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Jean-Luc Godard
About the artist
Jean-Luc Godard

Director, film producer, actor, but also film critic, historian and theorist. Widely regarded as the most original of the living Western filmmakers. He was born on 3 December 1930 in Paris, to a bourgeois, Protestant Swiss-French family as the second of the four children of Odile Monod and Paul Godard, general practitioner and oculist.

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Retrospective: Jean-Luc Godard

As a teenager and young man, Jean-Luc caused many problems for his family: he didn’t want to study, he passed his final exams with difficulties, he stole, even from his own family, and he ended up in prison in Zurich. In 1949 he began anthropology studies at the Sorbonne, but he never graduated. In the early 1950s he started to regularly visit Paris film clubs and visiting the film library (Cinémathèque) established by Henri Langlois. He also started writing reviews for film magazines, including La Gazette du Cinéma created by Eric Rohmer, and then Cahiers du cinéma. At first he used the writing pseudonym of Hans Lucas. In Cahiers, edited by André Bazin, Godard met François Truffaut, Claude Chabrol, Jacques Rivett and Rohmer, future founders of the New Wave and the idea of “original policies”, according to which the director is the final creator of a film. At the end of 1950 he travelled with his father and sister through north and south America for half a year. In 1954, while working on the construction of a water dam in Switzerland he made his first short film, Operation Concrete (Opération béton), financed with his own money. In the same year, Godard’s mother was killed in a motorcycle crash. In the second half of the 1950s, he tried different film professions and made further short films about the erotic relations between young women and men. In 1959 he directed Breathless (À bout de souffle), which premiered the next year. This film was a hit, both in France and abroad. It made critics and audiences perceive Godard as the most outstanding artist of the French New Wave and the most talented young European filmmaker. In the 1960s he made one or two feature-length films a year and he also participated in collective projects. This period enhanced his position as the main artist of the New Wave, but none of his films were a commercial success equal to Breathless. In the majority of his films from 1960–1966 the main female roles were played by a Dane, Anna Karina. Godard met her in 1960 while making Le Petit soldat. In 1961 Godard and Karina got married. Two years later the couple established their own production company, Anouchka Films – its name deriving from the diminutive of ‘Karina’. In 1967, after having divorced Karina, Godard married Anne Wiazemsky, who played in some of his films in the late 1960s and early 1970s, including La Chinoise (1967). After making Weekend (Week-end) in 1967, Godard starting working for television, directing films on 35-mm and 16-mm tape. This was also a time when he started describing himself as a Maoist and rejected feature films for film essays exploring various aspects of social life in France and other countries, as well as relations between word and image. The first film in this series was Joy of Learning (Le Gai savoir, 1968). This period of his work coincided with a radicalised political situation in France, which led to May 1968 and the associated intellectual ferment. In 1969, along with a group of young radicals such as Jean-Pierre Gorin, Godard established the Dziga Vertov Group, one of the film collectives created in Paris in relation to the events of May. The last film he made with Gorin was Letter to Jane: An Investigation of a Still of 1972. Most films by the Dziga Vertov Group were shot outside of France and concerned problems of workers in different parts of the world. Multiple journeys and the close relationship between Godard and Gorin brought about the collapse of the director’s marriage to Wiazemsky. In June 1971 Godard had a severe motorcycle crash, and then during his recovery he was looked after by a Swiss woman, Anne-Marie Miéville, whom he met while working on the uncompleted film about the struggles of the Palestinians, Jusqu’à la victoire. Since then, she has become his partner in life and work. In 1973 Anouchka Films was renamed Sonimage, and Wiazemsky was replaced as manager by Miéville. At the same time Miéville and Godard moved the company to Grenoble, and then to Rolle, Switzerland, where they both now live. After parting with Gorin, between 1972 and 1979, Godard focused on video productions and serial programs commissioned by TV studios. In these works, Godard and Miéville tried to diagnose the condition of French society, observing it in the micro-scale of a family or school. Their medium was usually a person outside the politicians’ focus: a housewife in Numéro deux (1975) and children in France tour détour deux enfants (1977–1978). In 1979 Godard returned to European and American screens with Every Man for Himself [Sauve qui peut (la vie)], which was a great artistic and commercial success, comparable to Breathless and described by Godard himself as his “second first film”. A story about three people attempting to restart their lives charmed audiences with the precise narration and psychological subtlety. Since Every Man for Himself most films by Godard are set in Switzerland, around Rolle. This includes Passion (1981), starring Jerzy Radziwiłowicz as the director of tableaux vivants. Passion included a small, debut role for Myriem Roussel, Godard’s new muse. In the 1980s Godard made a few films devoted to famous myths, e.g. First Name: Carmen (Prénom Carmen, 1983) and Hail Mary (Je vous salue Marie, 1985). In his films of this decade Godard often played a frustrated and failed filmmaker. In the 1980s Sonimage changed its name to JLG Films, and then to Périphéria, the latter name inspired by Jack Lang, socialist minister for culture of the French government. At the end of the 1980s Godard started making his own film history of cinema, mainly by editing fragments of famous films and paintings and by enriching them with his own commentary. It took him ten years. Histoire(s) du cinéma [Histoire(s) du cinéma, 1998]; completed in 1998 it is a meditation about the history of cinema and about the political and social history of the 20th century. It is regarded as a masterpiece and it earned Godard the title of an “editing master”. His later films, especially In Praise of Love (Éloge de l’amour, 2001) proved his excellent form and ability to pose new challenges for his audiences.  

