Close Up

19 October 2022 - 29 September 2023: Au Contraire: Jean-Luc Godard


At the vanguard of international filmmaking for six decades, French New Wave titan Jean-Luc Godard exerted an incalculable influence on modern cinema that refuses to wane. With his ground-breaking 1960 debut feature, Breathless, Godard merged elements of high and low culture with an anything-goes abandon that set the template for generations of filmmakers. It marked the beginning of an explosively innovative decade that witnessed his output grow increasingly radical, both aesthetically and politically, until by 1968 he had forsworn commercial cinema altogether, forming a leftist filmmaking collective (the Dziga Vertov Group) and producing films like the scathing anticapitalist screed Tout va bien. Eternally on the cutting edge, Godard spent the final years of his career exploring the outermost possibilities of digital filmmaking in visually and philosophically adventurous works, confirming his status as our greatest lyricist on historical trauma, religion, and the legacy of cinema.

We pay tribute to Jean-Luc Godard with a year-long retrospective of his films.


Jean-Luc Godard, 1960, 90 min

"One of the most important films to emerge from the French New Wave, Breathless is set in the fifties, when the influence of American culture in France was being felt at every level of life. Godard presents a story of boy-meets-girl animated by myths of innocence abroad and of the alienated gangster of B-movies. Belmondo’s interpretation of an anarchic criminal – confused, bitter, and cynical – was his first major role and launched his career. Godard conceived of Jean Seberg’s character as a direct continuation of the pampered but worldly creature she played in Otto Preminger’s Bonjour Tristesse. Describing the impact of the film after forty years, critic Phillip Lopate summarizes: "It seemed a new kind of storytelling, with its saucy jump cuts, digressions, quotes, in jokes and addresses to the viewer. And yet, underneath all these brash interventions was a Mozartean melancholy that strongly suggested classical measure."" – Harvard Film Archive


A Woman Is a Woman
Jean-Luc Godard, 1961, 84 min

With A Woman Is a Woman, Jean-Luc Godard presents "a neorealist musical – that is, a contradiction in terms." A Woman Is a Woman is a sly, playful tribute to – and interrogation of – the American musical comedy, showcasing Godard’s signature wit and intellectual acumen. The film tells the story of exotic dancer Angéla (Anna Karina) as she attempts to have a child with her unwilling lover Émile (Jean-Claude Brialy). In the process, she finds herself torn between him and his best friend Alfred (Jean-Paul Belmondo). A dizzying compendium of colour, humour, and the music of renowned composer Michel Legrand, A Woman Is a Woman finds the young Godard at his warmest and most accessible, revelling in and scrutinizing the mechanics of his great obsession: the cinema.


Vivre sa vie
Jean-Luc Godard, 1962, 85 min  

“Using interview techniques, direct sound, long takes, texts, quotations, and statistics, Godard creates a documentary tone for this film about Nana S. (Karina), a girl from the provinces who can't pay her rent and is initiated into prostitution in Paris. Godard's film is a probing and dazzling examination of prostitution but, above all, a passionate celluloid love letter to Karina, then the director's wife. His close-ups of her face bring to mind the incomparable faces of another era: Louise Brooks, Lillian Gish, and Falconetti.” – Harvard Film Archive


Le petit soldat
Jean-Luc Godard, 1963, 88 min

Before his convention-shattering debut, Breathless, had even premiered, Jean-Luc Godard leapt into the making of his second feature, a thriller that would tackle the most controversial subject in France: the use of torture in the Algerian War. Despite his lack of political convictions, photojournalist Bruno Forestier (Michel Subor) is roped into a paramilitary group waging a shadow war in Geneva against the Algerian independence movement. Anna Karina (in her first collaboration with Godard, whose camera is visibly besotted with her) is beguiling as the mysterious woman with whom Forestier becomes infatuated. Banned for two and a half years by French censors for its depiction of brutal tactics on the part of the French government and the Algerian fighters alike, Le petit soldat finds the young Godard already retooling cinema as a vehicle for existential inquiry, political argument, and ephemeral portraiture – in other words, as a medium for delivering “truth twenty-four times per second.”


