Jean-Luc Godard is a filmmaker that makes any aspiring director want to give up. He is too brilliant, and when he is on there is no one better. Pierrot le Fou is one of those occasions when Godard was on, and he proved that he was the most innovative filmmaker around. His first film signaled the beginning of modern cinema, and five years later he had perfected a new style of kitchen sink filmmaking.
Godard always believed that everything can and should be put into a film. When you think of what everything means, that would entail a lot of details in cinema. Not surprising that he made as many films as he did, and each was filled with a remarkable amount of originality. He tries everything, and when something works he seems to make a note to use it again later. Weekend was the culmination of everything good in his sixties films, but Pierrot le Fou was the first film that proved this all-inclusive style of filmmaking could work.
There are things in Pierrot le Fou that donít exactly work. The pace of the story is somewhat screwy and things seem to go on a little too long. There is also no way of adequately identifying with any character in the film. A common complaint may also be that Godard is substituting style for substance. Unable to formulate a real meaningful film he instead decides to be as abstract as he can, figuring it is easier. Yet it is precisely these things that made Godardís films so fascinating when they were new and so vital today.
Hollywood is in shambles today just like it was in the sixties. Studios are pumping out more and more big budget films than ever, and for what? Remember the early sixties when epic upon epic was released. It seemed that you couldnít get an Oscar nomination if your film was under three hours long. Godard and the collective new wave cinemas of Europe offered the most remarkable alternative cinema ever known. Their ringleader was Godard, and along with Claude Chabrol he was also the most prolific. Unlike Chabrol however, Godard didnít stay on the same ground for long. He wasnít a genre man, and in most of films, he switches between gangster films, musicals, comedy, romance, and drama.
Pierrot le Fou is one such genre hopping film. It is hard to even remember that the film has two production numbers. Like the music in Godardís neo realist musical Une Femme est une Femme, the songs arenít too memorable. Godard only gives us the singing voice of Anna Karina twice and that is enough. The songs arenít really worth the effort, but they let us know that we are in Godardís world and anything can and will happen without warning.
The first time I saw the film I thought it was pointless. It seemed to derive too closely to Breathless and I couldnít get into it. The second time I saw it I wondered what the hell I was thinking. Pierrot le Fou is what cinema should be. It is a constant advance forward, and it is a relentless thrust at convention. Godard made the most interesting films of all time, and this is close to his most interesting. Good or bad, a Godard film is always interesting and worth watching. Sometimes his experiments fall short, as in Le Petit Soldat, but when it comes through it tops everything.
Why is Pierrot so brilliant? Well letís take a look at what we are given. Godard was still somewhat experimental when it came to color in 1965. He had made a couple of films with it, but was yet to fully explore its possibilities. So in the first fifteen minutes Godard does as much with color as one could think possible. At the party sequence in particular he shoots nearly every shot with a different tint. In one particular set up there is even a jump cut switching from blue to green. When we see Ferdinand (Jean Paul Belmondo) and Marianne (Karina) driving the car doesnít seem to be going anywhere, but a constant stream of different color lights reflect against the front windshield.
It is at this time that Godard makes one of the filmís first noticeable manipulations of sound. Before the two step out we hear thunder and rain. As the car starts moving we still hear the two, but we see the windshield and not a single drop of rain falls on it, nor does it appear as though one previously did. It is impossible to tell exactly where the hell they are driving and instead of rear projection, Godard simply avoids background entirely. He knows it isnít important to the film, and the focal point is more on the actors and their dialogue.
Dialogue is always a remarkable thing for Godard. His characters recite poetry, repeat lines, and openly speak of politics and religion. There are numerous references to film beginning with a typical Godard mainstay Johnny Guitar. Lots of talk is overlapping as well when Marianne and Ferdinand seem to finish each otherís sentences without being on screen. Godard has always used voice over narration, and like his other films you donítí really know what the point of it is. There is no real plot to the film, and even what they are saying isnít advancing it. Again he has his actors speak to the camera, and when asked whom he is talking to, Ferdinand replies, ďIím talking to the audienceĒ. It is the first direct reference Godard makes to the fact that this is a film.
It isnít the last time however, and Marianne seems to supply most of the other references. When they burn their first car, she makes a comment about it being a movie, and when she wants to leave the island, she says she wants to get back to her gangster film. It is also Godardís way of guessing that the audience might be bored with this lack of violence, and they expect to see more robbing and murder.
It is obvious that Marianne and Ferdinand are robbers. They keep having money, which they keep getting rid of. It isnít until far into the film that we actually see them robbing anyone, but their money had to come from somewhere earlier on. They are also wanted for murder, and this is treated in an extremely casual way. When the two get up after their first night together again, there is a dead body lying on a bed. No one knows who it is, or why heís there, but it is pretty clear that Marianne killed him. Like any great gangster film the bodies pile on top of each other, but every time the killer is Marianne.
The only person that Ferdinand kills in the entire film directly is Marianne at the end. He remains non-violent, but when she screws him over the last time, he figures she has it coming. Since Godard has already hinted that the two will cause their own destruction, it isnít surprising that Ferdinand decides to join Marianne in eternity, his method is somewhat original though. Not too many people paint their face blue and tie forty sticks of dynamite around their head.
All of this makes perfect sense in the world of Godard however. Things are explained that donít need to be, other large details are left unresolved, but the film isnít about finding out a mystery. We have to give ourselves over to Godard at the beginning. Although a skilled filmmaker, this isnít the safe roller coaster ride one might expect from a Hitchcock. With Godard you simply close your eyes and dive head first. You never know what is coming next, but you donít question anything when it comes. Simply marvel at the fact that someone has the audacity to make movies so damn interesting.