French-Swiss director Jean-Luc Godard – a key figure in the Nouvelle Vague, the filmmaking movement that revolutionized cinema in the late 1950s and 60s – has died aged 91, French media is reporting.
French President Emmanuel Macron tweeted a tribute to the director on Tuesday, writing the country has lost a “national treasure.”
“It was like an apparition in French cinema,” Macron tweeted. “Then he became one of its masters. Jean-Luc Godard, the most iconoclastic of New Wave directors, had invented a resolutely modern, intensely free art. We lose a national treasure, a genius outlook.”
Born December 3, 1930 in Paris, France, to a doctor and a daughter of a Swiss investment bank founder, Godard hailed from a wealthy family, according to Reuters.
While studying a degree in ethnology at the University of Paris, his foray into filmmaking began with the short movie “Opération Béton” (“Operation Concrete”) in 1954.
Jean-Luc Godard, photographed in the 1970s, has died at the age of 91.Keystone-France/Gamma-Keystone/Getty Images
Godard’s first feature film, “À bout de souffle” (“Breathless”) in 1960, was a celebration of the nonchalant improvisational cinematography that became synonymous with his style.
In the years that followed, his films revolved around complex issues such as fickleness, indignity and caprice.
Among his notable later works were his “trilogy of the sublime,” which consisted of three films that explored femininity, nature and religion – 1982’s “Passion,” the following year’s “Prénom Carmen” (“First Name: Carmen”) and “Je vous salue, Marie” (“Hail Mary”) in 1985.
Danish-French actress Anna Karina, who starred in multiple works and was also married to the director for a short time, said working with Godard often meant they didn’t have a script and had to learn the dialogue just before shooting.
Much like his filmography, Godard had an idiosyncratic, rebellious streak. At the 2018 Cannes Film Festival, he appeared at a press conference via video chat instead of physically attending.
During his long career, he was awarded an honorary César in 1987 and 1998, and received an honorary Academy Award in 2010.
Many tributes have been posted on social media by members of the movie industry.
In a tweet, actor Antonio Banderas thanked Godard for “expanding the boundaries of the cinema.”
Edgar Wright, the director known for “Baby Driver” and “Hot Fuzz,” called him “one of the most influential, iconoclastic film-makers of them all.”
Wright tweeted: “It was ironic that he himself revered the Hollywood studio film-making system, as perhaps no other director inspired as many people to just pick up a camera and start shooting.”
French newspaper Liberation was the first to report Godard’s death.
Jean-Luc Godard Biography, Life, Interesting Facts
Childhood and Early Life
French-Swiss film director and writer Jean-Luc Godard was born on the 3 December 1930 in Paris, France to Swiss-Franco parents. He was raised in Nyon, Switzerland where his father, Paul Godard, who was a physician, relocated the family in 1934. Godard’s mother was Odile Monod who came from a wealthy family, her father Julien was a successful banker and friend of the writer, Paul Valery.
Godard had three siblings, Rachel, Claude, and Veronique. He wrote about his happy childhood in a cultured, well-to-do family. As a child, Godard was good at sport and was a precocious reader. The family remained in Switzerland during World War II.
Jean-Luc Godard was enrolled at the Lycee Buffon in Paris, France and began studying there in 1946 but did not apply himself to his studies as he became obsessed with films. He failed his exam in 1948 and returned home to Switzerland. He enrolled at a school in Lausanne to study for his baccalaureate. Once he had obtained his baccalaureate, Godard enrolled at to Sorbonne where he studied ethnology (1949).
He did not complete his degree; instead, he applied to IDHEC, a film school in Paris, but was rejected. Around this time he became acquainted with Jacques Rivette and Francois Truffaut. The three men used to frequent the cinemas, sometimes seeing as many as four films a day.
Rise to Fame
Jean-Luc Godard was influenced by Jean-Paul Sartre who was opposed to the American films of the day which were common in Paris after World War II. Sartre saw these films as American cultural imperialism. An opposing view was held by Andre Bazin who advocated objective reality in cinema.
Godard was influenced by both trains of thought as well as the film critic Maurice Scherer. Godard used to attend the Ciné-Club du Quartier Latin where Scherer introduced the films which were followed by debates afterwards. Scherer also produced a magazine La Gazette du cinema to which Godard submitted film reviews.
