Jean-Luc Godard, French New Wave legend to the posterboy of pretentious Gen-Z cinephiles

Shaurya Thapa
Shaurya ThapaSep 13, 2022 | 18:40

Jean-Luc Godard, French New Wave legend to the posterboy of pretentious Gen-Z cinephiles

Jean Luc Godard, the revolutionary French-Swiss filmmaker died peacefully in his sleep at the age of 91 (photo-DailyO)

Jean-Luc Godard is one of the quintessential directors that you would have to check out if you have to make “arthouse film-watching cinephile” as your personality aside. The pretentiousness of the cinephile community aside, the late Godard was undeniably a titan in Euro-centric (and arguably global) cinema. 

Godard being Godard. (photo-MUBI)
Godard being Godard. (photo-MUBI)

Godard passed away today at his home in Rolle, Switzerland. He was 91. His family says that the screenwriter and director died peacefully in his sleep and will be cremated soon without any fancy funeral, just how the auteur would have wanted. 

If Godard did have a funeral, that would have surely been an event as high-profile as a film festival. For starters, modern-day Hollywood giants like Martin Scorsese and Quentin Tarantino would have flown to Switzerland, both directors who have confessed multiple times on the influence that Godard has had on their work. 

From his debut crime thriller Breathless to the romantic drama Masculin, Feminin, Godard’s filmography is one that is taught in film schools all over to this day. For the ones who might not have even watched his films, Godard is still a mainstream name among cinephiles for how he was one of the earliest auteurs of the French New Wave movement. 

For the unacquainted, this art film movement kicked off in France in the 1960s when directors like Godard, Agnes Varda and Eric Rohmer challenged mainstream cinema conventions by playing around with the narrative, editing, and visual style in creative ways. The tried-and-tested formula of the hero saving the day gave way to more existential themes that attempted to understand the hero’s inner struggles or his connections with the socio-political changes of the time. 

In fact, Godard was more political than the average film watcher would think of him to be. After the New Wave period that kickstarted his career (1960-1968), his work began evoking Marxist undertones, leading film historians to call this phase his “Revolutionary Period” (1968-1979), marked by the release of the Italian-French political drama Tout va Bien. The movie starred Jane Fonda, a fellow critic of the then-ongoing Vietnam War. 

And while it was quite common for several Hollywood and European directors to critique the War at that time, Godard had never shied away from his Marxist leanings. However, as he was constantly reading and picking up new concepts of Marxist philosophy, Godard never tried stealing the spotlight as an expert on the subject either.  

But from a modern viewer’s perspective, it cannot be denied that a large chunk of Godard’s films have (intentionally or unintentionally) explored Marxist themes such as the commodification of everyday life, the consumerism represented by the bourgeoisie characters, and ultimately the alienation of the protagonist’s existence. 

In an age of white directors with outdated philosophies or the ones who liked playing ‘white saviour’, Godard was still a relatively better figure. For instance, he was one of the first filmmakers to openly criticise the racist standards of the cameras of the time. When he was commissioned to shoot a short film by the government of Mozambique in 1978, Godard criticised the Kodak film camera for not bringing out the “nuance and variety” of dark-skinned subjects. His statement did have some truth in it as the camera utilised “Kodak Shirley cards” that were obviously tested on just Caucasian subjects. This racist obstacle could only be solved until 1995. 

More recently, the Frenchman’s influence could even be seen in the critically-acclaimed Odiya film Adieu Godard. The premise of an illiterate porn addict changing his ways when he discovers Godard’s cinema is enough to draw in viewers. With debutant director Amartya Bhattacharyya earning raves and awards at several Indian film festivals, the influence of the dead auteur lives on. And maybe, this sense of localised reinterpretation is what modern cinema in this so-called “borderless” world should represent. 

Godard himself was very open to being influenced by his peers and the artists before him, believing in how art of the future should constantly change and subvert the art of the past. To quote the man himself,

“A story should have a beginning, a middle, and an end…but not necessarily in that order.”


Last updated: September 13, 2022 | 18:40
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