Godard: an artist of extremes who chose another extreme act for his end

A year and a half ago, still in a pandemic, Godard had announced his definitive retirement from the cinema, although he slipped that he was working on two scripts. For his followers and admirers, even if they didn’t recognize him out loud, that farewell had already happened a long time ago. Godard had become a ghost of himself, an unintelligible voice echoed only by his past revolutions, his audacity of an era that he stubbornly refused to abandon, as had all of his fellow travelers. Some, in an anticipated and painful way, like François Truffaut, who died prematurely in 1984 but had long dedicated himself to a cinema to the taste of the majority; others with more longevity, such as Claude Chabrol or Eric Rohmer, had also followed, each according to his style, along paths compatible with the great cinemas of the Champs-Élysées. Godard did not: as the years passed, he clung more to the abstraction of his cinematographic forms, to self-caricaturing himself in films like that “King Lear” (1987) set after Chernobyl, which he made with Norman Mailer as co-writer and Woody Allen as protagonist. And not to mention his productions of this century, such as “Our music” or “Goodbye to language” (2014), a conjugal gibberish that on top of that he had the pleasure of shooting in 3D.

In 1985, his last international provocation was “Je vous salue, Marie”, a film whose release was opposed by the Church and violent Catholic groups in numerous countries (ours included, where it was only shown marginally years later). The singular thing was that, unlike other films also “indexed” from those same sectors, such as “The Last Temptation of Christ” by the Catholic Martin Scorsese, which spoke diaphanously of the dual character, human-divine, of Jesus Christ, Godard’s film it was an esoteric, concocted meditation on conception (there was a shot of the back of a girl’s head, with large ears, which lasted several minutes), that not even the most rabid anticlericals could digest. Huge disappointment suffered those little informed of the characteristics of its author who rented the pirated VHS with which so many video stores of the time made money.

The Revolutionary

The best Godard, the artist who truly revolutionized French and European cinema, was the Godard of the early days. The genius who swept away the academic forms of “qualité” cinema, which he and Truffaut, Rivette, Chabrol and other colleagues despised so much, in their stage as critics, from the magazine Cahiers du Cinéma. It was the 60s, those of The Beatles and the Rolling Stones; that same revolution in music that Great Britain carried out was fulfilled by the young French on the screen, but above all by Godard. He was the one who guided everyone, like the allegory of Liberty in Delacroix’s painting of the riots of ’48.

“Breathless” (“À bout de souffle”, 1959) was the starting point: Jean Paul Belmondo and Jean Seberg in a crime thriller that was, at the same time, a tribute and a parody of Hollywood film noir, a rupture and maintenance of “genre” cinema. ”, reversal of technical formats, camera in hand, improvisation as in jazz. Godard taught to make cinema as if it were jazz. His films of the 1960s were also a new channel for French bookish culture, since in them he never failed to quote classic or modern authors, either through their characters (Belmondo, in another of his films, “Pierrot el mad”, he read aloud Elie Faure’s “History of art” in the bathtub), either as phrases superimposed on the film.

Politics, before 1968, also began to find space in his work, as in “El soldadito” (1963), a corrosive look at the war in Algeria. His most extraordinary titles date from that time, which, on Corrientes street, filled the Lorraine cinema, with a subsequent obligatory visit to the La Paz bar to discuss them heatedly: “A woman is a woman”, “Vivir su vida”, all with their inspiring muse and woman of that time, Anna Karina.

In addition to the aforementioned film about Algeria, 1963 was special in Godard’s career because his masterpiece “El contempto” (“Le Mépris”) dates from that year, based on Alberto Moravia’s novel, which modified Piacere until it became something of his own. . There he had for the first time a cast of stars, some international: Brigitte Bardot, Michel Piccoli, Jack Palance and, in a special role, the German director Fritz Lang, from “Metropolis”. In this film, whose formal daring starts from the opening credits, which are oral and not written, Godard raised not only the relationship between Hollywood and the European screen, but also a large part of his cinematographic creed in phrases that today have become almost places common: “photography is reality, and cinema is reality at 24 frames per second”, “the position of the camera is a moral choice”, “a film has to have a beginning, a middle and an end, but not necessarily in that order”, etc. It was the same thing that, also in 1963, Julio Cortázar did in “Rayuela”. In addition, few filmmakers shot a Bardot nude like Godard in “Contempt,” which had the most inspired soundtrack of all those composed by Georges Delerue.

Before 1968, the year that turned life upside down in France, he still premiered other great titles, such as “Masculino Feminino” (1966), which was recently revived in theaters in Argentina. In her it was not difficult to discover that, behind his intellectual facade, Godard always hid an enormous humorist. Not a massive humorist, of course, but a humorist nonetheless. In this film, anyone who had previously read the story that inspired it, “Paul’s Wife”, by Guy de Maupassant, a tragic and heartbreaking tale, would have laughed to witness this crude version of a modern love triangle. The following year, in “La chinoise”, his first flirtations with Maoism were also not without an ironic look, such as the punishment that a group of university students inflicts on one of them: they send her to breakfast alone in the kitchen for failing to comply. with some doctrinal requirements.

Already in 1968, Godard and the others take action: they suspend the Cannes festival, participate in the student revolts along with Sartre, and take over the French Cinematheque when the Minister of Culture, André Malraux, dismisses from that institution its founder, Henri Langlois. They win: Langlois returns triumphant, but from then on nothing would be the same. With the 70s, the distance between Godard and Truffaut deepens, and the rest of the members of the now extinct “ouvelle Vague” go their own ways.

It would not be fair to forget later titles such as “Tout va bien” (1972), “Sauve qui peut, la vie” (1981), “Prénom: Carmen” (1983), “Detective” (1985), and even “Nouvelle vague” (1990), which he did with Alain Delon. But Godard was already another. He had begun, as was said at the beginning of these lines, to cling to increasingly extreme positions, not wanting the spirit of the 60s to disappear, to fight in vain against time.

In 1969, the year the man landed on the moon, the year Peter Fonda, Jack Nicholson and Dennis Hopper’s roaring motorcycles in “Seeking My Destiny” started a revolution in Hollywood, Godard was already a veteran of his own.

Godard: an artist of extremes who chose another extreme act for his end