Some critics claim that Jean Luc Godard "makes no sense," it is true that watching one of Godard's films, seen by itself, can be a frustrating and puzzling experience, however when you analyse and delve into his universe you discover yourself liking the whole audacious, experimental and passionate canon of work.
Released in 1966 ‘Pierrot Le Fou’ which deservedly received Golden Lion nomination at the Venice Film Festival, was a turning point in some ways – although his longstanding obsession with American culture and violence continued…prior to it Godard’s films were black-and-white, cool, quick and austere, with an emphasis on interpersonal relationships, after it came colour, widescreen and his ever increasing preoccupation with politics, Vietnam and the reflexive nature of cinema – movies about themselves to some degree.
This is similar to another Godard classic and career changing film, ‘Weekend’ (1968), both about a man and a woman on a cross-country odyssey, with a mandate for ‘anything can happen’ yet this is much more fun and less bitter than ‘Weekend’ and it displays perfectly his mastery of subverting Hollywood genres. On the surface it is a gangster film, but this is one of Godard’s mid-'60s genre deconstructions, so nothing is at it first appears – he foregrounds the artifice, never letting audiences forget they're watching actors in a film instead of real people..
Starring two of cinema’s greats, Jean Paul Belmondo and Anna Karina, as runaways, (yes it is a girl and a gun – and also a car) a quote, which Godard actually requited form DW Griffith but is often attributed to him. The plot never really stands up and the film doesn't rely on it, sometimes there is a conventional scene, straight out of Hollywood, then this goes nowhere, blind alleys, which can be frustrating yet brilliant as the tone and texture is all important, rather than advancing the plot. Therefore this is about the sum of its parts, not everything fits together or adds up to the narrative in an easily consumable way yet the montage of techniques add up to a glorious attitude.
Godard loves to reference his own films, for example a scene where Belmondo is smoking in bed while Karina is in the kitchen; this is straight out of ‘Breathless’ (1960). Scenes become more complex and don't always mean anything yet there is always a mood, a feeling to observe.
And how good to see American auteur filmmaker Sam Fuller playing himself in a party scene, talking about making a movie, which becomes more ‘real’ than the party itself, full of artifice and pretention. Films are also referenced when at a gas station Karina recalls a Laurel and Hardy movie! After all Godard, himself a former film critic, once said that the only valid way to criticize a movie was to make one of your own.
So, like a number of Godard's other films, Pierrot le Fou is not so much a movie as a movie about cinema. Therefore, "Pierrot le Fou is not a film, but an attempt at film."As stated before this is a transitional film from the relationships type of film, examining male/female relationships, though Godard was already introducing innovative techniques, such as quasi-documentary segments and exploration of the relationship between cinema and reality.
With Alphaville (1965), Godard began reducing the significance of plot in his films and experimenting with the mixing of genre, integrating film noir, science fiction, and romance.He also increasingly blurred the distinction between the story and the story's presentation as cinema, so with Pierrot le Fou (a plot ostensibly set in the real world) he integrated musical numbers, blurred the line between reality and imagination, and demolished the fourth wall by allowing characters to gaze directly into the camera and/or address the audience.
He also began being fascinated by language, allusions to literature, art and cinema, and the alienating influence of modernization, consumerism, advertising, and city life. He is essentially exploring the deconstruction of traditional cinematic forms. Godard builds in countless references to American films, his own films, and other European films.
In reality Godard made the film over the course of about a month, with little, no script or outline. He simply made it up as it was being shot. If he felt that the story was veering off course, he would simply tack a bit, one way or another, rather than reshooting a scene – basically improvisational cinema.
Viewers never lose sight of the fact that this is a movie rather than depiction of real events. The main characters Ferdinand and Marianne really only go through the motions of playing out their movie (or movies, actually), so we are left wondering why we should care about the outcome. He's a product of the intellect, full of ideas and allusions. She's controlled by emotions, a creature of impulse and hunger – a sort of femme fatale mobster's moll and betrayer of romantic notions. Together, they embody the mind/body split at the film's core. So a significant part of why this film is enjoyable at all is the virtuoso performances by Jean-Paul Belmondo and Anna Karina.
This disturbing essay on love and many other subjects is a brilliant yet frustrating and complex experiment filled with beauty, poetry and whimsy.