Directed by: Jean-Luc Godard || Produced by: Georges de Beauregard
Screenplay by: Jean-Luc Godard || Starring: Jean-Paul Belmondo, Anna Karina, Graziella Galvani, Dirk Sanders, Jimmy Karoubi
Music by: Antoine Duhamel || Cinematography: Raoul Coutard || Editing by: Francoise Collin || Country: France || Language: French
Running Time: 110 minutes
In 1965, Godard released another feature that resonated with the rebellious youth counterculture in the West, a road movie and pseudo-crime drama that would give rise to American descendants like Bonnie and Clyde (1967) and Easy Rider (1969). It’s an odyssey-type journey that dabbles in one genre and then another, never quite sure of its identity, and neither are its characters. It’s a film that meanders and flaunts its bright color palette to create a bizarre mosaic of movie-parts that don’t always form a seamless whole, but often don’t fail to dazzle either.
Pierre le Fou sees Godard abandon black-and-white for vivid color. The director’s inventive use of color schemes to create different moods and thematic analysis is creative and ensures that nothing on-screen is ever wasted or is just for show. In conjunction with his use of color, metaphorical sequences, and clever shot-composition, Godard utilizes the widescreen format to make each shot its own unique image. Roger Ebert once said that movies are all about images, and while I myself would throw sound in there too, I concur that Godard is a master composer of cinematic images. Each shot feels like a painting, if that makes any sense. Also, the odd editing techniques and characters’ habit of breaking the fourth wall give the film plenty of personality.
The story and characters suffer from a case of identity crisis. Our protagonist is once again Jean-Paul Belmondo (a Godard-regular), who at the beginning of the film plays an unhappily married man and father who is dissatisfied with his bourgeois lifestyle and all its shallow, materialistic conventions. He abandons his family for an old girlfriend (Anna Karina) who turns out to be on the run from various French paramilitary organizations. If this sounds like a gangster drama, then you’ve been fooled already. Pierrot Le Fou (PLF) only occasionally dips its toes into the crime drama, acknowledging the fact that the couple is indeed on the run and including a few violent encounters here and there. However, most of the movie is spent transitioning from one genre to the next, and the narrative even allows time for a break. At one point, Karina tells Belmondo she’s tired of “being Jules Verne” and living in the wilderness away from the police, and wants to go back to the “detective novel” with “fast cars, cops, and guns,” as if the characters are openly acknowledging the film’s genre-blending nature.
This sort of indecisive, a la cart narrative structure would be a disaster in most filmmakers’ hands, but Godard’s experimental style and colorful visuals handle it quite well. Our two main characters are interesting and have strong chemistry, each learning more about the other as the film goes on, and as result, so do we. Much of their dialogue and character growth has to do with the nature of men and women and how well they understand each other (or don’t).
This undertone of gender analysis is a running theme throughout much of Godard’s work. Even one of his movies is called Masculin Féminin (1966), and both his first film, Breathless (1960), and PLF end much the same way, with feminine betrayal. Godard examines both how the sexes are a chief source of each other’s happiness and misery, as well as men and women’s inherent tendency to misunderstand each other despite behaving and thinking more similarly than they realize.
Like Breathless, Pierrot Le Fou is worth seeing if only to understand where many later influential American films came from. It’s easy to see much of Bonnie and Clyde’s and Easy Rider’s ancestral DNA in this film, for instance. The narrative can be a bit too meandering for many people’s tastes, and there is something to said for being a jack of all genres, but the master of none. As far as genre specialization is concerned, Pierrot Le Fou doesn’t specialize at all. It is a generalist and the polar opposite of conventional genre cinema. With Godard’s veteran experience and technical skill, he manages to make this unique structure work through a blend of strong characterizations, color, and creative editing. Pierrot Le Fou is odd if you’re not used to Godard or European New Wave cinema in general, but if you can understand its madness on a basic level, the film is a bizarrely good time.
SUMMARY & RECOMMENDATION: Pierrot le Fou has much to say and says it in strange ways, but its complex, interesting characters and uncanny screenplay keep all the complex narrative elements and thematic symbolism on a tight leash. Godard’s unconventional editing, cinematography, and dept use of color make the film visually powerful and as complex as the script.
— However… a non-insignificant amount of the story’s wandering lacks focus. The movie’s refusal to stick to any one genre prevents it from effectively mastering any.
? My name’s Ferdinand!