I long considered myself a big fan of the work of Jean-Luc Godard, ever since the first time I saw Breathless and was so taken with it I stayed in my seat for a second straight showing. I never saw a Godard movie I didn't like, with the possible exception of A Woman Is a Woman, and even there, as I once wrote, "I’d still rather watch it than Captain Phillips." Breathless is the standout for me, but I was equally taken with Vivre Sa Vie, and so many others. But I can't really claim to be a big fan in the end, for while I've seen ten of Godard's movies, I never saw any that came after Weekend in 1967. And Godard made more than 100 films after that. I guess I have some catching up to do.
Here is a Letterboxd list of my 6 favorite Godard movies. And a few quotes from some of my writing on his films:
In the middle of the film, Breathless stops for about 20 minutes while Jean-Paul Belmondo and Jean Seberg talk in her apartment. (I use the actors’ names intentionally … Godard has said the film could be seen as a documentary about the two.) It’s like seeing Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy in a prequel to the “Before” movies, if those two played amoral, self-absorbed icons instead of something resembling real people.
Vivre Sa Vie has a documentary sheen, but you can’t say we are encouraged to see it as a form of fictional cinéma vérité, because Godard interrupts our viewing experience in a Brechtian fashion, so we are always aware that the documentary sheen is constructed, not real. I appreciate that the above might suggest a dry film you wouldn’t watch if not forced to do so, but it is nothing of the sort. Anna Karina is as good as she has ever been.
Pierrot le Fou gives us an idea of what Bonnie and Clyde might have been like if that film’s producers had followed through on their attempt to get Godard to direct.
Masculin Féminin is the “children of Marx and Coca-Cola” one. Godard has a love/hate relationship with these young people; the pop singer seems shallow, the pop revolutionary seems, well, shallow, but then there’s the legendary interview with Miss 19, a young woman who makes the other people in the movie seem like Sartre and de Beauvoir. She is treated like the “consumer product” the intertitle calls her, and Godard is not in favor of consumer products. She is verbally destroyed in the scene, so much so that we start to feel sorry for her, which may not have been Godard’s intent. The movie in general is harder on the women than on the men, but they are all children of Coke. It’s not a cheery movie.
Weekend is infuriating, and you might think it doesn’t matter that Godard intends to infuriate. His command of the medium is immense, yet he seems intent on using that mastery solely to break our concentration, to frustrate us, daring us to not like his film.