Jean-Luc Godard, the influential French New Wave writer and director, who broke new ground in cinematic expression in the 1960s with films such as “Breathless,” “Contempt” and “Weekend” and became a guiding light for fellow filmmakers throughout his tenure. Six decades career, has died. He was 91 years old.
Godard died Tuesday morning at his home in Rolle, Switzerland, surrounded by close relatives, his longtime legal advisor Patrick Jennert said.
“Because he was affected by multiple medical conditions that made his life difficult, he has requested assistance with suicide that is permitted by Swiss law,” Janneret said in a statement to The Times. He died with dignity as he wanted. There will be no formal ceremony.”
France’s Liberation news agency quoted an unnamed family member as saying Godard “wasn’t sick… he was simply exhausted.”
French President Emmanuel Macron praised Godard as a “national treasure” who “invented very modern and free art” through his groundbreaking works.
Content forever to give up commercial success for artistic freedom, Godard was the most creative and radical director of the French New Wave, which upended European cinema in the 1950s and 1960s, reflecting their personal visions and challenging traditional filmmaking conventions.
Like fellow New Wave directors François Truffaut, Eric Romer, Jack Rivette, and Claude Chabrol, the film-obsessed Godard came to the film industry after being a critic. He was among the first contributors to the influential French cinema magazine Cahiers du Cinema, the birthplace of the author’s theory, which asserts that a director can be the “author” of a film, in the same way that a writer is an author of a novel. .
“Godard was one of the inventors of author theory, and perhaps the most rigorous of the New Wave filmmakers in putting this idea into practice,” film critic David Sterett told The Times in 2006.
“Each of his films and videos are very personal to him and represent his completely unique views of the world and the people in it,” Street said.
Godard had already directed several short films when he was 29, capturing international attention in 1960 with his first feature film, “Breathless,” a bold, innovative homage to American gangster films B.
Filmed on location in Paris, the romantic crime drama stars Jean-Paul Belmondo as a young, immoral thug with Humphrey Bogart pinned as a fugitive after a car theft and the murder of a policeman. His love interest is an American girl, played by Jan Seberg, who ends up cheating on him.
Breathless is known for its illegal use of hand-held cameras around the action, natural lighting, live sound recording, quick editing and a sense of spontaneity — as well as its clear references to Hollywood films.
“Modern films start here,” the late film critic Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times wrote of Breathless in 2003. “There hasn’t been a movie for the first time since Citizen Kane in 1942 that has had the same effect.”
During the 1960s alone, Godard directed nearly 30 short films and films, including “Le Petit Soldat,” “A Woman Is a Woman,” “My Life to Live,” “Les Carabiniers,” “Band of Outsiders,” and A Married Woman, “Alphaville,” “Masculine Feminine,” “Pierrot Le Fou,” “2 or 3 Things I Know About Her,” and “Weekend” which famously feature a tragic seven-minute tracking shot of a traffic jam created by crashes.
By the late 1960s, Godard had embarked on what Street called his “extreme political phase” as a director.
As Julia Lesage wrote in her 1979 bibliography, “Jean-Luc Godard: A Guide to References and Resources: With Radical Marxist-Leninist Political Activism”.
By the late 1970s, Streit said, Godard had returned to filmmaking geared slightly more for theatrical audiences, although films remained technically radical.
“The important thing about Godard is that he broke all the rules, and showed that everything can be cinematic if your perceptions — your ideas — are bold enough,” Marsha Kinder, professor of critical studies at the USC College of Cinematic Arts, told The Times in 2006.
“No matter how shocking or bleak his vision was, his films made me hope because his brilliance and creativity were so dazzling,” Kinder said. “It has redefined the kind of pleasure cinema can give you.”
But for audiences, Kinder acknowledged, rule-breaking Godard “may also be exasperating.”
In fact, Godard has been known for challenging his audience.
He once said, “I don’t really like telling a story.” “I prefer to use some kind of fabric, a background on which I can embroider my own ideas.”
Starting with ideas, Godard said in a 1995 interview with The Times, “The audience doesn’t help. But I still prefer a good audience. I’d prefer to feed 100% of 10 people. Hollywood would rather feed 1% of a million people. Commercially, my way is no better.” “.
Godard’s films have influenced countless filmmakers, including Martin Scorsese. Watching Godard’s films as a film student in the 1960s, Scorsese said he was taken in by “a sense of freedom and the ability to do anything—there was a kind of joy that swept into me when I watched the films.”
