Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Pierrot le Fou

PIERROT LE FOU         B                 
France  Italy  (110 mi)  1965  d:  Jean-Luc Godard 

Put a tiger in my tank.
—Ferdinand “Pierrot” Griffon (Jean-Paul Belmondo)

It’s found again.
It’s the sea gone
With the sun.

—Arthur Rimbaud, Eternity, May 1872, Eternity: Arthur Rimbaud - Last Lines

A much heralded work at the time, using a deluge of color filters, a party sequence where the entire conversation is in the wordspeak of advertising, a tribute to a young American director Sam Fuller who is in Paris to shoot a film, a book passage reference to the painting of Velazquez, who at the age of fifty changed the style of his painting to something less realistic, finding the space that lay between objects to be much more fascinating, using a sort of mock energy derived from exhibiting purely adolescent behavior, sort of a cross between Godard’s earlier 1964 films A BAND OF OUTSIDERS and A MARRIED WOMAN, the former showing a kind of boundless youthful energy while the latter reveals the dissolution of his own marriage, again utilizing the talents and beauty of his former model, actress, soon to be ex-wife, Anna Karina (divorced in 1968), who is as luminous as ever, this time cast with a clueless Jean-Paul Belmondo who at age 35 has the attention span of a teenager.  The last time they worked together was on A WOMAN IS A WOMAN (1961), which has a similar red and blue tinted color scheme.  While this attention deficit disorder may have helped drive the energy in BREATHLESS (1960), it feels artificially contrived here for a filmmaker in his mid-thirties to have his adult leads playfully behave like teenagers.  How many times in his career does this director repeat this technique?  This feels like an overpraised, yet overly colorful commercial vehicle starring pretty faces in pretty locations, the point in his career when Godard became an advertising brand name, like Warhol’s Campbell's Soup Cans. 

While there’s plenty to like here, there’s also a good deal of annoying repetition, where the director is so beholden to maximizing his own style that he allows the film to drown in a sea of indifference, featuring giant comic book images mixed with classical paintings, advertising images, musical themes that literally stop and restart, suggesting emotional fragmentation, with Godard’s neverending critical self-analysis, as reflected by actual passages read from books that Belmondo is reading, attempting to voice the director’s point of view, while Karina could care less, and is instead intoxicated by being alive and is swept up with the joy of living.  Their opening scene together may be the most memorable, as not only is there a dead body that they both completely ignore lying in the next room with a pair of scissors jammed into the back of his neck, blood streaming onto the mattress with automatic weapons stacked up in the corners of the room, but Karina breaks out into song, where Godard takes his turn at a Jacques Demy style love affair, a scene that is simply mind boggling in its simplicity and elegance and for the darker world that it strangely ignores.  The divide between the two characters only grows deeper, where they retreat to an isolated island, a kind of love purgatory preceding the inevitable abyss to come, the story of the last romantic couple, according to Godard, where they are alone, deliriously happy in one another’s arms in one moment and inexplicably void of any interest in the next. 

Based on Lionel White’s 1962 novel Obsession (though uncredited), the tone of the film is just so breezy and disaffecting, oftentimes ridiculous, where any ounce of emotion seems to pass right over this fashionably attractive couple playing outlaws on the run, fleeing to the exotic locale of the French Riviera in the south of France’s ravishly beautiful Cote d’Azur set on the always sunny Mediterranean coast, shot in sumptuous ‘Scope film by CONTEMPT (1963) cinematographer Raoul Coutard, who must have shot a dozen Godard films, where they are seen riding boats, climbing into fast sports cars, and carrying on endlessly quasi-witty, dead-end conversations with one another.  At times reminding viewers of an earlier draft of Bertolucci’s LAST TANGO IN PARIS (1972), especially when Karina is dressed in her sailor suit and even salutes, very much in the manner of Maria Schneider, where another uncommunicating couple similarly lose themselves to an ever deepening divide.  Belmondo spends his time writing in notebooks, as words and phrases go whizzing by the screen awash in different primary colors, suggesting a swirling, everchanging emotional center that continually gets pulled further and further apart.  The finale is written as a metaphor, and is considered in some circles as one of Godard’s most brilliant, but seems entirely too simplistic, bordering on the ridiculous to the point of being silly, more a caricature of an event utterly lacking in depth of emotion, completely removed from our attention span by that time.  But perhaps that’s the point.    

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