Jean-Luc Godard, 1963, 99 min

"Godard’s adaptation of Alberto Moravia’s novel – perhaps it was more of a springboard – had a million-dollar budget, half of which went to its star Brigitte Bardot, with a sizable portion of the rest going to Jack Palance and to Fritz Lang. With what little was left, Godard made what many now consider to be one of his greatest films in five weeks. Palance is the producer who brings screenwriter Michel Piccoli and his wife (Bardot) to Cinécittà to work on Lang’s adaptation of The Odyssey, and the conflicts between commerce and art, the ancient and the modern, the legendary and the mundane, the tender and the cruel commence." - Film Society of Lincoln Centre


Band of Outsiders
Jean-Luc Godard, 1964, 92 min

Gleefully putting into practice Griffith's maxim that all you need to make a film is a girl and a gun, Bande à part is Godard's playful tribute to the Hollywood pulp crime movies of the Forties, executed with typically Gallic cool. Franz and Arthur, a couple of streetwise chancers, team up with the shy Odile (Anna Karina) to plan a robbery. As the trio of misfits roam the cafes of suburban Paris, do a lightning tour of the Louvre, and play-act shoot-outs, the suspicion grows that this is one heist that is not going to go according to plan. As well as superb photography by Raoul Coutard and music by Michel Legrand, Bande à part – shot in just 25 days – features one of the most exhilarating dance sequences in film.


Jean-Luc Godard, 1965, 95 min

This classic of the French New Wave cinema is a dazzling amalgam of film noir and science fiction that features tough gumshoe Lemmy Caution (Constantine) as an intergalactic agent sent to conquer Alpha 60, a strange city from which love and tenderness have been banished. Godard pursues his theme of alienation in a technological society by turning contemporary Paris into an icily dehumanized city of the future.


Pierrot le fou
Jean-Luc Godard, 1965, 110 min

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.


Masculin Féminin
Jean-Luc Godard, 1966, 121 min  

With Masculin Féminin, ruthless stylist and iconoclast Jean-Luc Godard introduces the world to “the children of Marx and Coca-Cola,” through a gang of restless youths engaged in hopeless love affairs with music, revolution, and one another. French New Wave icon Jean-Pierre Léaud stars as Paul, an idealistic would-be intellectual struggling to forge a relationship with the adorable pop star Madeleine (real-life yé-yé girl Chantal Goya). Through their tempestuous affair, Godard fashions a candid and wildly funny free-form examination of youth culture in pulsating 1960s Paris, mixing satire and tragedy as only Godard can.


Made in USA
Jean-Luc Godard, 1966, 85 min

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.


La Chinoise
Jean-Luc Godard, 1967, 96 min

“Naturally, the color red dominates Godard’s stunning political comedy about how five formidably innocent young people – “Robinson Crusoe's with Marxism as their Man Friday” – spend their summer vacation. Espousing Brecht and donning a miscellany of costumes and accessories, Jean-Pierre Léaud plays Guillaume, an agitprop performer in a small group of students who passionately debate the impact of Mao’s cultural revolution and what chance terrorism might have in triggering comparable radicalization in the West. This cinematic cell of charismatic Reds is just part of La Chinoise’s dazzling lightshow of slogans, posters, and revolutionary images. Godard’s subtitle – “a film in the making” – was eerily prophetic, given the “children’s crusade” that hit the streets of Paris just a year later.” – Film Society of Lincoln Center


Two or Three Things I Know About Her
Jean-Luc Godard, 1967, 84 min

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.


