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The Avant Garde Cinema of Jean Luc Godard

Few Filmmakers have had such a profound influence on the development of cinema like Jean Luc Godard. Godard began as a critic, theorist and intellectual in the pages of the popular French film magazine Cahiers du Cinéma — and he later became a revolutionary filmmaker [1].

One of the original innovators of the French New Wave Movement, Godard redefined the ways we look at cinema. As a philosopher of cinema, he provided audiences with new analytical tools for viewing films.

Godard was also an extraordinary artist who made language an integral part of his narratives and liberated the cinematic image in ways we have never witnessed before. Godard is known for interjecting himself between the spectator and the screen. Basically, Godard did for movies what the Beatles did for music.

A fearless provocateur, Godard championed the misfits of Hollywood like Nicolas Ray and many others, and he and his fellow low critic turned auteurs such as François Truffaut and Éric Rohmer overthrew the banal established directors.
Godard and his contemporaries created a new cultural logic for cinema and instituted the most important genre bending innovations in the history of cinema.

A postmodernist at heart, Godard toyed with the Nietzschean concept of the anti-hero. In the American and French Films of the time, the contrast between the good guy and bad guy was clear and evident, but Godard erased this distinct completely.

In Godard’s magnum opus and most accessible film, Breathless (1960), Belmondo is a thief, but we are on his side, not on the side of those who are pursuing him. The revolt of 1968 wasn’t far behind. Like his own characters, Godard’s influence on French Cinéma was paradoxical, at once liberating and destructive.

By assailing it’s ‘tradition of quality’ or academicism and proposing Hollywood action films as a model, he hastened the demise of the French Studio’s and truly nurtured the intellectual scene in France, thus creating a link between art, entertainment and postmodern philosophy.

Even though it was partly disowned by its director later on, Breathless retains the same impact 40 years after its initial release, which had transformed it into a film manifesto for the New Wave in the 1960 [2].

Godard’s innovative oeuvre only progresses from this point on. Indeed, with each picture, Godard has created a new language for cinema, and he has carefully and meticulously crafted new aesthetic tones and motifs that have been endlessly studied and emulated. Le Petit Soldat is structured around a long interior monologue accompanied by a somber piano score from Maurice Le Roux.

The cinematic gangsters (American or Melvillean, as they are) here becomes extreme right-wing secret agents out to liquidate pacifist intellectuals in favor of peace in Algeria. The latter are considered antagonists to their nation, living though they are in the neutral territory of Switzerland, the land of Godard’s second citizenship.

By contrast, A Woman is a Woman is a magnificent declaration of love to Angela (Anna Karina), and all the young male spectators were ready to substitute themselves for Emile (Jean-Claude Brialy) to satisfy her sudden demand to become pregnant.

Paradoxically, his more popular new feature, My Life to Live, was a rich cinematic experience that was immensely demanding of its audience, which is not unlikely for a Godard film. Nana, the main characters saga is told in 12 chapters, and in one she even receives a philosopher’s lecture on language. Yet this difficult movie satisfied its audience’s expectation much more strongly than did A Woman is a Woman.

Godard had been a victim of his own artistic success. The underlying promise of the French New Wave — which was to turn movies into an art form as sophisticated and intellectually powerful as literature or painting — has been fulfilled in his work. His films became far too allusive and intricate for the wide range of moviegoers [3].

In the earlier films, the splashy borrowings from American movies and the presence of pop culture icons and iconography of the day went a long way to keep Godard I’m fashion even when his approach to them reflected the challenging philosophy of Jean–Paul Satre and Claude Levi–Strauss.

Yet in his later work Godard became even more intensely serious and demanding. His previous films represented a dismantling of movie conventions and forms; in his subsequent work he took on the colossal task of an aesthetic reconstruction of the cinema based on its exacted historical elements.

Holding the present day up to comparison with the high points of cultural history, Godard found it wanting; his critique — indeed, utter rejection — of clique Americanized commodified mass media.

A true revolutionary and innovative filmmaker, he deconstructed the rules of cinema and created new ones. His influence on cinema, art and philosophy will reign until the end of time.


[1] Godard, Jean-Luc. "Introduction to a true history of cinema and television." (2018).

[2] Marie, Michel. French New Wave. Blackwell Publishers, 2002.

[3] Brody, Richard.Everything is cinema: the working life of Jean-Luc Godard. Metropolitan Books, 2008.


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