Jean-Luc Godard, who observed that “Cinema is truth at 24 frames a second” and lived by it, died today at 91. According to reports, he died by assisted suicide in Rolle in Switzerland.
The legend of the French New Wave filmmaking movement was part of the generation that produced Francois Truffaut, Jacques Rivette, Claude Chabrol, Eric Rohmer, Alain Resnais, Jacques Demy, Chris Marker and Agnes Varda.
Between 1960 and 1967, Godard directed a series of films that created a new cinematic language in the process of deconstructing established narrative conventions. The former Cahiers Du Cinema film critic’s use of such devices as jump cuts, freeze frames, existential voiceovers, meta-references to older films and a freewheeling shooting style were already evident in his pathbreaking debut Breathless, made in 1960.
Starring Jean-Paul Belmondo and Jean Seberg, Breathless was a “low budget, American B-movie inspired tale of betrayal and thwarted love” on the one hand and a film that “captures the moral ambience and zeitgeist of post-war France and Europe when a young generation of artists was sweeping away the old social, cultural and artistic injunctions” on the other, Suresh Chabria wrote on the 60th anniversary of Breathless in Scroll.in.
The films, made with frequent collaborators such as actors Jean-Paul Belmondo and Anna Karina (to whom Godard was married between 1961 and 1965) and the cinematographer Raoul Coutard, poured out of Godard in quick succession. They influenced filmmakers as varied as Oliver Assayas, Wong Kar Wai and Quentin Tarantino and remain exemplars of the French New Wave.
A Woman is A Woman (1961), My Life to Live (1962), Contempt (1963), Band of Outsiders (1964), Alphaville (1965), Pierrot Le Fou (1965), Two Or Three Things I Know About Her (1967) and Week-end (1967) captured the political and cultural ferment of the 1960s in Paris like few other films have. The films had an essayistic quality that included playful quotations from older films and the occasional cameo by filmmakers Godard admired (such as Samuel Fuller in Pierrot Le Fou).
Godard himself starred alongside Anna Karina in Agnes Varda’s Cleo From 5 to 7, as characters in a silent film within the film. He was the subject of Michel Hazanavicius’s biopic Redoubtable (2017), starring Louis Garrel.
Godard’s post-New Wave period saw him attempt to forge a union between Marxist dogma and the revolutionary potential of filmmaking. This phase, which included Every Man for Himself (1980) and culminated in The Image Book (2018), saw Godard in experimental mode, blurring the line between film and video essay, delving further into the very tools of filmmaking, and examining the role of art in shaping the history of the 20th century.
At the 2018 edition of the Cannes Film Festival, The Image Book was given a special Palme d’Or – a one-off award for a one-of-a-kind filmmaker.