Jean-Luc Godard, 1967, 105 min

This scathing late-sixties satire is one of cinema’s great anarchic works. Determined to collect an inheritance from a dying relative, a bourgeois couple travel across the French countryside while civilization crashes and burns around them. Featuring a justly famous sequence in which the camera tracks along a seemingly endless traffic jam, and rich with historical and literary references, Weekend is a surreally funny and disturbing call for revolution, a depiction of society reverting to savagery, and – according to the credits – the end of cinema itself.


A Film Like Any Other
Jean-Luc Godard, 1968, 100 min

“Two 54-minute segments, with identical successions of images but different soundtracks. Students from Nanterre (where May 68 more or less began) sit on the grass (shot from the neck down) and discuss where the movement will go next; two Renault workers discuss their own ideas of a revolutionary future – their images are intercut with black and white footage of May 68, their words mingle with Godard’s own rhetoric. When the film was shown at the 1968 New York Film Festival, Godard told the projectionist to flip a coin and decided on the spot which 16mm reel to begin with. According to D.A. Pennebaker, the American distributor, the audience “began to tear up their seats.”” – Film Society of Lincoln Center


British Sounds (See You at Mao)
Jean-Luc Godard, 1969, 54 min

Believing that the narrative film – even when modified as in his own Breathless or Masculin Féminin – was outdated and bourgeois, Godard let loose a propagandistic audio-visual barrage on the senses that combines Maoism, the Beatles, multiple sound tracks, minimal cinema à la Warhol, nudity (accompanied by a women’s liberation statement), and excerpts from Nixon, Pompidou, and the Communist Manifesto, all ending with a blood-spattered hand painfully reaching for a red flag.


Wind from the East
Jean-Luc Godard & Jean-Pierre Gorin, 1970, 95 min

“In 1969, the radical student leader Daniel Cohn-Bendit suggested the idea of making a left-wing spaghetti western in Italy to Godard, who wrote a story about the kidnapping of an executive by strikers and asked the left-wing Italian actor Gian-Maria Volonté to star. When the shoot devolved into complete chaos, Godard brought in his young friend Jean-Pierre Gorin, who was recuperating from a motorcycle accident. In the editing room, at Gorin’s urging, the film was re-shaped from a chronological narrative into a conceptually manufactured propaganda tool.” – Film Society of Lincoln Center


Vladimir and Rosa
Jean-Luc Godard & Jean-Pierre Gorin, 1971, 103 min

“Godard and Gorin’s take on the trial of the Chicago Seven trial, shot in their editing suite, with actors declaiming their roles as Hoffman, Seale, Dellinger et al. against primary colored walls. When financier and Grove Press publisher Barney Rosset saw Vladimir and Rosa, he was shocked and deeply offended by the irreverence with which Godard and Gorin had treated his heroes. He screened it for Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin, filmed them as they watched and caterwauled at the screen, and edited them into the movie (some of those prints have survived).” – Film Society of Lincoln Centre


Struggle in Italy
Jean-Luc Godard & Jean-Pierre Gorin, 1971, 62 min

Not necessarily a film about the struggles in Italy – largely shot, in fact, in Godard and Anne Wiazemsky’s home at the time – this is a discursive reflection on a young Italian woman’s shift from political “theory” to political “practice” and, at the same time, a self-questioning of its own practice and theories.


Tout va bien
Jean-Luc Godard & Jean-Pierre Gorin, 1972, 95 min

“Fonda was at the height of her fame when she signed on to play an American reporter who, along with her washed-up film director husband (Montand), covers a strike at a French sausage factory in Gorin and Godard’s attack on leftist rhetoric, capitalism and consumer culture. Featuring a justly famous two story cut-away set of the factory (inspired by the bisected boarding house in the 1961 Jerry Lewis film Ladies Man), Tout va bien depicts the varying degrees of worker radicalism with caustic humor. Gorin called it “an historical film. It’s a film about history and its power to transform the individual.”” – Harvard Film Archive


Letter to Jane: An Investigation About a Still
Jean-Luc Godard & Jean-Pierre Gorin, 1972, 52 min

