Pierrot le Fou is delightful inviting of Godard. This French film was made in 1965, starring Anna Karina and Jean-Paul Belmondo; based on the 1962 novel, Obsession, by Lionel White. Pierrot le Fou’ went on to become the highest grosser when it was released. This film was made after the black & white visuals of Alphaville, and what a wonderful return to his world of glorious color.
Leaping from Breathless to Pierrot le Fou couldn’t have been a more serendipitous medley, as their similarities are shocking. The year 1965, was still in the bad reception of America’s Vietnam War, the post-colonial dimensions of Algerian migration to France, there was openness & rejection of crisis racism, anxieties of public opinion, threshold of tolerance, the degree of cosmopolitanism, the contradiction and diffusion of cultural innovations, and all being here- Godard introduces the two lovers on the wrong side of the law in their strike against society and its inane, mundane life of open market and consumerism.
From the word go- The film opens with Ferdinand Griffon (Belmondo) reading a book loud about the seventh-century Spanish painter (Silva Valazquez), and in the background of rather a symphony of chaos. Thus we see Ferdinand Griffon an unhappily married man, recently fired from his job with the TV broadcasting company.in the next scene- we are in an apartment in which there seems to be a bourgeoisie party taking place in it, everyone is talking, or rather quoting, they are the Bourgeoisie, their only love is for money. We see Griffon being bored, he walks from one frame to another, each one in a different color, with people lined up as if posing for a painting, they are engaged in discussion which consists of dialogues from TV commercials and viz a viz a newspaper ads. After attending the mindless party, he determines a need to escape Paris in the midst of his mundane life, to run away with his baby-sitter, an ex-girlfriend, Marianne Renoir (Anna Karina), leaving his wife and children
Subsequent on his opinion, finds a corpse at Marianne into her apartment and soon discovers that she is being chased by OAS gangsters, two of whom they barely escape. Marianne accompanies Griffon, and during the time together, she nicknames Griffon as ‘Pierrot’ (meaning ‘Sad clown’). They then go on a traveling crime spree from Paris to the Mediterranean Sea in the dead man’s car. They lead an unorthodox life, always on the run. Griffon’s poetic sternness ground him with Marianne’s charm and both unfasten as larcenous lovebirds. They settle down in the French Riviera after having burnt the dead man’s car (full of money) and sunk a second car into the Mediterranean Sea.
It’s a film about two recluse individuals or may be two lovers, trying to be one, at times the two lovers seems to blend into one. The scene of the night naps on the beaches seems as unworldly as it can be. The visuals of those sleep in a fetal position, pose a very forlorn, of one body and soul, they are shot from above as if the world is watching them, then cut to a beautiful moon that light them in the dark. It seems that they escaped the society so they could be unified with each other. You name them soul mates or any such similes’ and their difference of being women and man is what unites them. With the stolen money in the dead man’s car, the only time they buy anything is to buy Book (Pierrot) or Music (Marianne), but a loner is always a loner by itself, that is why they seem to be in argument on which one of them is the right thing to buy, full of frustrations, Marianne declare “I do not give a dam about books…..I just want to live.” They have their books and music, but that is not enough for them to communicate, as Marianne declare to Pierrot “We don’t understand each other, you talk to me with words and I look at you with feelings” a line that is out of Godard’s own mouth, for at the time of shooting the film, his marriage was about to end with Anna Karina (Godard’s wife)
In their journey, the relationship becomes strained and so is their sadness and separation. They have their fun at times, when Marianne sings in the wood about her unlucky ‘fate lines’, or when Pierrot get a parrot and makes him talk. Pierrot ends up reading books, philosophizing and writing in his diary. Marianne becomes bored of the Robert Louis Stevenson-ness of their living situation and insists they return to town, where in a night club they meet one of their pursuers. The gangsters water board Ferdinand and depart. In the confusion, Marianne and Griffon are separated, with Marianne traveling in search of Griffon and he settling in Toulon.
In the eventual reunion inward- Marianne uses Ferdinand to get a suitcase full of money before running away with her real boyfriend, Fred (Dirk Sanders), to whom she had previously referred as her brother. Pierrot shoots Marianne and her boyfriend, and then paints his face blue and decides to blow himself up by tying sticks of red and yellow dynamite to his head. Regretting his decision at the last second, he tries to extinguish the fuse, but, due to the dynamite obstructing his vision, fails and is blown up.
Pierrot le fou’ is sometimes seen as an early and definitive example of postmodernism in film. The film takes the then dominant pop art movement and putting it into the context of a Bonnie and Clyde story, Godard is able to create a fun and referential crime film with the freedom to go in any direction as gratifies. The characteristic and its spontaneity are real, and so the hysterical, absurd humor and the utter randomness of a lot of the characters movements work ever so thriving. These people are hardly even characters, just expression of Godard’s impulsive side. You can see the jump-cuts, poetic voice-overs, and fourth-wall-breaking moments remain, as this film fully recognise Godard, and his matured technique still looks as hunger as ever to break the new ground. The film looks fantastic, full of bright colors, neon lights, and the beautiful scenery of the French Riviera.
You also can hear those pleasing elements of music, and here it’s dealt with very natural and dither at the edge of feeling out of place, rather than being full-on head-scratching. Godard is fond of repetition alike Mozart, yet it seems as fresh ever. We, as the audience looks to be lost in time and space, we don’t know where are- the past, the present or the future. Scenes that seem to have had happened in the early part of the film pops up in the middle or in the beginning of the end (confusing, isn’t it?). The most famous repetition is perhaps the escape of the two lovers just after they murder the militant at the beginning of the film, they kill them, they run, they are alive again, and they are killed again.
Yes, my slight issues with Breathless remain with this movie. Godard moralizes his artistic philosophy through his characters, few too often and sometimes subtle thou’ and his appeal remains obvious. As with many of Godard’s movies, no screenplay was written until the day before shooting, and many scenes were improvised by the actors, especially in the final acts of the movie. The shooting took place over two months, starting in the French riviera and finishing in Paris. At best his techniques are ingenious, and damned if he can’t shoot a flick that looks good and so the king of the French new wave demonstrates again how simply he could pump out great films
- Directed by Jean-Luc Godard
- Produced by Georges de Beauregard
- Written by Jean-Luc Godard
- Based on Obsession by Lionel White
- Casting: Jean-Paul Belmondo and Anna Karina
- Music by Antoine Duhamel
- Cinematography: Raoul Coutard
- Edited by Françoise Collin
- Production company: Georges de Beauregard
- Distributed by Societe Nouvelle de Cinematographie (SNC)
- Release dates:5 November 1965 (France)
- Run time of 110 minutes
- Country: France
- Language: French