pierrot le fou (1965)
Pierrot le Fou transcends absurdity, it transcends poetry, it transcends cinema. One of Godard's most inspired cinematic essays blends the elation and celluloid-obsession of his early 60's work with the deconstructionist, political suppositions of his late-60's output. Pierrot le Fou never ceases its shifting from romance to thriller and on, rendering genre obsolete yet always existing as pulp, action detective stories and pornography, even comic books. Godard presents the written work; novels, comics and paintings as pillars, the skeletal framework behind the essay. With this bizarre mix of hallowed and mundane sources of images to inform his protagonist, and his narrative, Godard sets about constructing a harrowing romance. Within the context of the romance, a sprawling statement of the world. Or is it a statement on fiction? Godard's farcical approach to tragedy and death, both real and imagined, captures the disconnect of media, here we celebrate the weakness of cinema. His lens usually wide, long unbroken takes, only short and infrequent punctuations of closeups have all the more impact. The denial of visual pleasure, (including the 'kiss between two cars' image seen above, never shown in close, only in wide shot) mirrors the denial of all narrative resolutions. At least until the conclusion of the film, Godard leaves loose ends as he recklessly wanders without any intent of returning to them, never allowing the narrative to wander off with itself, yet always hinting that intrigue is around the corner. The essay instead uses the narrative as a canvas rather than allowing narrative calling the shots and leading all other aspects of the picture.
This is where Godard, perhaps for the only time, fully balances his love for film as its pre-60's incarnation as well as his hopes for what a truly postmodern medium might look like. He is on each side of the knife in Pierrot le Fou. To create a truly 'living cinema', the picture must appear to morph and grow right in front of our eyes, it must appear responsive to the moment and never become bogged down in preconceived notions of what it purported to be about, only what it is, the film is fluid. As a film, it is about little more, and yet when a film spreads its scope as wide as Pierrot le Fou, suddenly being about itself equates to being about much more. It is the essence of cinema unfurled and enlightened. The unabashed interest in the beauty of the technicolor image combined with the poet's lyrical, yet cynical, ramblings fuel a complete explosion of celluloid subconscious. Truly, when cinema dreams, this is what cinema dreams of. Somewhere in the deep ocean that surrounds cinema, Pierrot le Fou was caught. It was baited with Chandler and Nicolas Ray, Sam Fuller even cameos. It's like putting film itself into a blender, Godard adds a desire to elevate the medium to that of literature and comes up with this musing. This period in Godard's filmmaking is its own chasm of poetry, he leaves us without much to say about the work formally except that it has succeeded in satisfying the senses and leading us from one point of absurdity and cinematic nirvana to the next. The film is carried aloft by its sheer adherence to incoherence. Life, love and literature are lambasted and lampooned liberally. Godard's cinema has always put more merit in the experience for the viewer as he navigates the human experience than in a summation or statement resulting from the work itself. When the sum total of Pierrot is examined, we come up with nothing an everything. As Fuller puts it early in the film, here was have "in one word: emotion". If this is to the purpose of cinema, and here for the thesis of Pierrot le Fou, it certainly is, then Godard explores it to the fullest. Again, delving into a cinema of weakness; for if the emotions on display in this piece of cinema are to be examined, we will soon realize they are not only fleeting and flimsy, but featureless as well. Our protagonists seem to simultaneously care little, and care deeply, for one another. Godard, here, takes one of his more pronounced leaps toward a cinema that blends showmanship with Brechtian awareness, to see a world of cinema laid out before us where the audience need not enter into the usual 'contract' with the work, that usual bit of self-delusion, that state of mind where we agree to 'get into' the film.
With this in mind it is impossible to be 'taken out of' the movie experience with Pierrot le Fou, though there are moments where Godard beckons us in and is shocked we came along for the ride. Just as Karina takes Belmondo for one final ride he should have known better than to take by the end of the film. Do the characters even have concrete being? Concrete essence of emotional and some sort of underlying plot or motive? Doubtful. In the same sense as the narrative shifts so do our characters in front of us, there is no plot to uncover, only a thematic cinema of deeper and deeper reflective properties on cinema itself, its very nature, a hall of mirrors for the medium. Pierrot le Fou is, as with all of Godard's work, able to be read as a critical essay on cinema on one level as well as being a meandering diary, a tone poem on the nature of existence. Godard is just as existential about cinema as he is about life and using these multiple levels on which to relate his mind's communication to the mind of the viewer, Godard's cinema finds new avenues on which to define itself. The existential dichotomy of wanting everything and nothing, being drawn to and repulsed by everything in this society of the spectacle is what characterizes Pierrot le Fou and breathes life into Godard's cinematic evolution at this junction point of rapid evolution. Pierrot le Fou is as enjoyable at it is confounding, as important as it is negligible and as powerful as it is dismissive of its own power. In one word: emotions.