Crazy Pete

I'm not nearly a good enough writer to properly explain the cinematic intricacies of one of Godard's essential films, Pierrot le fou from 1965. It's all at once complex, fractured, lyrical, jarring, linear, accomplished and uncertain. It seems a clear distillation of Godard's typical themes and yet a summary of what he is saying doesn't coalesce into easy explanation. The story has a man on an impromptu run from his dull, bourgeoisie existence with a woman involved in a bad way with Algerian gunrunners. The leads, the ever-watchable Belmondo and the gorgeous Anna Karina give spirited, physical performances as lovers on divergent paths leading away from their pasts, but also away from each other.
The balance of the plot matters not. The audience gets swept up in the visceral beauty of the cinematography (shot by Raoul Coutard, one of the best cinematographers of all time) and the film simply unfolds before you. The varied score rises and falls away in unusual ways with cuts to silence interspersed with short bursts of music that maneuvers the viewer in ways that you don't realize until you're there. For all the charges of elitism that Godard is commonly labeled with, Pierrot le fou is a relatively accessible film, a tragicomedy that might be his most emotionally direct. The fragmented narration, intense primary colour palette and dreamlike plot transitions will throw those unfamiliar with Godard's free-flowing cinematic style but if you can get by those techniques, Pierrot is an exuberant, thoughtful and thought-provoking film. Towards the end of the film, there's a jaw-dropping cameo by a complete unknown (at least to me) who explains in a 3 minute piece to Pierrot why he can't get a song out of his head. It's got to be seen.
It's hard to imagine anyone making a movie like this one anymore. I Heart Huckabees touches on the existential absurdity of pop culture nicely and Charlie Kaufman's films oscillate into this territory every now and then, but I can't think a film that questions with such intensity and intelligence the matters the matter quite so fundamentally as Godard did in films like Pierrot le fou, Weekend and others. His '60s films are warnings about a mass media-addled world where we can lose our ability to distinguish truth from fiction and important issues from trivial ones. One could argue (and I have) that those warnings went unheeded and we are now the lessor for it. It makes one pine for a return to socially conscious film making that challenges rather than placates us once again.
As vital now – perhaps even more so – than it was 45 years ago, Pierrot le fou is a worthy investment of a couple of hours, if only to see how varied cinema can be.

1 comment:

the coelacanth said...

i haven't seen enough godard to comment on whether or not i am a fan, but what i have seen (in praise of love, band of outsiders, masculin feminin, breathless) i have liked immensely and always find the films to be a breath of french air in a stifled cinema. thanks for the heads up sprocketz, i'll need to watch this one ASAP...