Pierrot Le Fou

12/29/2015 09:48 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

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Jean-Luc Godard had a fixation on the iconography of Hollywood and in particular the American gangster movie that was reflected in his first outing Breathless (1960), the movie which made him famous. However, the only difference between Godard's gangsters and those he pays homage to rests in the aim of their activities. If possession is nine tenths of the law then Godard's outlaws are interested in dispossession. In Pierrot Le Fou (l965), which was revived recently at Film Forum, his characters Marianne (Anna Karina) and Ferdinand aka Pierrot (Jean-Paul Belmondo) embark on a crime spree that's a repudiation of materialism. They're Bonnie and Clyde conceived of as mini Raskolnikovs, philosophical nihilists who would be at home in the pages of a Dostoevsky novel. The world they flee is one in which Parisians talk to each other in advertising slogans (even Pierrot tells the attendant in a gas station to "put a tiger in my tank"). But Godard employs a dialectics that uses juxtaposition to pull the rug out from under reality. While the opening of the film thrusts us in the center of a bourgeois household, it also begins with a lecture on Velasquez and Pierrot's phone number is a Balzac exchange. Pierrot says, "I feel fragmented" and later "we have come to the age of the double man. We don't need mirrors to talk to ourselves." As the couple make their escape to a Crusoe type world, the camera focuses on Marianne even as Pierrot is talking. Godard who owes his filmic style to Brecht, makes no concession to illusion. When Marianne asks Pierrot what he is doing as he looks backwards in another scene, he says "I'm talking to the audience." The movie posits an esthetic form of Joseph Schumpeter's concept of "creative destruction" to the extent that a utopian reinvention of both language and life is a subtext of Godard's narrative. For instance Belmondo repeatedly bristles when Marianne calls him Pierrot insisting repeatedly and comically, as if he hasn't said it before, that his name is Ferdinand. Pierrot Le Fou, is overly long and employs citations like a brilliant lycee student who knows his Baudelaire. But it's also brilliant and Karina, whose personal relationship with Godard was in the process of dissolution during the shooting of the film (they'd been married, but got divorced), has the kind of beauty that might lure a filmgoer to his or her death.

{This was originally posted to The Screaming Pope, Francis Levy's blog of rants and reactions to contemporary politics, art and culture}