Over the next couple of months our writers will be picking choice foreign filmmakers who they have a particular affinity for, talking about them and one of what they perceive to be their best films. First up, Eleanor looks at Jean-Luc Godard and Bande á part.
A director whose career spans over 50 years, from the 1950s to present day, Jean-Luc Godard is a cinematic force to be reckoned with. Two personal favourites are Alphaville and Bande à part, both entirely different, one a sci-fi, the latter a romantic thriller complete with incredible shots of Paris. Both, however, capture the very essence of Godard as a director and will interest even the newest of French new-wave lovers.
To start with, what is it about Godard that makes him so impossibly good? Certainly his films were strengthened by his muse and later wife, Anna Karina, but I think aside from the general elements of French New Wave which are evidently present in his films there is something else. In my opinion he has the uncanny ability to take the viewer on a journey through the film. I say ‘through’ the film because that’s how I feel when watching them. The camera lens ceases to exist and I find myself being drawn into his many plots, travelling along the black and white Seine as if I were part of the film or riding in the back of a 1950s vintage car with Sami Frey and Claude Brasseur either side of me.
Bande à part is certainly my favourite film of his. It is wonderfully bright, witty and funny, not overly ambitious nor pretentious. Some critics condemn it for being too ‘simple’ but for me simple can sometimes be best. Bande à part is a film that has lasted the test of time and can capture any viewer’s attention. The classic ‘running through the Louvre’ scene has been cited as one of the greatest cinematic shots of all time and the ‘minute of silence’ takes us back to the time before ‘talkies’ hit our screens. The film orients around a love triangle between Odile, Franz and Arthur, the latter being more successful. The two men, while romantically pursuing Odile, persuade her to join them in staging a robbery of her own home, where her Aunt has stashed a great deal of money. Complete with her waifish good-looks Anna Karina plays the mature protagonist very well, whilst her co-stars Claude Brasseur and Sami Frey bounce off one another (metaphorically speaking of course), creating the perfect balance of a hysterical triple act. Let us not forget the crucial dance scene, copied by Tarentino in Pulp Fiction.
While critics debate over his more recent work, (Film Socialisme dramatically divided opinions in 2010) the main style of Godard prevails. It is the layering of his ideas within his films which make them worthy of being remembered. Alphaville is a brilliant example. The fictitious and futuristic world where freedom of thought has been banned immediately reminded me of Ray Bradbury’s ‘Fahrenheit 451’, (perhaps the great author used this film as an inspiration.) The film’s protagonist is Lemmy Caution, an FBI agent created by British author Peter Cheyney, (who said there was animosity between the French and the English?) who has come to Alphaville to seek out a missing agent and kill the creator of the totalitarian state.
Alphaville is full of rich and resounding influence from other great artists, from George Orwell to French poet Paul Éluard, Godard pays homage to those artists who have shaped his perspective and undoubtedly influenced his cinematic style. This is, in my opinion, one of the reasons Godard has such longevity within the film world today. Disinterested in following a crowd or being praised by mass audiences, Godard is content to make work that is meaningful to him and hopefully to other film-lovers.
While I’m sure many will never know French New Wave nor even wish to, I strongly recommend Bande á parte to any film-lover – it’s certainly a welcome change to the regular and often predictable Hollywood slush.
Check back soon for the next edition in our ‘Foreign Filmmaking Legends’ feature.