Jean-Luc Godard, icon of the French New Wave, died at 91 | Smart News


Filmmaker Jean-Luc Godard
Photo by Christophe D Yvoire / Sygma via Getty Images

Jean-Luc Godard, the visionary director who shaped the history of cinema with his provocative contributions to the French New Wave, died Tuesday at the age of 91.

Patrick Jeanneret, Godard’s lawyer, tells New York Times‘ Dave Kehr and Jonathan Kandell Godard died by assisted suicide at his home in Switzerland, where the practice is legal. He suffered from “multiple disabling pathologies”, says Jeanneret.

In a dynamic career that spanned more than six decades, Godard changed the course of modern cinema with his spontaneous directing style. He “invented a resolutely modern, intensely free art”, French President Emmanuel Macron wrote in a tribute on Twitter following news of Godard’s death. “We have lost a national treasure, the eye of a genius.”

Born in Paris in 1930, Godard was the second of four children born to “extravagantly wealthy” parents, according to the Time. Her father, a doctor, opened a clinic in Nyon, Switzerland, where the family lived during World War II. Godard returned to Paris after the liberation of France to attend secondary school, then enrolled at the Sorbonne with the intention of studying ethnology, although he eventually found the film societies that flourished in the Latin Quarter of the city more attractive.

Godard shoots Contempt in 1963 in Italy

The filming of Godard Contempt in 1963 in Italy

Photo by Jean-Louis Swiners/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images

Godard joined a circle of other cinephiles who would become the vanguards of the French New Wave, including François Truffaut, Jacques Rivette and Eric Rohmer. In 1952, according to Jamey Keaten and Thomas Adamson of the Associated Press (AP), Godard began writing for the influential film magazine Cinema Notebooks.

His parents, unimpressed with the trajectory of their son’s career so far, refused to support Godard financially. He stole money from various sources, including the Cinema Notebooks, to support himself, sometimes distributing the money to other fledgling directors. “I had no choice,” Godard told the Guardianby Mark Hooper in 2007. “Or at least it seemed so to me.”

He took a job as a construction worker on a dam in Switzerland and used his salary to finance his first film in the 1950s: Concrete Operation, a 20-minute documentary on the construction of the dam. Shortly after, he released the short film All the boys are called Patrick, which follows a man who has a date with two college students on the same day, unaware that they are friends. But that was the 1960 movie Breathless which catapulted Godard to the forefront of the French New Wave, a movement “characterized by a new brilliance of technique that was thought to have eclipsed [the directors’] subject”, as the Encyclopedia Britannica writes.

Breathless, which stars Jean-Paul Belmondo and American actress Jean Seberg, follows a thief who goes on the run with his girlfriend after shooting a police officer. The film was notable for its use of handheld cameras, natural light, and jump cuts that marked abrupt transitions in the narrative, writes the Los Angeles Times‘Dennis McLellan.

“Modern movies start here,” said the late critic Roger Ebert. Breathless in 2003. He added: “No first film since Citizen Kane in 1942 was also influential.

Following the success of Breathless, Godard then expanded the scope of his directorial talents, making works as disparate as the 1960 film The little soldier-which criticizes France’s conduct in the Algerian War of Independence and was banned from the country for three years-and 1961’s A woman is a womanwhich pays homage to Hollywood musicals.

Jean-Luc Godard, Anna Karina and Jean-Paul Belmondo shoot Pierrot le Fou

Godard, with Anna Karina and Jean-Paul Belmondo, filming Pierrot le fou in 1965

Photo by Associated Reporters/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images

Godard’s radical politics became a staple of his films in the late 1960s. A movie like any other, for example, analyzes the student and worker demonstrations which shook France in 1968 and finds in Godard a passionate sympathizer; he was ‘castigating’ other filmmakers for not showing solidarity with protesters, writes the Time.

The director’s propensity for spiciness grew as he got older. He fights with his old friend Truffaut, complains that the big studios are stifling the art of cinema and accuses Steven Spielberg, the Jewish director of Schindler’s list, of having “no idea” about the Holocaust. Godard’s 2001 film In praise of love features representatives of the Spielberg corporation trying to buy off the memories of Holocaust survivors, among other attacks on the director – attacks that Ebert called “painful and unfair”.

Godard has faced repeated accusations of anti-Semitism, particularly after receiving an honorary Oscar for lifetime achievement in 2010. One of the comments that critics have found troubling comes from a 1985 interview, in which “Godard spoke of the motion picture industry as being bound in Jewish usury,” reported the Time‘ Michael Cieply at the time.

Godard continued to make acclaimed films into his old age, although he sometimes seemed taken aback by the enduring nature of his legacy. “I never understand why people remember me,” he once told the Los Angeles Time. “I always wonder why I’m still famous because nobody sees my films now. Well, hardly anyone.

And yet, for those who know and love Godard’s work, the power of his vision is undeniable. “The important thing about Godard is that he broke all the rules, and he showed that anything could be cinematic if your conceptualization – your ideas – were bold enough,” said Marsha Kinder, film scholar at the University of Southern California. Los Angeles Time in 2006. “He just redefined the kind of pleasures cinema could give you.”


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