Legendary French new wave director Jean-Luc Godard has died at the age of 91
Jean-Luc Godard, the iconic “enfant terrible” of the French New Wave, who revolutionized popular cinema in 1960 with his first feature film “Breathless” and for many years was one of the most important directors of world cinema, has died. He was 91.
The Swiss news agency ATS quoted Godard’s partner Anne-Marie Mieville and her producers as saying that he died peacefully and surrounded by his loved ones on Tuesday at his home in the Swiss town of Rolle on Lake Geneva.
French President Emmanuel Macron hailed Godard as “the most iconoclastic of all new wave directors” who “invented a resolutely modern, utterly free art form.”
He added: “We have lost a national treasure, the eye of a genius.”
Godard defied convention throughout a long career that began as a film critic in the 1950s. He rewrote the rules of camera, sound and narration.
He has worked with some of the best-known actors in French cinema, including Jean-Paul Belmondo, who became a star of Godard films, and Brigitte Bardot, who starred in his acclaimed 1963 work Contempt.
Referring to Godard’s groundbreaking first feature film, Bardot, 87, paid tribute to his genius on Twitter: “And it was breathless that he would join the firmament of the last great star creators.”
He portrayed the early Rolling Stones, gave a voice to the Marxist, leftist and Black Power politics of the 1960s, and his controversial modern day nativity play Hail Mary made headlines when Pope John Paul II denounced it in 1985.
While many of his works were praised, Godard also directed a number of films that were politically charged and experimental, delighting few outside a small circle of fans while frustrating many critics, who saw them as grossly over-the-top intellectualism.
Cannes Film Festival director Thierry Fremaux told The Associated Press on Tuesday that he was “sad, sad. Immensely so” at the news of Godard’s death.
Born on December 3, 1930 in Paris into a wealthy Franco-Swiss family, Godard grew up in Nyon, Switzerland and studied ethnology at the Sorbonne in France’s capital, where he was increasingly drawn to the cultural scene of the Latin Quarter. Cine Club” after the Second World War.
He befriended the later great directors Francois Truffaut, Jacques Rivette and Eric Rohmer and founded the short-lived Gazette du Cinema in 1950. In 1952 he began writing for the renowned film magazine Cahiers du Cinema.
After working on two Rivette and Rohmer films in 1951, Godard attempted to direct his first film while touring with his father across North and South America, but never finished it.
Back in Europe, he took a job as a construction worker on a dam project in Switzerland. With the fee he financed his first full film, “Operation Concrete” from 1954, a 20-minute documentary about the dam construction.
After returning to Paris, Godard worked as a spokesman for an artists’ agency and in 1957 made his first feature film – All Boys Are Called Patrick, which was released in 1959 – and continued to hone his writing.
He also began work on Breathless, based on a story by Truffaut. It was to be Godard’s first major success when it was released in March 1960.
In the film, Belmondo plays a penniless young thief who takes his cues from Hollywood movie gangsters and, after shooting dead a police officer, flees to Italy with his American girlfriend, played by Jean Seberg.
Imbued with the somber, brash tones of a resurgent post-war France – known domestically as the ‘Glorious 30’ years up until the late 1970s – his cinematic creations provided some of the most poignant imagery and lines from a then-rich, avant-garde Heyday of French filmmaking.
The images in Breathless of a naïve Seberg traipsing the Parisian Champs-Elysees to peddle New York Herald Tribune newspapers in a tight T-shirt, and close-ups of Belmondo smoking a cigarette and wearing a fedora wearing methodically rubbing his thumb, thoughtfully over his lips, could be anchored among the most memorable images of French cinema.
Together with Truffaut’s “The 400 Beats” from 1959, Godard’s film set new accents in French film aesthetics. Godard rejected the conventional storytelling style, instead using frequent jump cuts that mixed philosophical discussions with action scenes.
He spiced it all up with references to Hollywood gangster films and allusions to literature and the visual arts.
Godard also embarked on a career-long involvement in collective film projects, contributing scenes to The Seven Deadly Sins alongside directors such as Claude Chabrol and Roger Vadim. He also worked with Ugo Gregoretti, Pier Paolo Pasolini and Roberto Rossellini on the Italian film Let’s Have a Brainwash, in which Godard’s scenes portray a disturbing post-apocalypse world.
Godard, who would later become known for his uncompromising left-wing political views, had his first run-in with French authorities in 1960 while filming The Little Soldier. Full of references to France’s colonial war in Algeria, the film was only released in 1963, a year after the end of the conflict.
In the late 1960s his work became more political. In Weekend, his characters satirize the hypocrisy of bourgeois society while demonstrating the comic futility of violent class struggle. It was released a year before general anger at the establishment swept France, culminating in the iconic but short-lived student riots of May 1968.
Godard harbored a lifelong sympathy for various forms of socialism portrayed in films from the early 1970s through the 1990s.
Some of the greatest directors in global cinema have counted Godard’s boundary-pushing work as an influence, including Quentin Tarantino, Bernardo Bertolucci, Brian De Palma and Jonathan Demme.
Godard has been making potshots in Hollywood over the years.
He stayed home in Switzerland instead of traveling to Hollywood to accept an honorary Oscar at a private ceremony in November 2010 alongside film historian and preservationist Kevin Brownlow, director and producer Francis Ford Coppola and actor Eli Wallach.
His lifelong commitment to the Palestinian cause also earned him repeated accusations of anti-Semitism, though he insisted he sympathized with the Jewish people and their plight in Nazi-occupied Europe.
Although the Academy received some complaints about Godard being selected for the award, Academy President Tom Sherak said the director was only recognized “for his contributions to film in the New Wave era.”
Godard married Danish-born model and actress Anna Karina in 1961. She appeared in a number of films he made throughout the remainder of the 1960s, all of which were considered New Wave landmarks. Notable among them were “My Life to Live,” “Alphaville,” and “Crazy Pete” — which also starred Belmondo and was reportedly filmed without a script. Godard and Karina divorced in 1965.
Godard married his second wife, Anne Wiazemsky, in 1967. He later began a relationship with Swiss filmmaker Anne-Marie Mieville. Godard divorced Wiazemsky in 1979 after moving with Mieville to the Swiss community of Rolle, where he lived with her for the rest of his life.