"To me style is just the outside of content, and content the inside of style, like the outside and the inside of the human body. Both go together, they can’t be separated." - Jean-Luc Godard
Jean-Luc Godard’s career has spanned over half a century with the one constant in his work being that each new movie is primarily a study of form in relation to an idea. The forms evolved and the ideas changed, but his exploration of the relatedness of the two remained the same
Born in Paris in 1930 and raised in Switzerland, Godard studied ethnology at the Sorbonne but reportedly spent more time in movie theaters than in class. He began to write about the films he saw in Cahiers du Cinema and formed alliances with artists who would become the nucleus of the French New Wave. Though loosely modeled after Hollywood gangster pictures, Godard’s debut feature Breathless (1960) challenged cinematic conventions and stunned critics, filmmakers and audiences alike with its improvisational style, impulsive handheld camerawork and intentional jump-cuts. As this iconoclastic film took the world by storm, its director became a leading spokesman for the New Wave.
Throughout the sixties, Godard’s work became more radical, both in form and in content until finally in 1968, following the events of May, he abandoned the framework of commercial filmmaking entirely. Along with Jean-Pierre Gorin, he formed a leftist filmmaking collective dubbed the Dziga Vertov Group. They made “cinetracts," films outlining the group’s beliefs, such as Vladimir and Rosa (1970), Tout va bien (1972) and Letter to Jane (1972). The Dziga Vertov Group dissolved in the early seventies.
Godard’s subsequent work maintained his career-long commitment to the symbiotic tension between form and content as well as the ongoing duality of high and low art and sound and image. His later films are often marked with a formal beauty that belies the roiling tension within, for example: Passion (1982), Prénom Carmen (1983), Hail Mary (1985) which was condemned by the Catholic Church for alleged heresy, King Lear(1988), Germany Year 90 Nine Zero (1991) and For Ever Mozart (1996). In his ambitious eight-part documentary Histoire(s) du cinéma (completed in 1998), Godard examined no less than the totality of film as the great 20th-century art form. Godard’s 2013 film, Film Socialisme, debuted at Cannes.
Did You Know?
After meeting a young François Truffaut and Jacques Rivette at a Paris film club, Godard published his first film piece of criticism under the pseudonym “Hans Lucas” in a monthly journal founded by Eric Rohmer in 1950.
He could not afford a camera dolly for Breathless, so he pushed his cinematographer around in a wheelchair during the shooting.
When the first edit of Breathless was too long for distribution, he trimmed multiple scenes rather than excising any, creating the “jump cuts” that became a stylistic trademark of the film.
Godard declined the opportunity to direct Bonnie and Clyde (1967); the film would ultimately receive 10 Oscar® nominations and two Oscars®.
He considered Richard Burton for the lead in Pierrot le fou (1965) before re-teaming with the star of Breathless and A Woman Is a Woman, Jean-Paul Belmondo.
Godard’s 1964 gangster film Bande à part (released in the U.S. as Band of Outsiders) inspired Quentin Tarantino to name his production company A Band Apart.
He once said, “The cinema is truth 24 times a second.”
He also said, “Every edit is a lie.”
Bridges of Sarajevo (2014)
Goodbye to Language (2014)
Film socialisme / Socialism (2010, director)
Notre musique (2004, direct0r)
Éloge de l’amour / In Praise of Love (2001, director)
Histoire(s) du cinéma (1998, director)
For Ever Mozart (1996, director)
Allemagne, année 90 neuf zéro / Germany Year 90 Nine Zero (1991, director)
King Lear (1987)
Détective (1985, director)
Je vous salue Marie” / Hail Mary (1985, director)
Prénom Carmen / First Name: Carmen (1984, director)
Sauve qui peut (la vie) / Every Man for Himself (1980, director)
Numéro deux (1975)
Tout va Bien (1972, director)
Letter to Jane (1972, director)
Sympathy for the Devil / One Plus One (1968, director amd writer)
2 or 3 Things I Know about Her (1967, director)
Weekend (1967, director)
La chinoise (1967, director)
Masculin féminin / Masculine Feminine (1966, director)
Pierrot le fou (1965, director)
Alphaville (1965, director)
Bande à part / Band of Outsiders (1964, director)
Une femme mariée (1964, director and writer)
Le mépris / Contempt (1963, director)
Les carabiniers (1963, director)
Le petit soldat (1963, director)
Vivre sa vie / My Life to Live (1962, director)
Une femme est une femme / A Woman Is a Woman (1961, director)
À bout de souffle / Breathless (1960, director)