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Jean-Luc Godard’s Life and Legacy

Previously Published Oct. 13, 2022
Jean-Luc Godards Life and Legacy
French director Jean-Luc Godard passed away on September 13th at 91 years old in Rolle, Switzerland. He, along with his French New Wave contemporaries, reinvented the way people thought about movies.
 
Godard was born in 1930 into a wealthy Franco-Swiss family, the second of four children. He attended Sorbonne University and studied ethnology. However, he dropped out of school and instead spent time in “ciné-clubs” (film societies) around Paris. During this time, he became friends with François Truffaut, Éric Rohmer, and Jacques Rivette, all of whom eventually had their breakthroughs as directors around the same time as Godard.
In 1960, Godard was thrust onto the global stage with the release of his first feature film, Breathless. This movie tells the story of Michel Poiccard (played by Jean-Paul Belmondo), a wanted Parisian car thief and murderer who is in love with American journalist Patricia Franchini (Jean Seberg). Throughout the movie, Michel makes plans to escape to Italy and attempts to convince Patricia to go with him.
Even though the film’s plot was standard, Godard used a strange approach in making Breathless. The movie rejected what was known as the “tradition of quality”. Mainstream French movies at the time were filmed on studio sets, with well-choreographed camera movements, polished editing, and a diligent loyalty to scripts and literary source material.
 
In Breathless, Godard is praised for his willingness to experiment with unconventional ideas and methods. He rewrote the script as he filmed, and canceled filming on days when he felt he lacked inspiration. He chose to use handheld cameras to capture ordinary scenes of Parisian life, yet he captured many visually striking images. And instead of editing out entire scenes or shots, Godard cut within shots, creating a “jump cut” that disrupted continuity. This new editing style is the same still used in modern media, from music videos to Youtube vlogs.
Over the next 7 years after Breathless, Godard made 15 movies, each one continuing his radical experiments. Afterwards, he withdrew a bit from directorial stardom, but he continued to invent. From Breathless to his last film, The Image Book (2018), his strange approach to making movies constantly earned him the admiration and exasperation of his audience. In 1969, American critic Roger Ebert called Godard both “perverse and difficult” and “the most brilliant of modern directors”.
A day after his passing, the Guardian published a collection of tributes to Godard from Martin Scorsese, Abel Ferrara, and other prominent film directors. After reading through this article, it’s clear that he had invigorated generations of aspiring filmmakers through his boldness. But even if his movies one day lose resonance with audiences, there’s reason to believe that the techniques he pioneered will last for generations to come.
 
 
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Richard Zeng, Staff Writer

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