Jean-Luc Godard’s Pierrot Le Fou is many things -- none of which you can quite put your finger on. A giddy thriller, a political polemic masquerading as a musical, a love story that’s also a discourse on art; this 1965 masterpiece finds its fabled director just about to ford the stream to where radical politics, and equally radical film form, take precedence over relative accessibility. Not that Pierrot hand-holds the viewer. As was his manner in the first near-decade of his career, Godard indulges freely in the elliptical, the outrageously cartoonish, and the didactic, breaking the illusionary Fourth Wall with impunity. Plot becomes secondary to the disparate musings of the director as voiced by his filmic counterparts, the glorious duo of Jean-Paul Belmondo and Anna Karina, Godard’s wife at the time. Saturated in bombastically beautiful color by way of Raoul Coutard’s eye-popping cinematography, Pierrot, and the following year’s Masculin/Feminine, cap off an audacious run of signature Godard works that commenced with the big bang of Breathless in 1959. Very much of its time -- critical jabs at the Vietnam War and American cultural and economic imperialism run rampant throughout -- Pierrot is simultaneously an irreverent, riotously funny critique of bourgeois life and an elemental, poignant account of a relationship running into the ground. No wonder Godard’s early work remains the template for contemporary directors who still gaze in wonder at how effortlessly he kept so many balls in the air at once, all the while giving the appearance that he was improvising the whole shoot on the fly. Admire Tarantino and his ilk all you will, but never overlook the daddy of them all.
Based on Lionel White's novel Obsession, Jean-Luc Godard's Pierrot le Fou (1965) transforms a story about a couple on the run into an existential romance and an essay on the possibilities of film. With no script, Jean-Paul Belmondo's and Anna Karina's flight to southern France becomes a spontaneous series of incidents that reflect on romance, aesthetics, story-telling, and art as an antidote to alienation. Equating men with the intellect and women with the body, and using the widescreen frame to emphasize the couple's psychic division, Godard unites them in romantic moments and musical numbers, but these gestures cannot prevent their final, explosive separation. Stylized colors and compositions celebrate art for art's sake (even though the colors also carry potential meaning), as in the repetition of the couple's response to a murder in three different shooting styles. Allusions to other films, the brief appearance of Hollywood tough-guy director Samuel Fuller, and references to writers, writing, and painters all emphasize Godard's concern with the meaning of cinema and art, and their place in life. Though not as popular as its predecessor Alphaville (1965), Pierrot le Fou won the Critics' Prize at the 1965 Venice Film Festival, and it was a key precursor to his most radical 1960s film, Weekend (1968).