In 1965, Jean-Luc Godard was the boy wonder of world cinema. He had already revolutionized the cinema with his first film, Breathless (1959), the film that with Francois Truffaut’s The 400 Blows put the French New Wave on the map. Pierrot Le Fou was the tenth film by Godard and perhaps his last film as filmmaker-story teller, for after Pierrot Le Fou, Godard left the main stream cinema to make more of a political films, films like Weekend (1967), La Chinoise (1967), Toute Va Bien (1972), and Ici et ailleurs (1974). Pierrot Le Fou is Godard’s tribute and farewell to cinema, it’s the link between his early work and late political films.
Just like Breathless, Pierrot Le Fou moves around two lovers on the run, Ferdinand Griffon (Jean-Paul Belmondo) and Marianne Renoir (Anna Karina), but unlike the two lovers in Breathless, Ferdinand (whom Marianne decides to call him Pierrot) and Marianne are traveling across France from something in which we never seem to completely understand what it is; loners, they are not cheerful, at times they seems to be in odds with each others , and the only times that they are happy is when they are quoting from Faulkner or putting a show about Vietnam to an audience of American soldiers.
The famous Vietnam scene had a bad reception when it was shown in America. The year was 1965 and American public had not yet experienced the horror of the war, it seem that Godard was way ahead of his audience. The scenes are also as signal of the late Godard, with his anti-American stand on the Vietnam War; Pierrot and Marianne need money, they asks the American soldiers, but they are ignored, then Pierrot declare, “I know, the American like war.” SO, they put a show about war, Pierrot dress up as a naval officer and Marianne as a Vietnamese civilian. They have their props, fire, wooden stick and toy airplane, and Godard add the sound effect of explosion and gun fire, while all the time Marianne crying and Pierrot shouting in a John Wayne style “Sure..Yeah!” The American soldiers love it, “I like that..Damn good, Yeah!” The scene is not just an attack on American foreign policy, but also an attack on the Hollywood industry in which once he loved, but now was in an all war with it.
The film opens with Pierrot reading a book loud about the seventh-century Spanish painter, Silva Valazquez in which “After he reached the age of fifty, he no longer painted anything definite. But catching the airy backgrounds, the palpitations of color, a symphony of silence” Pierrot might be reading about Valazquez, but it’s clear the quotes comes from Godard himself, as if saying “Don’t expect me to give you a polished and a definite movie, but rather a symphony of chaos.”
The next scenes; we are in an apartment in which there seems to be a bourgeoisie party taking place in it, everyone is talking, or rather quoting, they are the Bourgeoisie, their only love is for money. We see Pierrot being bored, he walks from one frame to another, each one in a different color, with people lined up as if posing for a painting, they are engaged in discussion which consists of dialogues from TV commercials and Newspaper advertising; “thanks to …..my tooth are whiter than ever.’’ To a mainstream audience, the scenes might be too long or too boring, but as Godard once said “the longer you hold the scene, the more the audience thinks about the contest of the image rather than just the image itself”, mean the scene is “We are living in a consumer society and our language is slowly going down the same drain”, it is a prediction to late Godard, in which half of the film is made of quotation read by characters. Godard’s intention is that of the capitalist domination of the media and the consumerism of the new society; the only discussions among the people are that of hair product and face creams. No wonder that Pierrot and Marianne soon leave behind the society into the wilderness. Pierrot walks in and out of the frames without saying a word, only one time does he opens his mouth (perhaps the best quote in the film), in which Pierrot asks the great Samuel Fuller about his thoughts on Cinema, Fuller declare, “Like a battleground. It has love, hate, action, violence, death. In one word, “emotions.”
Pierrot Le Fou is full of incidents that remind us of the early Godard that we all loved, it’s also full of quotations from Godard’s personal favorite books, quotations on life, politic, love, death, nature and art, revealing more about his artistic temperament and philosophy than of any of his earlier films. It is a fun film, made with a heart, take the scene in which Pierrot look at the camera and explain his dissatisfaction on the castaway island and Marianne asks him “whom you talking to?” and to our surprise, Pierrot looks at the camera and declare, “to the audience”.
It is a film about two loner and not just one, two loners trying to be one, at times the two lovers seems to blend into one. The scene of the night naps on the beaches seems as spiritual as any scenes from a Robert Bresson film. They are asleep in a fetal position as if they are possessing one body and soul, they are shot from above as if God is watching them, then cut to a beautiful moon that light them in the dark. It seems that they escaped the society so they could be unified with each other, ‘soul mates’ in terms of Plato. Their different is what united them. They are with each other in a spiritual journey ; they burn all their stolen money in the car, the only time they buy anything is to buy Book (Pierrot) or Music (Marianne), but a loner is always a loner by itself, that is why they seem to be in argument on which one of them is the right thing to buy, full of frustrations, Marianne declare “I do not give a dam about books…..I just want to live.” They have their books and music, but that is not enough for them to communicate, as Marianne declare to Pierrot “We don’t understand each other, you talk to me with words and I look at you with feelings” a line that is out of Godard’s own mouth, for at the time of shooting the film, his marriage was about to end with Anna Karina.
As their journey continue, so is their sadness and separation. They have their fun at times, when Marianne sings in the wood about her unlucky ‘fate lines’, or when Pierrot get a parrot and makes him talk. But they are always at odds, it seems as if they are longing for the same society in which they had just rejected it so violently. Love is never eternal and separation is a must, the signal of the future is present now. We are giving many time the signals of what is about to happen, Godard just like Hitchcock had always made the audience to be a step ahead of the story; Marianne tell Pierrot “I’ll never leave you”; yet a second later, she turns to the camera, looks at us right in the eye and gives us an ironic look as if saying “ I will leave him soon!”. Isn’t that simplicity at its best?
Like Mozart, Godard is found of repetition, yet it seems as fresh ever. We, as the audience are lost in time and space, we don’t know where are; the past, the present or the future. Scenes that seem to had have happened in the early part of the film pops up in the middle or in the beginning of the end (confusing, ain’t it?). The most famous repetition is perhaps the escape of the two lovers just after they murder the militant at the beginning of the film, they kill them, they run, they are alive again , and they are killed again.
After their separation, Pierrot vows to kill his lover. As Joyce once put it, “we all kills the things we love most”. Godard ends the film like a Greek tragedy. Pierrot being madly in love with Marianne cannot stand her to leave him for another guy. So what does he do? He kills the thing that he most love, he kills Marianne and then commits suicide. The film end like a Bugs Bunny cartoon made by Frank Tashlin, Pierrot ties his head with dynamites like a Guerrilla, painting his face as if getting ready for a battle, walks up to the top of a hill on an island facing an endless sea, light the match to the dynamites, realize what he had done, shouts “This is stupid…..”, tires to ….but alas, it is too late to undo the wrapped dynamite around his head., boooooooooooooooooom. Even in death, poor Pierrot couldn’t have it his way. Truly, Pierrot Le Fou is Cinema’s first Postmodern Film.