Day 5 would prove to be the highpoint of the marathon so far, as I viewed one stunning masterpiece, and the wonderful film that followed it. (Note: there will be no updates over the weekend, the marathon will continue early next week)
Pierrot le fou (1965); viewing: first
Since throwing together this marathon, Pierrot le fou is probably the single film I've been most curious to see. I came very close to watching it a few times during my initial and short-lived Godard run awhile back, but for some reason was never able to quite pull the trigger on it; perhaps I was a bit intimidated by its reputation. So it was with much curiosity and surprisingly tempered expectations that I threw the DVD in, sat back, and settled in for this purportedly politically-infused, nihilistic adventure. I would emerge approximately 110 minutes later having experienced the most singularly fascinating Godard film I've seen yet, and having encountered both a crucial turning point in this brilliant directors career and in my own experience conducting this marathon as well.
Pierrot le fou is an ambitious, enraged masterpiece, a road movie involving "the last romantic couple" and their adventures, that also functions as a patchwork of the many genre films Godard had done previous to this. Ferdinand (Jean-Paul Belmondo) is a jobless aspiring artist, living a typically hollow bourgeoisie existence with his wife and children. One evening after a party, Ferdinand is driving home the family's last minute babysitter Marianne Renoir (Anna Karina) whom Ferdinand has had a past relationship with, and on the spur of the moment the couple decide to completely abandon their current situations, and together hit the road for a life of crime and all sorts of other mischief. The theme of the criminal couple on the run of course recalls Breathless, and random but welcome musical numbers interspersed throughout the film strongly evoke A Woman Is A Woman (starring both Belmondo and Karina). Familiar character names from the past pop up frequently, such as Odile and Lazlo Kovacks. There are probably numerous other mentions to previous films that I've missed, and with all of this Godard seems to be simultaneously tipping his hat to those genres he once held so dear, and putting them in his rear view, ushering in a new direction in his cinema that would mirror his current political awareness, which is strongly hinted at in the recurring mentions of Algeria and Vietnam that frequently appear during the picture.
There is certainly a nihilistic vibe that persists throughout, and the ending especially in some ways feels like a wounded, primal howl from Godard, quite possibly mirroring his own feelings of artisctic isolation, and his desire to move into new territory creatively. In some weird way it almost feels suitable that Pierrot le fou is also Godard's most beautifully visual, aesthetically refined film. The gorgeous, vivid colors pop off the screen in stunning compositions, and Coutard's camera feels more sophisticated than ever. It's hard for me to describe the impact this movie had on me: I was literally stunned. Having watched these films in chronological order, and also reading along with each corresponding chapter in Brody's book, this feels like some sort of either monumental culmination or complete rebirth. Very possibly it is both, and I am almost inclined to say it's Godard's purist film for some reason. There is a scene in the first half of the movie where Belmondo and Karina, in a spontaneous act of their rebellious natures and the freedom they are enjoying, weave their car off the road and into a lake. It's quite easy to picture the car as Godard's career, and the lake as a vast jungle of cinematic possibilities that lay ahead. This is the film I've been waiting to see in this marathon, because I think it marks a new level in my appreciation for Godard as an artist, one that I won't be able to back down from, and that is incredibly exciting to me.
Masculin, féminin (1966); viewing: first
Still reeling from Pierrot le fou, I was unsure whether or not I was even up for another movie. But my buzz pervaded and I said what the hell, and popped in Godard's followup Masculin, féminin. I was soon glad I did, as this is truly yet another wonderful film. The plot centers around charting the activities of a group of five friends, the focus of which is centered on the relationship between Paul (Jean Pierre-Leaud) a young would be intellectual, and Stephanie (the impossibly cute Chantal Goya), an aspiring pop star. The film opens as the two meet in a cafe, and later after Stephanie helps Paul get a job, the two begin seeing each other seriously. The other characters are Paul's friend Robert, a smug and quite ugly chap who helps Paul balance out his growing political fervor with juvenile games aimed at getting primo glances at pairs of breasts, and Stephanie's two friends Elisabeth and Cathrine, whose activities involve...well nothing more than basically coming across as vapid, materialistic shells. This is highlighted in one stunning long take as Leaud (switching jobs to a pollster midway through the movie) interviews a girl chosen by a magazine as "Ms. 19" on a variety of topics, exposing her for the shallow, uneducated being she is. It's the first time I can see where the accusations of Godard being misogynistic may hold some water, but I still think even amidst this he's clearly going for something a little more substantial. Again, female liberation is a theme that strongly seems to be hinted at with the end, a crossroads for the Stephanie character and her conservative ideals. The film really works wonderfully for me as something that could be put into a time capsule; a perfect snapshot of what it was like to be a youth in this specific time and place, as well as being a fascinating portrait of the mentalities of these characters.
I have no doubt that this day was a turning point in my view of Godard as an artist. These two wonderful films I've watched seem to portend the exciting path Godard's career would take, a path I am fascinated to follow and appreciate as I continue with this marathon.