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Jean-Luc Godard: French New Wave's Most Famous Director & The Reason You Need to Visit the Metrograph This Week

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Jean-Luc Godard: French New Wave's Most Famous Director & The Reason You Need to Visit the Metrograph This Week
Still from "Masculin Feminine" (1966) by Jean-Luc Godard

Jean-Luc Godard is arguably the French New Wave's most famous director. Godard started out doing film criticism in the 1950s with Francois Truffaut and Eric Rohmer; together, they aimed to critique French Cinema's "tradition of quality," which prioritized expensive sets and established directors over stylistic innovation and new talent. Godard pushed against this tradition with his first movie, Breathless (1960), which brought the jump cut (a film editing technique that gives the effect of jumping forward in time) into mainstream cinema. Like a Brecht play, characters often broke the fourth wall in spoken asides to the audience, while Godard gleefully discarded other classical cinema rules like matching sight lines. Prefiguring postmodernism, Breathless is also highly, self-consciously referential, and eagerly mixes high and low culture, pillorying and adoring them both in equal measure. Godard wasn't faking it; he loved Humphrey Bogart. At one point, his bedroom, as a friend pointed out, “had a big Bogart poster on the wall and nothing else." Breathless is, among other things, a lifted and refigured noir script.

BreathlessStill from Breathless, image via BFI

While certain films in Godard’s “cinematic” period––that is, his movies from 1968 and prior––deal with specific political issues (the Algerian War of Independence in Le Petite Soldat, sex work in Vivre Sa Vie), the through-line is a Marxist critique of commodification, alienation, and consumerism. These movies are also usually comedies. Godard’s characters approach “the political” gloomily, tentatively, or––they don’t. Politics, after all, can be picked up, hollowed out, worshipped, and discarded, just like any other commodity. But post-'68––that is, as the Vietnam War spiraled, and the student protests took off––Godard’s Marxism became central. He would denounced the pre-’68 movies as “bourgeoise” and abandoned mainstream cinema, aiming instead to make “political films politically.” Hoping to discard the cult of personality (i.e. individuality worship) that now tailed him, he worked collaboratively with directors like Jean-Pierre Gorin on fantastic essay films like Here and Elsewhere. 

Here and elsewhereStill from Here and Elsewhere, image via Documentary Starts Here

Masculin Feminin (1966) and Two or Three Things I Know About Her (1967), two classics from Godard’s “cinematic period,” are both playing through Thursday at Metrograph. They’re not to be missed! Two or Three Things is worth seeing just to witness Godard’s use of the colors blue and red, often paired together. The protagonist’s eyes are the washed-up blue of low expectations. Godard puts her in a short-sleeved sweater the color of Microsoft Word’s desktop icon––in bed, reading, underneath a red duvet.

red blue JPEGStill from Two or Three Things I Know About Her, image via Lisa Says Gah

Masculin Feminin, shot in black and white, is about the rise of ye-ye music, whose young starlets and double-entendred innocence resemble a French version of K-Pop. “This film," notes an inter title, in what feels like a very....millennial subplot,  "could be called The Children of Marx and Coca-Cola."

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