Another famous fan, Quentin Tarantino, named his production company A Band Apart after the French title (“Bande a Part”) for Godard’s 1964 film “Band of Outsiders” and heeded one of Godard’s quotes when he filmed “Pulp Fiction”: That the film has a beginning, middle and end, but not necessarily in that order.”
“We all wanted to be Jean-Luc Godard,” the late director Bernardo Bertolucci said simply.
“There is no one like him in all the history of cinema,” Kinder said. “He took revenge on Hollywood. He never stopped attacking the hegemony of Hollywood cinema, he never stopped expanding the language of cinema and its subversive potential.
“I think that makes him one of the greatest filmmakers in the history of world cinema. He made everything possible.”
Godard, one of four children, was born in Paris on December 3, 1930. His mother was the daughter of a wealthy Parisian banker and his father was a Swiss doctor, dividing his business between Paris and Switzerland.
In 1933, the Godard family moved permanently to Switzerland after his father got a job in a clinic near the village of Gland. Five years later, they moved to Nyon, Switzerland, where they lived during World War II.
After the war, 15-year-old Godard moved to Paris to study at the prestigious Lycée Buffon, a school focused on physical and biological sciences. He returned to Switzerland to attend college in Lausanne in 1948, but a year later returned to Paris, where he enrolled at the Sorbonne for a degree in anthropology.
By that time, Godard was so attracted to cinema that he did not pay much attention to his studies.
Get breaking news, features, analysis and more from the Los Angeles Times featured journalism in your inbox.
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Los Angeles Times.
He said he was an informal moviegoer until he started attending the Left Bank Film Club run by critic Andre Bazin, where he met future New Wave directors Truffaut, Rohmer and Rivette. He and his friends also frequent the Cinematheque Francaise.
“We have systematically seen all that can be seen,” said Jean-Luc Colette, author of the 1970 book Jean-Luc Godard.
In 1950 Godard, Roemer, and Rivette co-founded the short-lived La Gazette du Cinema, which published their film criticism. Only five cases lasted. After Bazin co-founded Cahiers du Cinema in 1951, Godard began publishing articles there. He also started learning filmmaking by acting in his friends’ short films.
For several years, Goddard was also a petty thief, who stole repeatedly to support himself and was frequently caught, according to Colin McCabe’s 2003 book, Goddard: A Portrait of the Artist at Seventy.
McCabe wrote that Godard claimed to have financed Rivett’s first short film by stealing from his uncle. And in the early 1950s, after working for a dam-building company in the Swiss Alps, Godard spent three days in prison after stealing from his Swiss television service in Zurich.
After Godard was released from prison, his father persuaded him to go to a Swiss mental clinic specializing in psychotherapy.
After several months in the clinic, Godard returned to the Alpine construction company, where he filmed his first film, a 20-minute documentary about the dam’s construction, Operation Peyton. He then directed a 10-minute comedy short film in Geneva before returning to Paris.
In 1961, Godard married Anna Karina, who starred in “A Woman Is a Woman,” “My Life to Live,” “Band of Outsiders,” and other Godard films during the 1960s. His marriage to Karina ended in divorce — as did his marriage to Anne Wizemsky, who starred in several of his films, including the 1967 film La Chinoise. Godard later began a long-term relationship with his assistant, Anne Marie Mayville. The two moved to Switzerland in the 1970s.
In recent decades, Godard has worked in both film and video. “What some consider to be his greatest work, the culmination of his career achievement,” Sterett said, is Godard’s “Histoire(s) du Cinema,” a multi-part video work released in 1989. His later films included “Farewell to Language,” “a three-part segmented film.” Dimensions about a young couple communicating through their pet dog.His latest feature film, 85-minute-long “The Image Book”, premiered at the 2018 Cannes Film Festival, where Goddard was awarded the festival’s first Palme d’Or.In his review of the film, it was described by a critic In The Times Justin Chang called it “a stunning, astounding, maddening frenzy of discrete sights and sounds.”
Late in his life, Godard appeared pleased but baffled that critics were still scrutinizing his work. But he admitted that the audience for his films had grown.
“I never understand why I remember,” he once told The Times. “I always wonder why I’m still known because no one sees my movies now. Well, almost no one.”
McClellan is a former staff writer for The Times. Writers Kristi Karas and Jin Yamato contributed to this report.