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Foreign Film Friday: Godard’s essential works


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Few filmmakers have been so prolific and radically respected as French writer-director Jean-Luc Godard. Despite his prime being the French New Wave era of the late 50s/early 60s, his influence spans to the work of Quentin Tarantino, Martin Scorsese, and several others citing the auteur as an all-time great.

Getting to grips with Godard’s work takes time; with everything he produces bearing his own signature and recurring relevant themes. He is arguably the most autobiographical of auteurs, as a critic-turned-filmmaker commenting on social decay in the hands of capitalism, whilst employing aesthetics that subvert conventions of classical cinema.

Here are five Jean-Luc Godard films that are essential to watch:

1. À Bout De Souffle aka Breathless (1960)

It’s easier to appreciate what Godard was trying to achieve if you start with his most celebrated first feature debut. Breathless illustrates a doomed romance between Jean Seberg’s American newspaper vendor and Jean-Paul Belmondo’s mobster archetype. It's filled with jump-cuts and homages to both Humphrey Bogart and B movies from Monogram Pictures. The composition subverts screen convention whilst establishing Paris as  immaterial through the rejection of establishing shots and exposition.


 2. Bande à part aka Band of Outsiders (1964)

Sounding familiar? Possibly since Tarantino named his production company (A Band Apart) directly after this film and Godard’s influence. Band of Outsiders reimagines the gangster film as two wannabe crooks enlist Anna Karina to assist in committing a robbery. The trio make possibly the worst criminals, but it is exactly this construct that makes them all the more endearing. The set also features some of Godard’s most iconic scenes, including the race through the Louvre and the classic Madison dance sequence.


 3. Le Mépris aka Contempt (1963)

Contempt is, simply put, a movie about movies. It shows off Godard’s ability to comment on the film world and the process of filmmaking itself far more than other of his works. Through its vibrancy, Raoul Coutard’s cinematography contributes a degree of sumptuousness - perfect for a movie starring the famously iconic Brigitte Bardot. The narrative centres on Fritz Lang, who plays himself, directing a new version of The Odyssey; ultimately resulting in complications between art, commercialism, and love.


 4. Pierrot le Fou (1965)

Edging closer to the end of the French New Wave, Pierrot le Fou see Godard’s continued effort making movies about criminals and romance, only with advances. Complete with leading the audience to suspend their disbelief through fourth-wall breaks, Jean-Paul Belmondo plays a man fed up with his bourgeois lifestyle. The film is saturated with a dark tone, with gangsters leaving a trail of corpses as Belmondo and Karina become lovers on the run.


 5. Alphaville (1965)

Visually, Alphaville is a noir-style detective story with a far-future dystopia becoming a substitute for the streets of Paris. Alphaville is a place run by a higher order which has outlawed matters such as love, poetry, and art; allowing the film to take on a narrative of recovering these concepts when Lemmy (Eddie Constantine) falls in love with a programmer.


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