Jean-Luc Godard (December 3, 1930 - September 13, 2022) was a French-Swiss filmmaker.
He grew up in Switzerland but was born in Paris and made his career as a film critic there, writing for the movie critic magazine Les Cahiers du Cinéma founded by André Bazin and part of a circle of friends that included François Truffaut, Éric Rohmer, Claude Chabrol, Jacques Rivette and others. Together they dreamed of shaking up what they felt was the inferior French films of the '50s, taking inspiration from American, Italian and Japanese films they eagerly devoured at the Cinemathèque Française and believing the director was the artist and that it was possible to make films which were as personal as a book was to an author. The Nouvelle Vague was born, along with the concept of The Auteur Theory.
Godard became something bigger. He might be to the movies what James Joyce is to literature, Pablo Picasso is to painting, and David Bowie or Bob Dylan to popular music. These artists had a firm awareness of the history of their mediums, a huge range of references and a strong intellectual vision and they expanded the medium to areas never before seen, inventing new techniques that were controversial at the time but eventually provoked many imitators who tended to be more successful than their inspirations. Godard was no different.
His films are studied and viewed around the world. They are taught in film schools whose graduates go on to create ad films and music videos or go into other fields but who follow his inspiration or react against it one way or another. He had a huge following among the New Hollywood. Francis Ford Coppola at one point presented his films in America for release and he and Godard planned to collaborate. Martin Scorsese has always testified to his influence as well. That said, in later years, he became very unflattering to American films and especially the films of Steven Spielberg though he liked Woody Allen enough to make a movie about him (Meeting WA) and cast him in one of his works. In Europe, he's an inescapable influence with directors dividing movies pre and post Godard with his Meaningful Name and his own love for puns leading to the easy word association of God/Art, and basically anyone wanting to go to the most elitist film schools in France must have watched and dissected several of his films.
He's famous in America primarily for his '60s films which strongly influenced college students and rock musicians at the time. He collaborated with The Rolling Stones and recorded the original recording sessions of Sympathy for the Devil. This was a period of many radical films that were Genre Deconstructions of Film Noir, B-Movie, Science Fiction, The Musical and even a film about film-making like Contempt starring Brigitte Bardot and director Fritz Lang As Himself. Breathless pioneered the Jump Cut which was later adopted and overused by later directors and ironically in the kind of action films and music videos which were worlds away from the kind of films Godard made. He himself became involved in radical leftist political causes which made him unfashionable in the United States and a divisive figure around the world. Despite this, he remained active up till the end of his life, still as untamed and unpredictable as ever.
The Academy gave him a Lifetime Achievement Award for his contributions in 2010, at a private ceremony that was not part of the main viewing. Godard refused to attend citing this, saying, "It's not the Oscars!" and partly because of his contempt for awards in general.
Godard also has a history of collaboration with his romantic partners. His first wife was the actress Anna Karina, who served as his muse during the sixties and acted in some of his most famous films. His second wife was the actress Anne Wiazemsky (who starred in Au Hasard Balthazar). He also had a relationship with filmmaker Anne-Marie Mieville, who collaborated with him behind the camera, co-writing several of his movies.
With the deaths of Jacques Rivette in 2016 and Agnès Varda in 2019, Godard became the last surviving director of the French New Wave, until his death by assisted suicide in 2022 at the age of 91, at his home in Rolle, Switzerland (it is legalized there). The company that helped him end his life indicated that he chose to do so because he suffered from multiple kinds of pain due to his old age.
Works by Jean-Luc Godard with their own trope pages:
- Breathless (1960)
- Une femme est une femme (1961)
- Vivre sa vie (1962)
- Contempt (1963)
- Bande à part (1964)
- Alphaville (1965)
- Pierrot le Fou (1965)
- Masculin Féminin (1966)
- Two or Three Things I Know About Her (1967)
- Weekend (1967)
- One Plus One (1968)
Tropes associated with Godard:
- Anachronic Order: Though Godard was famous for saying, "Every film should have a beginning, a middle, and an end - but not necessarily in that order", oddly enough, for the most part, his movies were an aversion of this trope, as most of them went from beginning to end, even if the stories weren't straightforward. There are exceptions, as with the deaths of Camille and Prokosch in Contempt possibly being a Flash Forward, and the sequence in Weekend (1967), when the two garbagemen deliver monologues while Godard flashes back to earlier scenes and also shows us bits of upcoming scenes, but that's about it.
- Cool Shades: The man himself and a number of his characters are frequently seen sporting them.
- Deconstruction: As mentioned above, his 1960's movies (up through Weekend (1967) took various genres and turned them inside out. Breathless, for example, showed what would happen in Real Life to someone who tried to live as if they were in a gangster film.
- He's Back!: After over a decade of making either experimental films or essay films (with the exception of Tout Va Bien, starring Jane Fonda and Yves Montand), Godard returned to more conventional filmmaking in 1980 with Every Man For Himself (starring Isabelle Huppert), which he considered his second "first" film.
- The Movie Buff: Godard, of course, started out as a movie critic, and most of his movies in the 1960's contain numerous movie references, as in Breathless, when the main character sees a poster of Humphrey Bogart for his last movie, The Harder They Fall (1956), and says in a reverent tone, "Bogie".
- Production Posse: In addition to working with each of his wives (Anna Karina, Anne Wiazemsky, and Anne-Marie Mieville) several times (Karina appeared in seven of his films and Wiazemsky in eight, while Mieville worked with him on a number of films), Godard also worked with Jean-Pierre Léaud on nine films, Laszlo Svabo on seven films, and Jean-Paul Belmondo on three feature films.note In the 1960's, he also worked frequently with cinematographer Raoul Coutard (who worked with other French New Wave directors such as François Truffaut).
- Take That!: For all the vocal reverence and influence acknowledgement many contemporary US directors have had towards him (such as Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorsese and Quentin Tarantino), he didn't think much of it and even loathed the way they saw/did cinema. In one of his last films, a soulless movie production company that's eager to acquire the rights to a book is named "Spielberg".
- Tracking Shot: Used in many of his films, particularly the Epic Tracking Shot of the traffic jam in Weekend (1967)
- We Used to Be Friends: Godard and François Truffaut were close when they both were critics and then started out as filmmakers. However, things became strained between them when Godard moved further to the left politically (while Truffaut joined Godard in protesting at the Cannes Film Festival in May of 1968, he did so out of solidarity with Henri Langlois, the Cinematheque Theater curator who had been ousted by the French government, and not because of the political turmoil of the time. Things fell completely apart between the two of them after Truffaut's Day for Night came out in 1973 - Godard wrote an article where he accused Truffaut of being a liar, while Truffaut countered that Godard was a dilettante. The two never made up, though after Truffaut died, Godard did write a tribute where he recalled seeing movies with Truffaut when they were both younger.
- What Could Have Been:
- After François Truffaut turned down Bonnie and Clyde, Godard was offered the film, but after he and the producers reached an impasse (he wanted to set the film in the present day and make it on the cheap, while the producers wanted to keep it true to the period), he dropped out.
- Before he decided to make Every Man for Himself, Godard was considering making a movie about Bugsy Siegel, with Robert De Niro (as Siegel) and Diane Keaton, and produced by Francis Ford Coppola, but when Keaton decided not to do the film, Godard dropped out as well.note