Five ways of looking at the celebrated enfant grise of French cinema.
Whatever the result is, it isn’t a portrait of the artist at 70. As he ages, filmmaker Jean-Luc Godard becomes ever more elusive, exactly as if he were ducking out of his portrait sitting—a treatment entirely appropriate for the bad-boy giant of the French New Wave who continues to turn out films (over 55 features and countless shorts to date) at a breakneck pace. MacCabe (English and Film/Univ. of Pittsburgh) approaches each phase of his career from a different angle. The history of his French/Swiss family frames the chronicle of his abortive school years through the death of his mother and his estrangement from his father. Postwar French intellectual history provides the background for his writing for the influential journal Cahiers du Cinéma, and film history the context for his heady New Wave features, still intoxicating in their attempt to capture “the real on the run,” from Breathless (1959) through his split with leading lady Anna Karina after Two or Three Things I Know About Her (1967). Noting that Godard is unusual in having participated in both the revolutionary New Wave aesthetics and the broader revolutionary stance of the May 1968 protests, MacCabe uses political history as a framework for the films his Dziga Vertov collective produced before turning finally to his personal acquaintance with the master to continue his story from 1971 to the present. The figure who emerges from this unorthodox biography is brusque, uncompromising, capable of great rudeness and sweepingly romantic gestures, and utterly devoted to a medium his films shook up from top to bottom.
Though he won’t make you want to see all Godard’s films, MacCabe makes a strong case for the filmmaker who, “if he is not a novelist . . . is the greatest essayist and one of the greatest poets that the cinema has known.” (b&w photos throughout)