Godard and Gorin’s meditation on and dissection of a famous image of their Tout va bien star Jane Fonda, taken during a trip to Hanoi, rendered on the soundtrack by the two filmmakers in hard-boiled English. Far from the dry-as-dust film of legend, this is a formidable piece of political analysis that reaches some kind of peak when they find a direct link between Fonda’s expression of caring for the Vietnamese peasants she’s talking to the same expression on her father’s face, thirty years before, in The Grapes of Wrath. “We made this film in the same way that you’d make a can opener,” said Gorin. A can-opener that’s built to last.” – Film Society of Lincoln Center


Every Man for Himself
Jean-Luc Godard, 1980, 87 min

After a decade in the wilds of avant-garde and early video experimentation, Jean-Luc Godard returned to commercial cinema with this star-driven work of social commentary, while remaining defiantly intellectual and formally cutting-edge. Every Man for Himself, featuring a script by Jean-Claude Carrière and Anne-Marie Miéville, looks at the sexual and professional lives of three people – a television director (Jacques Dutronc), his ex-girlfriend (Nathalie Baye), and a prostitute (Isabelle Huppert) – to create a meditative story about work, relationships, and the notion of freedom. Made twenty years into his career, it was, Godard said, his “second first film.”


First Name: Carmen
Jean-Luc Godard, 1983, 85 min

“While many argue that Godard's later films pale in comparison to his seminal work from the 1960s, First Name: Carmen belies this myth. All the classic Godard trademarks are here: fatalism, romantic scorn, socialist rhetoric, visual symbolism, tortured narcissism (with Godard himself playing Carmen's lecherous filmmaker uncle), and a healthy dose of Americanisms. Loosely based on the source of Bizet's opera, this Carmen has its heroine rob a bank in order to fund a film she wants to make. Weaving Beethoven's late quartets with the cacophony of Parisian traffic and high tragedy with comic farce, Carmen becomes at once a parody of the director's own work from the 1960s and a prototype for a new cinema for its own time.” – Harvard Film Archive


Jean-Luc Godard, 1985, 94 min 

"“I’m a renaissance painter looking for commissions,” said Godard of this project, which began as a gleam in producer Alain Sarde’s eye: Paris, pulp fiction, Claude Brasseur, Nathalie Baye, Johnny Halliday, and an aging Jean-Pierre Léaud (in various disguises). After Godard and Anne-Marie Miéville finished adapting Sarde’s story, the stuff about gangsters, detectives, and bad debts became a backdrop for the relationship between Brasseur’s Emile and Baye’s Françoise. A fraught shoot, but it resulted in a lovely film with surprising bursts of passion.” Film at Lincoln Center


King Lear
Jean-Luc Godard, 1987, 90 min

““I must insist that this movie, which has already been postponed so many times, will reach the Cannes festival,” says Cannon’s Menahem Golan to Godard under the opening movement of this eye-opening reconsideration of Shakespeare, couched within a story of the Bard's fictional ancestor (Peter Sellars), who is charged with the recreation of culture after the calamity of Chernobyl – he consults with a certain Dr. Pluggy, played by the director himself. The cast is as filled with stars as a northern sky, but the ravishing layers of sound and image and the profound faith in art are the real source of wonder.” – Film at Lincoln Center


Notre Musique
Jean-Luc Godard, 2004, 80 min

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.


