Jean-Luc Godard, the Embodiment of the French New Wave Dies at 91


Franco-Swiss film director Jean-Luc Godard, the godfather of France’s New Wave cinema during the 1960s, died on Tuesday at his Switzerland home in Rolle at 91. The French news AFP confirmed that he died of assisted suicide which is permissible under Swiss Law, and passed away peacefully with his wife, Anne Marie Mieville. 

Jean-Luc Godard changed the ways of filmmaking with his daringly innovative and provocative style of shooting films. His disjointed narrative style, unconventional camera work, and penchant for radical politics in the 1960s completely transformed filmmaking into an art.

Ushering the New Wave in cinema

Born in Paris in 1930, Godard completed his schooling in Switzerland and moved to Paris in 1949. His closeness to the intellectual cine clubs that flourished in Paris after the war seemed like his natural habitat. Later, these cine clubs became the crucible of the French New Wave, a landmark phase in world cinema. During the 1950s, along with critic Andre Bazin and others like Claude Chabrol, Francois Truffaut, and Jaques Rivette, all of whom became film directors later, Godard started writing for new film magazines, including the Cahiers du Cinema. Subsequently,   Cahiers du Cinema became a critical force in revolutionizing traditional European art cinema by replacing it with new heroes mostly drawn from Howard Hanks and Alfred Hitchcock of Hollywood.

The release of his first feature film ‘Breathless’ in 1960 signaled the beginning of a movement involving several of the Cahiers du Cinema colleagues that the French press labeled as Nouvelle Vague, meaning New Wave.

Transforming movie-makers into creative artistes

Godard innovated a new way of filmmaking that was evident in his highly acclaimed films like ‘Breathless’ and ‘Contempt’ which are lofty landmarks in the world’s film history. Breaking the norms and pushing the boundaries of creativity by using new shooting techniques with handheld cameras, existential dialogues, and jump cuts made Godard a rebel who heralded a new era in filmmaking. Godard’s most valuable contribution to the world of cinema is his role in transforming movie-makers into artists and putting them on par with icons of literature and masters of painting. His most famous saying, ‘a movie must have a beginning, middle, and an end, but not necessarily in that order,’ illustrates his vision of equating filmmaking with any work of literature, albeit in a different form.

Creating classics on a low budget

The world will remember Godard as a creator of masterpieces on a shoestring budget. It started with ‘Breathless,’ where he used a lightweight mobile camera to capture street shots. He dispensed with the artifice and artificial backdrops used in Hollywood cinema of the time. The arrival of ‘Breathless,’ his first film in 1960, was like a cinematic thunderclap that demonstrated the huge impact of Godard’s way of filmmaking. 

The 1960s saw Godard at his creative best with the successive release of films like My Life to Live (Vivre Sa Vie), Two or three things I know about Her, Pierrot Le Fou, and Weekend. In the 1970s, he made films steeped in antiwar and leftist politics before returning to the mainstream.

His later works like ‘Goodbye to Language’ in 2014 and ‘The Image Box’ in 2018 were more experimental and meant exclusively for his die-hard fans. 

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