Pierrot le Fou
Jean Paul Belmondo, Anna Karina
Directed by Jean-Luc Godard
Jean-Luc Godard’s 1965 film Pierrot le Fou, showing in a restored print in advance of its release on DVD next month from the Criterion Collection, could be said to be a sort of turning point for the remarkably prolific (he’s still churning out films at age 77) filmmaker. While Godard’s earliest films were self-aware depictions of life among the young, poor and often criminal, paying homage to the American gangster films that inspired him, as his career went on he became increasingly focused on the cultural references and less concerned with the characters enacting them. Pierrot le Fou is a movie in love with movies, but mostly it’s a movie in love with itself.
Somewhere in there is the kind of breezy crime story that Godard masterfully executed in movies like Breathless and Band of Outsiders: Breathless star Belmondo plays Ferdinand, a restless Parisian who runs into former lover Marianne (Karina) and immediately leaves his wife and young daughter to go on the run with the free-spirited young woman, who’s caught up somehow with Algerian terrorists. In the film’s best and most technically accomplished scene, Godard stages a sweet, low-key musical number, Marianne flitting about her apartment in a bathrobe while Ferdinand lounges in bed, and uses it to reveal a dead body right in the living room, presumably killed earlier by Marianne herself, or maybe by the two together.
Chased by the cops and the terrorists, Ferdinand and Marianne flee to the French coast, alternately fighting and flirting, but Godard seems less interested in their relationship than he is in how many movie references and meta-cinematic moments he can throw in to derail his narrative. The plot loops around aimlessly, casually taking up and then abandoning various threads, while Godard plays around with breaking the fourth wall, screwing with music cues and dropping allusions to everyone from Laurel and Hardy to, er, Jean-Luc Godard.
Nothing, however, achieves the lyrical and moving fusion of cinematic flashiness and character insight of that one post-coital musical number, when Godard grants the same importance to the people in his movie as he does to the way he constructs the often repetitive mechanisms around them.