Ewa Mazierska-Kerr

 

Selected filmography:

  • 1954 - Opération 'Béton' / Operation Concrete
  • 1957 - Charlotte et Véronique, ou Tous les garçons s'appellent Patrick / All the Boys Are Called Patrick
  • 1958 - Charlotte et son Jules / Charlotte and Her Jules
  • 1960 - À bout de souffle / Breathless
  • 1960 - Le petit soldat / The Little Soldier
  • 1961 - Une femme est une femme / A Woman Is a Woman
  • 1962 - Vivre sa vie: Film en douze tableaux / My Life to Live
  • 1962 - Les carabiniers / The Carabineers
  • 1963 - Le mépris / Contempt
  • 1964 - Bande à part / Band of Outsiders
  • 1964 - Une femme mariée
  • 1965 - Alphaville
  • 1965 - Pierrot le fou / Crazy Pete
  • 1966 - Masculin, féminin: 15 faits précis / Masculine, Feminine: In 15 Acts
  • 1966 -  2 ou 3 choses que je sais d'elle / Two or Three Things I Know About Her
  • 1966 - Made in U.S.A.
  • 1967 - La chinoise / The Chinese
  • 1967 - Week End / Weekend
  • 1972 - Tout va bien / Everything's All Right
  • 1980 - Sauve qui peut (la vie) / Every Man for Himself
  • 1982 - Passion
  • 1983 - Prénom Carmen / First Name: Carmen
  • 1984 - Je vous salue, Marie / Hail Mary
  • 1985 - Détective 
  • 1987 - King Lear
  • 1990 - Nouvelle Vague/ New Wave
  • 1991 - Allemagne année 90 neuf zéro / Germany Year 90 Nine Zero
  • 1991 - Contre l'oubli/ Lest We Forget
  • 1993 - Hélas pour moi / Oh, Woe Is Me
  • 1993 - Les enfants jouent à la Russie
  • 1995 - JLG/JLG - autoportrait de décembr / JLG by JLG
  • 1995 - Deuxfois cinquante ans de cinema francais / 2 x 50 Years of French Cinema
  • 1997 - Histoire du cinema francais: Seul le cinema
  • 1997 - Fatale beaute (tv)
  • 1998 - Les signes parmi nous / The Old Place
  • 1998 - Histoire(s) du cinema: La monnaie l'absolu
  • 1998 - Histoire(s) du cinema: Le controle de l'univers
  • 2000 - De l'origine du XXIe siècle / Origins of the 21st Century
  • 2001 - Eloge de l'amour / In Praise of Love
  • 2002 - Liberte et partie / Liberty and Homeland
  • 2002 - Ten Minutes Older: The Cello
  • 2004 - Notre musique / Our Music
  • 2010 - Film Socialisme / Socialism
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