One of the grand paradoxes of Jean-Luc Godard is that he was a radical, an outlier, a filmmaker who guarded his purity and at all times appeared askance at “the system,” but as a result of the character of filmmaking is that it requires some huge cash, and is linked to fame, and produces photographs that may unfold with iconic energy, Godard was an outsider who was additionally an insider; a poet of cinema who made himself a celeb; an artist who bridged the larger-than-life, old-school ethos of films with the forbidding imperatives of the avant-garde.
All of that contradiction is on full show, with a luscious sort of resonance, in “Godard par Godard,” an hour-long documentary, written by Frédéric Bonnaud and directed by Florence Platarets, that was offered on the Cannes Film Festival as we speak as a tribute to Godard, eight months after his loss of life on September 13, 2022. The documentary was proven together with Godard’s last movie, the 20-minute-long “Trailer of the Film That Will Never Exist: ‘Phony Wars’.” All of which seems like a kind of Cannes–solely particular occasions, however au contraire: This is a program that was meant to be seen by the world at massive, and with a bit of luck it will likely be distributed that manner. It’s an homage that invitations us to look again, with fond fascination, on all of the cinema Godard gave us, and on who he actually was.
In 1960, when he launched “Breathless,” the spryly rebel postmodern gangster film that François Truffaut, in one of many documentary’s many selection clips, hails as the best first movie ever made (together with “Citizen Kane”), Godard was catapulted onto the brightly lit pop-culture marquee of the brand new film revolution. And he himself would grow to be as a lot part of that as his films.
Godard, who early on flirted with being an actor, knew the best way to play the position of himself. For years he gave tons of of interviews, seated in entrance of the digicam just like the good-looking scowling artwork star he was. “Godard par Godard” attracts collectively a rare array of archival footage that even most Godard followers have most likely by no means seen: on-the-set appears to be like at Godard taking pictures his ’60s classics, a director directly informal and meticulous, or scenes of him wandering by the streets and cafés of Paris with a cigarette in hand, plus a cornucopia of tv interviews by which he presents himself in that debonair austere manner — the darkish glasses he by no means took off, the fragile handsomeness set off by that cleft chin, the unmistakable voice (so calm but with a touch of a tremble in it, a nagging rumble of ardour), the natty jackets, and the impish smile that started to shut down round 1966, when he was getting extra excessive in his fervid conceptual Marxist I-must-destroy-cinema-in-order-to-save-it absolutism, and he started to look dour and slightly determined, like an outlaw on the run.
There’s nice footage from the Cannes Film Festival in 1968, when Truffaut and Godard, shouting down reporters as the 2 commanded the highlight, insisted that the competition itself should be shut down in solidarity with the French staff and college students who had banded collectively to create the mythic second recognized — and romanticized by bourgeois stalwarts in all places — as May ’68. May ’68 was a staff’ rebellion, but it surely was additionally a social pantomime of rebellion that was all about itself. It remodeled — and in sure methods broken — Godard by convincing him he was on the forefront of a way more radical shake-up of cinema and society than he was.
“Godard par Godard” is structured round a chronological presentation of Godard’s movies. There aren’t any talking-head interviews, aside from what we see within the outdated black-and-white clips — or, a long time later, Godard on “The Dick Cavett Show.” But within the case of every movie, from “Breathless” to “A Woman Is a Woman,” from “Contempt” to “La Chinoise,” from “Tout va Bien” to “Numéro Deux” to “First Name: Carmen” to “JLG/JLG — Self-Portrait in December,” the film creates a vivid picture of the place Godard was at when he made every film. The achievement of Florence Platarets is that she elevates a snapshot filmography right into a religious biography.
The movie spills over with contemporary particulars. We all find out about “Breathless” and the leap lower, however “Godard par Godard” offers you a way of how the film was improvised, and the way Godard used each approach — wide-angle closeups, hand-held monitoring pictures — that you just weren’t speculated to. Overnight, he changed the strictures of cinema with one thing free.
But Godard had his personal strictures. There’s an interview with Anna Karina, after they have been married companions in artwork and life, by which she talks about how she couldn’t change a phrase of Jean-Luc’s scripts, although she says he labored together with his actors so intently that they grow to be vibrant collaborators. There’s a tremendous sequence by which we see the dance scene from “Band of Outsiders” because it was being filmed…in a café stuffed with civilians! Godard talks about how the Brigitte Bardot nude scenes in “Contempt” have been performed to fulfill the movie’s American distributor (however Godard turned exploitation into artwork), and he describes how his entire impulse was to fuse documentary with fiction. We see him interviewed on the seaside at Cannes, speaking about how a lot he hates zoom pictures.
There’s a degree within the ’60s when Godard began doing what Dylan did: utilizing the dumb questions of the press to show his solutions into efficiency artwork. He was saying, “You’re all part of the system. I’m not.” And he wasn’t; he’d left the system behind. But the system additionally left him behind. As he grows into center age, you possibly can see him go by the 5 levels of alienation, till he comes out the opposite aspect. Appearing on the Cavett present to advertise his comeback, with the 1980 movie entitled “Slow Motion” (launched within the United States as “Every Man for Himself”), he’s truly fairly ebullient. He rejects the concept that he ever went away, however says that he’s performed with anguish, and in addition that the brand new film, his “second first film,” is the primary one by which he’s expressing who he actually is.
I believe he’s fooling himself (his ’60s movies have been simply as private), however his new lease on life is infectious, and it fueled the remainder of his profession. “Godard par Godard” follows the filmmaker into the 2000s, when he’d sealed himself into his Swiss bunker and his work grew trickier than ever. Yet he appeared content material dwelling off the grid of film fame, smoking his cigars and preaching to a diminished choir.
Speaking of which, “Trailer of the Film That Will Never Exist: ‘Phony Wars’” could be a minor curio if it weren’t positioned because the final testomony of Jean-Luc Godard. It’s not like something he’s made earlier than: a collection of collage pictures, many with printed aphorisms, every collage mounted on a chunk of white Canon pasteboard. You may name the movie a brainy model of The Complete Godard. Here is “our war,” right here is May ’68, listed here are pensées like “But the bottom line is that there are no grownups,” right here is his plan for a movie about revolution constructed across the writings of a Leon Trotsky acolyte-turned-heretic. And right here’s Godard ending the movie by describing one thing being “rented to what wasn’t yet the Jewish Agency.” Yes, these are the final phrases of Jean-Luc Godard’s profession. Make of them what you’ll.
Personally, I’ve by no means recognized what to make of Godard. To me he’s a thriller, a muse, an emblem of what made me need to merge with films, an artist so baffling he usually left me infuriated, and an artist so highly effective that he solid the very soul of contemporary cinema. What did all of it imply? Godard solely is aware of.