In his late teens, Jean-Luc Godard was living a Bohemian life in Paris helping Rivette and Rohmer making their first short films. He travelled with his father to the United States and South American in 1951. Returning to Paris, he continued his obsession with the cinema. An early acting appearance was in Rohmer’s short film Presentation. He was also contributing to Cashiers du cinema.
Godard returned to Switzerland at the end of 1952 where he found work in television in Zurich. He was caught stealing money from the company and was jailed. He father arranged for him to be sent to a psychiatric clinic. Once out of the clinic, Godard worked as a labourer on the construction of a dam.
The work on the dam inspired Godard, and he made a film about it, Operation Concrete (1954). He paid someone to film the story, and he did the voice over and editing. The company building the dam purchased the film. Godard went to Geneva where he made a short film, Une Femme coquette.
In 1956, Jean-Luc Godard returned to Paris. His friends had found success with Cahiers du cinema, and the articles and reviews were gaining national attention. Godard began submitting his writing to the publication. After working on various short films, Godard’s first film, which was produced by Georges de Beauregard was Breathless with Jean-Paul Belmondo and Jean Seberg. Released in 1960, Breathless was a success and won the Jean Vigo Prize and established Godard as a NewWave director.
During the 1960s, Jean-Luc Godard directed Le Petit soldat (1960), A Woman is a Woman (1961), My Life to Life (1962), A Married Woman (1964), Made in U.S.A. (1966), British Sounds (1969) and others.
During the following decades Godard directed numerous films including Wind from the East (1970), Struggles in Italy (1971), Here and Elsewhere (1974), How’s It going (1976), Every Man for Himself (1980), Passion (1982), King Lear (1987), New Wave (1990), Oh Woe Is Me (1993), For Ever Mozart (1996), In Praise of Love (2001), Goodbye to Language (2014) and The Image Boo (2018).
Jean-Luc Godard’s first wife was Anna Karine (m.1961-div.1965). He was then married to Anne Wiazemsky (m.1967-div.1979).
Six facts about Jean-Luc Goddard – the godfather of modernist cinema
Here are five facts about his filmmaking.
1. He put himself in his films
Jean Luc-Godard’s personal struggles appear through characters in his films.
In 1963’s Le Mepris, Michel Piccoli plays a French playwright, tasked with reworking a film adaption of Ulysses.
The film looks at the tensions between commercialism and creativity, and portrays a disintegrating marriage, based on his own marital struggles with Anna Karina.
Many characters in his films are a mouthpiece for himself, but in his later films, he made himself a feature of his films, too.
In 1995, he directed the documentary film JLG/JLG: Self-Portrait in December, and more recently, in 2018, the essay film The Image Book.
2. He said all you need to make a film is a girl and a gun
All you need to make a film, Godard once wrote, is a “girl and gun”, which he proved in his 1960 debut Breathless, starring a girl, Patricia, who is involved with a petty criminal, Michel, who is on the run for shooting a policeman.
The movie had an instant impact, winning acclaim and huge profits, despite its meagre budget. Now, 60 years on, it is acknowledged as an all-time classic.
3. He got into movies backwards
Godard began his career as a film critic for a French magazine called Cahiers du Cinéma, and, like many critics, held the belief that if he had the money, he would be able to make a better film himself.
In his case, he made his fantasy a reality.
4. He pioneered the jump cut
One of the most radical elements of Breathless was the use of the editing technique known as the ‘jump cut’.
Filmmaking before and after Godard would usually use smooth editing, to give the illusion of continuous time, but in Breathless Godard cut the film within the shot, making time appear to jump forward.
Godard was proclaimed a pioneer of modernist cinema because of the way he forced the viewer to appreciate they were watching a film, causing them to reflect on the nature of cinema.
5. He wrote the script as the film was being made
Breathless was filmed on location using handheld cameras, and Godard wrote the script on the day while feeding the actors lines as they filmed, reports the BBC.
Using this technique allowed Breathless to have a spontaneous and documentary-like feel, often infuriating actors who wouldn’t know their lines until they began filming.
6. He was a huge cinephile
Godard had great knowledge and love for cinema, and was an avid cinematographer, sometimes watching a film several times in one day.
His films are often littered with references to other works, which is another modernist trait.