While so many great directors die off, Jean-Luc Godard lingers on as one of old-school international cinema's last heavy hitters. Though one of the formative French new-wave filmmakers, Godard has always been in a class by himself, a committed cinephile who brought left-wing politics to bear on film form and content.
Not that Godard was all didacticism and Marxist mallets pounded on his viewers' heads. Sandwiched in between his black-and-white love stories and his later political films, 1965's Pierrot Le Fou is a delirious concoction variously spiced with love and war. Vietnam-era politics and fizzy pop culture, the shallow and the meaningful, the emotional and the intellectual all come together in the film's mad 110 minutes. The thrills include but are not limited to bare breasts, gangsters, bowling, Samuel Fuller, midgets, sailors, napalm, Vietnam, sex and rock 'n' roll. Yankee imperialism and the French avant-garde collide with a gleeful, goosey energy in a film that both pillories consumer frippery even as it worships at the temple of American supercool.
One of Godard's more footloose and freewheeling plotlines concerns two lovers, the duck-lipped, leathery Ferdinand (Jean-Paul Belmondo, though Richard Burton was first slotted for the role) and his reed-thin honey pot Marianne (Anna Karina, Godard's wife at the time).
Fleeing a soulless marriage, bored bobo Ferdinand and big-eyed babysitter Marianne are off on a joyful crime spree that begins in Paris and winds its way through the Côte d'Azur. The vapidity of the Parisian upper crust is conveyed in the film's opening when characters extol the virtues of underarm deodorants. Once freed from that stifling bourgeois convention, Ferdinand and Marianne follow in the tradition of all great screen couples: sweeping us along on the tailwinds of their passion.
Though there are bodies riddled with bullet holes, briefcases of money, slapstick and a song or two, nothing expected or convention-bound ever intrudes into Godard's cinema-crazy blend of various film genres. Film has often fueled our fantasies of romantic love and blissful sex, and Ferdinand and Marianne are paragons of perfect onscreen lovers. And their gambol through intoxicating coastal locations is as much a break from ordinary life as Godard's films are a departure from traditional rules of logic and continuity.
Pierrot Le Fou, 4 stars. Directed by Jean-Luc Godard. Stars Jean-Paul Belmondo, Anna Karina, Graziella Galvani. Not rated. Opens Fri., Aug. 31. At Landmark Midtown Art. In French with English subtitles.
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