It’s an inventive, original piece, but also a pretentious mess that struggles to sustain in what could be one of Godard’s most overrated films in his prolific first decade as a non-conforming artist.
Dir. Jean-Luc Godard
1965 | France | Drama/Crime/Romance | 110 mins | 2.35:1 | French, English & Italian
NC16 (passed clean) for some nudity
Cast: Jean-Paul Belmondo, Anna Karina
Plot: Pierrot escapes his boring society and travels from Paris to the Mediterranean Sea with Marianne, a girl chased by hit-men from Algeria. They lead an unorthodox life, always on the run.
Awards: Nom. for Golden Lion (Venice). Nom. for 1 BAFTA – Best Foreign Actor
Subject Matter: Moderate
Narrative Style: Loose/Fragmentary
Audience Type: General Arthouse
(Reviewed on Criterion Blu-ray – first published 2 Feb 2017)
I had to pause the Blu-ray halfway, take a short nap, and surge on. I had enough rest and wasn’t tired, but after the first hour, it was a struggle to remain invested in the travails of two souls attempting to escape a life conforming to societal expectations.
Often regarded as one of Godard’s very best in his early purple patch period (everyone has a favourite Godard film made during that time, whether you like him or not), Pierrot le fou is in my books one of his most overrated. It is a beautiful mess of a picture that ironically also captures Godard at the crossroads of his own artistic crisis, not to mention his storied divorce with Anna Karina.
Jean-Paul Belmondo and Karina stars as the couple on the run. She’s his ex, and is tracked down by some nefarious men dealing with vice activities (a case of her chequered past coming back to haunt her). He’s a married man, but exhausted by his duties as husband and father, and longing to seek intellectual growth and fulfil his desire to be a writer.
“Why do you look so sad?”
“Because you speak to me in words and I look at you with feelings.”
Godard, at wit’s end, infamously did not know what to do with the story (adapted from Lionel White’s ‘Obsession’), and how it should play out cinematically. I suspect that’s why Pierrot le fou seems to struggle to sustain—it felt lost and unimportant. Critics for the longest time have also found it challenging to classify the film by reductive means—is it an adventure film, a crime movie, a romance tale, or a political or anti-consumerist piece?
I think Pierrot le fou is everything and nothing at the same time. It is inventive, even original, yet it is also pretentious and meandering. It is simultaneously full of colours and a vacuum of dead air. Maybe that’s why some people adore it—its formlessness, nihilism and anarchic beauty are thought to be refreshing.
Ultimately, and unfortunately, the film didn’t resonate with me—I find my reaction frustrating because I am at a loss in responding to a film that could have spoken to me, if not at a subversive level, then at least from an auteurist perspective. But strangely no, I like Godard enough to want to like Pierrot le fou, but his film affords me little impetus for me to fall in love, yet this could be the most quintessential of his ‘60s works.