Close Up

3 May - 5 July 2011: Close-Up on Jean-Luc Godard


One of the most influential directors in the cinema history, Jean-Luc Godard has played a fundamental role in shaping the art form. His early films established the language of the French Nouvelle Vague and through his long career he has consistently produced stylistically radical, politically uncompromising work, culminating in his epic, dense exploration of cinema’s enactment with twentieth-century history, Histoire(s) du Cinéma.

Godard began his career as a writer for the French film journal Cahiers du cinéma and this season compliments and coincides with Close-Up’s re-launch of the influential film magazine Vertigo, with an issue dedicated to the cinema of Godard.

Jean-Luc Godard
1959 | 90 min | B/W | Digital

With its lack of polish, surplus of attitude, crackling personalities of rising stars Jean-Paul Belmondo and Jean Seberg, and anything-goes crime narrative, Jean-Luc Godard's debut fashioned a simultaneous homage to and critique of the American film genres that influenced and rocked him as a film writer for Cahiers du cinéma. Jazzy, free-form, and sexy, Breathless helped launch the French New Wave and ensured cinema would never be the same.

Vivre sa Vie
Jean-Luc Godard
1962 | 80 min | B/W | Digital

Vivre sa Vie is one of the seminal movies of the French New Wave. Godard directs his then wife, Anna Karina, who plays Nana S., a Parisian working as a shop assistant who, after separating from her husband, decides to become an actress. While watching The Passion of Joan of Arc by Dreyer, she abandons her ambition and drifts into a life of prostitution. The film is comprised of a series of 12 "tableaux", scenes which are unconnected episodes, each presented with a worded introduction. The film gives us an insight into the social conditions and mores of the time, but is also daring and experimental both in its use of sound recording, filming and editing.

Le Mépris
Jean-Luc Godard
1963 | 95 min | Colour | Digital

Jean-Luc Godard’s subversive foray into commercial filmmaking is a star-studded Cinemascope epic. Le Mépris stars Michel Piccoli as a screenwriter torn between the demands of a proud European director (played by legendary director Fritz Lang), a crude and arrogant American producer (Jack Palance), and his disillusioned wife, Camille (Brigitte Bardot), as he attempts to doctor the script for a new film version of The Odyssey. A brilliant study of marital breakdown, artistic compromise, and the cinematic process.

Pierrot le Fou
Jean-Luc Godard
1965 | 110 min | Colour | Digital

Dissatisfied in marriage and life, Ferdinand (Jean-Paul Belmondo) takes to the road with the babysitter, his ex-lover Marianne Renoir (Anna Karina), and leaves the bourgeoisie behind. Yet this is no normal road trip: Jean-Luc Godard’s tenth feature in six years is a stylish mash-up of consumerist satire, politics, and comic-book aesthetics, as well as a violent, zigzag tale of, as Godard called them, "the last romantic couple." With blissful colour imagery by cinematographer Raoul Coutard and Belmondo and Karina at their most animated, Pierrot le Fou is one of the high points of the French New Wave, and was Godard’s last frolic before he moved even further into radical cinema.

Two or Three Things I Know about Her
Jean-Luc Godard
1966 | 84 min | Colour | Digital

In Two or Three Things I Know about Her, Jean-Luc Godard beckons us ever closer, whispering in our ears as narrator. About what? Money, sex, fashion, the city, love, language, war: in a word, everything. Among the legendary French filmmaker’s finest achievements, the film takes as its ostensible subject the daily life of Juliette Janson (Marina Vlady), a housewife from the Paris suburbs who prostitutes herself for extra money. Yet this is only a template for Godard to spin off into provocative philosophical tangents and gorgeous images. Two or Three Things I Know about Her is perhaps Godard’s most revelatory look at consumer culture, shot in ravishing widescreen colour by Raoul Coutard.

Made in USA
Jean-Luc Godard
1967 | 87 min | Colour | Digital

With its giddily complex noir plot and colour-drenched widescreen images, Made in USA was a final burst of exuberance from Jean-Luc Godard’s early sixties barrage of delirious movie-movies. Yet this chaotic crime thriller and acidly funny critique of consumerism – starring Anna Karina as the most brightly dressed private investigator in film history, searching for a former lover who might have been assassinated – also points toward the more political cinema that would come to define Godard. Featuring characters with names such as Richard Nixon, Robert McNamara, David Goodis, and Doris Mizoguchi, and appearances by a slapstick Jean-Pierre Léaud and a sweetly singing Marianne Faithfull, this piece of pop art is like a Looney Tunes rendition of The Big Sleep gone New Wave.

Four Shorts
Jean-Luc Godard, Anne-Marie Miéville
1998-2000 | 85 min | Colour | Digital

De l'Origine du XXIe Siècle, 2000, 13 min
The Old Place, 1998, 49 min
Liberté et Patrie, 2002, 16 min
Je Vous Salue, Sarajevo, 1993, 2 min

"[These are films] that encompass everything: art and freedom, presence and memory, violence and passion. Four symphonies composed of images, tones, quotes, and soundtracks. Four essays in which the cinema itself seems to speak to us, in friendly dialogue with painting, literature and music – as a brother to all the arts." – Michael Athen

Notre Musique
Jean-Luc Godard, Anne-Marie Miéville
2004 | 80 min | Colour | Digital

Part poetry, part journalism, part philosophy, Notre Musique is a reflection on war through the ages. The film is structured into three Dantean Kingdoms: Hell, Purgatory and Heaven. The journey begins in Hell, represented by modern war and then moves to Purgatory, set in Sarajevo. Finally, Paradise is conceived as a small beach guarded by Marines from the United States. At the same time, the film also follows the parallel stories of two Israeli Jewish women, one drawn to the light and one drawn towards darkness.

Histoire(s) du Cinéma Part 1-2
Jean-Luc Godard
1988-97 | 147 min | Colour & B/W | Digital

Jean-Luc Godard's video series Histoire(s) du Cinéma, consists of eight episodes made over a period of ten years. Hugely ambitious in scope, the series covers a wide range of topics from the birth of cinema to Italian neo-realism to Hollywood and beyond.  

1a Toutes les Histoires, 1988, 51 min
1b Une Histoire Seule, 1989, 42 min
2a Seul le Cinéma, 1997, 26 min
2b Fatale Beauté, 1997, 28 min

Histoire(s) du Cinéma Part 3-4
Jean-Luc Godard
1998 | 119 min | Colour & B/W | Digital

3a La Monnaie de l'Absolu (1998, 27 min)
3b Une Vague Nouvelle (1998, 27 min)
4a Contrôle de l'Univers (1998, 27 min)
4b Les Signes Parmi Nous (1988, 38 min)