Agitator of the New Wave, he dynamited the codes of cinema with resolutely innovative films, from “A bout de souffle” to “Sauve qui peut (la vie)”: the Franco-Swiss filmmaker Jean-Luc Godard died on Tuesday at the age of 91, taking with him a piece of the history of the 7th art.
“It was like an appearance in French cinema. Then he became a master (…). We are losing a national treasure, a look of genius”reacted President Macron, among the rain of tributes paid to this monument of cinema.
Perpetual rebel, “JLG” as he was nicknamed lived for years in Rolle, on the shores of Lake Geneva, fleeing the world of the 7th art.
In this peaceful place, the few pedestrians walking near his house did not seem aware of his death on Tuesday, according to an AFP journalist on the spot. His long-time companion, director Anne-Marie Miéville, lives a stone’s throw away.
“Jean-Luc Godard died peacefully at his home surrounded by his loved ones. He will be cremated“, she announced in a press release. “No official ceremony will take place”she specifies, for those who fled honors.
“JLG” will go down as one of the most influential directors on both sides of the Atlantic. A brilliant provocateur who revolutionized cinema for his fans, a tortured intellectual whose films are incomprehensible to his detractors.
With his death, a chapter in the history of cinema closes, with unforgettable shots: Bardot naked on a bed, whispering “Do you like my buttocks?” (“Le Mépris”), Belmondo with his face smeared in blue, covered with dynamite (“Pierrot le Fou”), Jean Seberg and his New York Herald Tribune sold at auction on the Champs-Elysées (“A Bout de souffle”) …
“And Godard created Contempt and it was out of breath that he joined the firmament of the last great star creators…”reacted Brigitte Bardot on Twitter, with a photo of her, hugging the filmmaker.
It was through this last film that Godard, a critic for the Cahiers du cinema born in Paris on December 3, 1930, made himself known. The first feature film of the one who will later be studied in film schools also launched the career of Jean-Paul Belmondo.
Godard, who intends to turn his back on the old French post-war cinema which he hates, will remain as the leader of the directors of the New Wave with François Truffaut.
“Godard is the greatest filmmaker in the world”, did not hesitate to say the latter. He “is not the only one to film how he breathes, but he is the one who breathes the best”.
For many filmmakers, through his freedom, his freedom from forms, Godard would have a major influence, like the American Quentin Tarantino, who baptized his production company “Bande à Part”, the title of a film by Godard released in 1964.
But until his death, “JLG”, whose films and statements will become more and more indecipherable over the years, never sought to achieve unanimity, quite the contrary. And some judging his work more hermetic and pedantic than deep, more boring than enigmatic.
Because the artist with his eyes hidden by dark glasses, cigar in his mouth, does not shoot like the others, does not ride like the others and maintains a special relationship with the actors and actresses he does not spare.
A born provocateur, Godard was also an important but unclassifiable figure for the left. “The anarchist Swiss”, in the words of the organizers of the Cannes Film Festival, which he helped to have canceled in May 1968, was at the same time “the dumbest pro-Chinese Swiss” for the Situationists.
At this time, he embarked on a militant cinema with 3-minute leaflet films, denying his past production. Wanting “making political cinema politically”he abandons the notion of author.
Subsequently, the director with a pro-Palestinian commitment, sometimes accused of anti-Semitism, will produce with his last companion Anne-Marie Miéville, “Here and elsewhere”a film in which he compares the Jews to the Nazis, which caused a scandal.
He will also anger Pope John Paul II with “I salute you marie” and his nude Virgin on screen.
In 2018, the Cannes Film Festival awarded him a “special” Palme d’Or for “The Picture Book”a prize that he had of course not come to seek, any more than his Jury Prize in 2014 for “Farewell to Language”.
Famous for his aphorisms and good words, the man-cinema had during his lifetime suggested his epitaph: “Jean-Luc Godard, on the contrary”.
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Filmmaker Jean-Luc Godard dies aged 91