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End Of The Iconoclast

A story should have a beginning, a middle and an end, but not necessarily in that order.” – Jean-Luc Godard

In his film Breathless (1960), the lead female character, Patricia, while interviewing an author of repute, asked him: “What is your greatest ambition in life?” The novelist replied: “To become immortal… and then die.” With this film, French New Wave master Jean-Luc Godard (December 3, 1930 – September 13, 2022), himself, became immortal. Still, he made quite a number of films, as there was no such term, called stagnation, in his dictionary. Hence, the French-Swiss film director, screenwriter, and film critic decided to constantly renew immortality.

There is a saying that Learn the grammar first, and then you can break it. However, Godard never bothered to adhere to the conventional rules. At a time when a handful of big production companies were ruling Hollywood, a new French director took the world of cinema to a new height. Few would have imagined that a person could make an entire film outside the studio system with a handful of people, tiny handheld cameras, haphazard dialogues and superb technique of editing. Godard stole the limelight by making stunning Black-and-White films in the 1960s. It seems that he belonged to the same league with Sir Alfred Joseph Hitchcock (August 13, 1899 – April 29, 1980), Akira Kurosawa (March 23, 1910 – September 6, 1998) and Satyajit Ray (May 2, 1921 – April 23, 1992). As concentration is required to understand films made by Godard, many have lost enthusiasm to watch his movies. However, he has always been one of the pioneers of modern cinema.

Godard was born in Paris in 1930. From an early age, he was a great fan of the famous film critic André Bazin, who used to write in Cahiers du Cinéma, a French film magazine co-founded in 1951 by Bazin, Jacques Doniol-Valcroze, and Joseph-Marie Lo Duca. As Godard was not interested in conventional studies, he formed a group of film-lovers during his university days, and members of that group used to discuss films and their philosophy. He stunned the global community by making the film Breathless in 1960. Before the arrival of Godard, Hollywood highly influenced the world of cinema, with big production houses, like MGM, Fox and Paramount, producing the majority of movies. It was difficult for a director to make films without signing a contract with these houses, which used to tell the director how to shoot a scene, how to tell a story on the screen, what kind of background music to play with the dialogue, who would be involved in the project, etc. In other words, the studio system used to control everything.

Europe underwent radical changes after the Second World War. People started thinking about cinema in a different way, as well. It was at that moment when modern film was born. Then, Breathless seemed to stop everything. The dialogues of this film were haphazard. Also, there was no way to understand what the characters were doing, as if the editing was done incorrectly, and in a deliberate manner. As the viewers were confused, Godard’s film raised some important questions: Can anyone actually hear the dialogue of everyone sitting in a crowded cafe? Can anyone understand what happens to the injured after a sudden road accident? Godard pointed out that the stories, which had been claimed to be closer to reality by Hollywood for long, were a complete hoax.

Godard preferred to make films on the streets, with a handful of people. He used to believe that there was no need for a big studio and huge arrangement to shoot a film. Hence, he shot films with small handy cameras. Each and every film of Godard was a low budget film. As one now runs a YouTube channel with a mobile camera, Godard mustered that courage decades ago. In fact, he introduced the jump cut editing, and broke several Hollywood grammars to create new rules. This way, Godard and some other French directors gave birth to the French New Wave Movement.

Films, directed by Godard, are not really easy to understand, and again not too difficult, either. He did not celebrate cinema. Instead, he repeatedly said that the death of cinema was approaching, and that too fast. In the last scene of his 1967 movie Weekend, the line ‘End of the Story, End of Cinema’ appeared on the screen. He wanted the words and the images to somehow be freed beyond the screen. However, his films were somewhat different from the films made by many other modern French directors. Pierrot le Fou (1965) might make most of the viewers think what a madness. However, it was just a love story. That’s how love is… undefined and whimsical.

It is a fact that one has to put pressure on her/his brain in order to understand Godard’s works. The audience usually visit a theatre to enjoy a story on the screen mainly for entertainment. The majority of the audience do not want to put pressure on their brain. However, Godard’s films are based on the Marxist Philosophy from the very beginning. He believed that the trick of Capitalism is to divert the attention of audience from reality through movies. Godard wanted his films to help the audiences realise the reality.

Many movie-lovers have watched and understood films made by Godard, and also learned the language of film from them. Interestingly, very few people love to watch his movies. They must have a clear idea about the concepts of Masculinity and Femininity. Such simple and modern films are rare… there is no story as such, but there is a lot. Godard’s works gave us the perfect dialogues, like ‘Children of Marx and Coca Cola‘. Looking around, one can find that most of the middle class people still remain the same. And, this is where the greatness of Godard lies.

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