I Found It At the Movies: 1965–Pierrot le fou (Jean-Luc Godard)


Inspired by Dave Hicks’ excellent blog, I have decided to write about my favorite film for each year from 1926-2008.

1965: Pierrot le fou (Jean-Luc Godard)

When I was a junior in college, I went to France on one of my school’s year-long programs. The school had paid some young French kids to show us around and, in some ways, to be our friends.  

One day another American and I were sitting in a café with one of those French “paid friends,” a girl named Magali, and we got to talking about American culture. Magali asked us to jot down on a piece of paper our three favorite American movies and three favorite American books. Then we asked if she’d reciprocate by giving us her favorite French titles. I can’t remember what books she suggested, but I distinctly remember her going on and on about this one French director, a guy named Jean-Luc Godard. In fact, two of the three titles she listed were Godard films: Breathless and Pierrot le fou.   

I was 20 at the time and could probably count on one hand the number of foreign films I’d seen. So of course I’d never heard of Godard. Luckily, I was living in Paris, a Mecca for cinephiles, and it just so happened that Pierrot was playing at one of the local theaters the following week.  So I took this girl I was kinda seeing, and we set out to learn a little more about this Godard guy. 

When we saw Pierrot it was in French with no English subtitles. The girl I was with, another American, definitely found it interesting. I thought it was absolutely mind-blowing. In fact, it struck me as the most personal, most intelligent, most liberated film I had ever seen. And really, from that point forward, you could make the argument that my life had been changed. I became more and more interested in seeking out films like Pierrot.  In fact, that year I must have easily seen over 100 movies in the theater. I had found my path.  

I tell this story because it’s hard for me to separate the discovery of Pierrot from Pierrot the film. It is easily the film that has had the greatest impact on me, and it is the one that is almost singlehandedly responsible for me becoming a cinephile and moviemaker.  

What do I think about it now?  I still think it’s one of the most personal, liberated, and intelligent films I’ve ever seen. I also think it’s one of the most beautiful, lyrical, playful, romantic and dangerous. A friend of mine used to say that he would show each new girlfriend Pierrot, and if she didn’t care for it, that was his litmus test that the relationship was doomed. My wife has never seen it, and it’s not for everyone. But I think that it’s in a small group of films that has that sort of Beatles or Velvet Underground Power–in other words, it’s the kind of film that has a rare transformative charge.

If nothing else, see Pierrot le fou if you want to see “passion on fire”. It’s not every day the opportunity comes around.  

What moviemakers can learn: Godard blows open so many new avenues with this movie, but focus in particular on the sophisticated way he uses voiceover, his incredibly lyrical way with music and his wonderful relationship with the outdoors.  

Other contenders for 1965:  I still have quite a few things to see. These include: Marco Bellocchio’s Fists in the Pocket, Sergio Leone’s For a Few Dollars More and Jerzy Skolimowski’s Walkover. It’s been too long since I’ve seen Roman Polanski’s Repulsion and Orson Welles’ Chimes at Midnight to know where they’d place on this list. And, although I don’t have any close runners-up this year, I do really like Jean-Luc Godard’s Alphaville and Howard Hawks’ Red Line 7000.

After living in Los Angeles for seven years, Jeffrey Goodman returned to his hometown of Shreveport, Louisiana to direct The Last Lullaby. Co-written by the creator of Road to Perdition, and starring Tom Sizemore and Sasha Alexander, The Last Lullaby was filmed entirely in and around Shreveport and financed by 48 local investors. Goodman is now at work raising money for his next feature, Peril.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.