much more in common with Godard's later, more experimental work.

There are brief moments in the film where those previous touchstones can be found, but they seem tossed together, without any of the heart and enthusiasm of the more unusual sequences, like the bizarre sequence of Uncle Sam vs. Uncle Ho (Godard, of course, would become obsessed with the Vietnam War). The early scene of the party which Pierrot hates is the best moment of the film, where all the dull and helplessly hip characters speak as if they were narrating a television commercial. But my biggest problem with the film is how difficult it is to reconcile Godard's love of gangster pics with the way he treats the genre here. He seems completely lost in the movie, unsure of which way to take his career. It makes for brief moments of brilliance (unsurprising, since I don't think I've seen a Godard movie without one), but comes off as a series of ideas that have a fairly low success rate rather than a film as a whole.

Godard never makes a bad movie, in that going to see his films in a theater would always be superior to the average film released. His weaker films leave you with just as many things to think about as his strongest (sometimes more). But with a film like Pierrot Le Fou I'm left thinking about why I didn't care for the film. I think the contempt for his own selected genre has a lot to do with it. No pun intended.

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