Film Socialisme
Jean-Luc Godard, 2010, 102 min  

"Film Socialisme is a movie in three movements, their relationship, particularly in terms of tempo and the statement and recapitulation of themes, corresponding more or less to classical sonata form: a fast-paced first movement, a slow second, and a third that is faster and shorter than the first. The opening movement takes place on a huge ocean liner cruising the Mediterranean, with brief side trips in various ports of call. The second movement is confined to a small house and an adjacent gas station somewhere in the south of France. The third recapitulates the Mediterranean journey of the first, depicting places where what Godard terms “our humanities” were born – Egypt, Palestine, Odessa, Hellas (i.e. Greece, hélas), Naples, Barcelona – largely by scavenging through banked images of 20th-century horror." – Amy Taubin


Goodbye to Language
Jean-Luc Godard, 2014, 70 min, 2D

“Watching Jean-Luc Godard’s recent work can be a source of joy, but also of terror – especially if you’re trying to write about it. Your eyes are bombarded with violent, abrupt changes of texture, colour, and form, sometimes obliged to take in several superimposed images and captions at once (…) Your ears, meanwhile, try to apprehend snatches of text, often spoken off screen, fragments of music that start and stop with equal suddenness, and a dizzying array of sound effects – barking dogs, gunshots, a particular intense burst of cawing crows that, in this new film, had me putting my hands to my ears. The sheer assaultive power of Goodbye to Language makes it Godard’s most vibrant and exciting film for some time and, you might say, his most terroristic: he’s never been so true to André Breton’s dictum, “Beauty will be convulsive or not at all.” – Jonathan Romney


The Image Book
Jean-Luc Godard, 2018, 85 min

Jean-Luc Godard returns with a bracing, beautiful and confrontational essay film. Splicing together classic film clips and newsreel footage, often stretched, saturated and distorted almost beyond recognition, The Image Book interrogates our relationship with film, culture and global politics. Presenting the final masterwork by Jean-Luc Godard, the French New Wave titan whose inventive brilliance will be impossible to replace. Winner of the first-ever Special Palme d’Or at Cannes, The Image Book is a riotous whirlwind of images and sounds from the father of modern cinema.


See You Friday, Robinson
Mitra Farahani, 2022, 96 min

UK premiere followed by Q&A with Mitra Farahani

“A long-distance dialogue between Ebrahim Golestan, a giant of Iranian cinema and literature (who will celebrate his 100th birthday on the day of the first screening!) and Jean-Luc Godard forms the basis of this latest film by Mitra Farahani. Among the most gifted documentarians from Iran, Farahani mediates between two seemingly irreconcilable worlds to create a unique epistolary work. Its elegant, hybrid style takes us from encounters with shadows – the first time we see each of these artists – to the inner lives of flesh and blood individuals; vulnerable, pained, caring, endlessly searching.  

More than seven years in the making, See You Friday, Robinson is a search for points of convergence – each artist now seen living on his chosen island of solitude but connected through internet technology. Godard, still largely preoccupied with ideas concerning image and language, plays the role of pitcher. Golestan, a man of expansion and clarity, aims to find meaning in the array of audio-visual puzzles he receives. Godard acts as if everything is known by everybody, to which Golestan replies that everybody is not born yet. Farahani brings the idea of "parallels" into the form of the film itself. She even adds her own, as when selected passages from the life of Beethoven are narrated, with the accompaniment of the composer's music, to complete her puzzle picture of creativity in the twilight of life.  

Farahani mysteriously leaves out of the frame the key works made by these two artists, only showing excerpts from their films when one of the two is actually watching one. We see Golestan and his wife watching JLG/JLG – autoportrait de décembre, and Golestan's own Hills of Marlik also features. But there is an abundance of other citations – from Wittgenstein to Joyce; Tolstoy to Goya; Chekhov to Johnny Guitar; Puccini to Elias Canetti. Godard recites the closing lines of Dashiell Hammett's The Thin Man ("but it's all pretty unsatisfactory"), foregrounding a central theme of the film, while Golestan's deep admiration for the thirteenth-century Persian poet Saadi acts as the driving force.  

Yet, beyond the printed word and the image, the film finds some of its answers in the ordinary rooms of these two men: in their calculated cycle of life, climbing and descending the stairs. Then there's the life-and-death parallel that Farahani tries to ward off through her preservation of every banal bit of life that she encounters and manages to translate into poetry.” – Ehsan Khoshbakht