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Jean Luc Godard

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Why can be Jean-Luc Godard considered an author?
The 1950s film critic magazine, Cahiers du Cinema, revolutionized the film criticism and coined a series of phrases that would give birth to a new wave of movies that did not comply with the industry standards imposed by the major film producing companies. One of those phrases was the “politique des auteurs”. The phrase made a reference on how the authors were often venerated because of the aesthetics of their movies instead of basing their criticism on specific film elements. The idea behind the phrase was addressing the concern regarding how much the American movies and their authors were praised despite working inside the framework Hollywood imposed. Hence, despite these restrictions, the French critics managed to find artistic elements within the films that reflected the personal views of the authors.
Consequently, by establishing that even Hollywood directors could be authors worthy of praising, French critics justified their keen appreciation for certain Hollywood films. Likewise, by praising the artistic qualities of the American filmmakers, the critics in Cahiers du Cinema also criticized their country’s cinema as they considered it had lost all the cinematic qualities they saw in the American films. On the other hand, for the American directors this theory meant little as most of the directors working for the big producing companies regarded themselves as mere craftsmen who made movies, not art. Nevertheless, there are its exceptions, and the idea of the director as an auteur has gained prominence in the mainstream as it is possible to see that often Hollywood directors try to provide their films with artistic touches to please their aesthetic sensibilities rather than gathering an audience.

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Hence, according to the auteur theory the director, often being the writer, is the one who gives the film all kits film qualities and distinctive qualities. This makes possible speaking about a movie made by X director as if all the movies that director’s career can be relatable if not in themes, in their aesthetic values (Sarris 561). On the other hand, auteur theory can be seen as overprotective toward the filmmakers it studies as it puts the authors on a pedestal. For this reason, the focus of this essay is assessing the film qualities of the French director, Jean-Luc Godard, particularly in his opera prima, Breathless. To conduct such analysis, we shall use the three elements Andrew Sarris describes in his 1962 essay Notes on the Auteur Theory.
Jean-Luc Godard rose to prominence thanks to his work as a film critic in the magazine Cahiers du Cinema. From that tribune, Godard criticized the French cinema for being stale and lacking innovation, preferring to keep up the conventions instead of taking risks. For that reason, many of his films challenge the conventions of the French cinema using his films’ framework to explore a series of themes that most preoccupied him such as the importance of the individual over the society and the absurdity of life. Consequently, Godard’s movies show a deep knowledge of the history of cinema, as well as the director’s desire to produce a film product that conveys a meaning, not just mindless images to entertain an audience. In the end, Jean-Luc Godard’s prowess as a director stems from the fact that he is also a cinephile, a person who enjoys movies and has the conceptual and theoretical apparatus to obtain elements from them and create thought pieces. Likewise, in this earlier works, particularly in Breathless, A Woman is a Woman and Pierrot le Fou, where he tries to deconstruct the classical Hollywoodian argument and rebuild it in his terms.
To conduct this analysis of the three mentioned movies, we shall use the three premises of auteur theory as described by Andrew Sarris:
“The three premises of auteur theory may be visualized as three concentric circles: the outer circle as technique; the middle circle, personal style; and the inner circle, interior meaning. The corresponding roles of the director may be designated as those of a technician, a stylist, and an auteur.” (Sarris 563).
Therefore, following Sarris’ framework, we shall dissect Godard’s selected movies to assess his qualities as an auteur. First, technique. Regarding technique, there are two highlightable aspects regarding Godard’s film technique: editing and filming. Given the fact that Godard often edited his footages, it is important to show the editing work to assess the quality of his movies. The first noticeable thing about Godard’s movies is the abrupt transitions the camera does, passing from one shot to the other, showing different parts of the same scene. These transitions, known as jump cuts became part of the filmmaker’s style and redefined the way shots were filmed. In Breathless; just minutes in the movie, the director shows a jump cut as Michael passed numerous cars, then to the subject’s point of view, creating a disjointed series of shots that present the chaotic nature of Michel’s psyche and his reckless approach to crime.
Consequently, Godard’s filming techniques can also show us many about his capabilities as a director. In Pierrot le Fou one of the things that draw the attention further into the movie is the color and the way it is used to convey a meaning and make differences more intense, polarizing the audience to each of the sides of Ferdinand’s life. Hence, the differences between the red and blue of his outfits remark the differences between the man’s lives: Blue for his bourgeoisie live and red for the life he would want for himself, a life of risks and a simple lifestyle. Last, in the scene when Ferdinand discovers Marlene’s betrayal and shoots them, the most controversial part is not the shooting but the blue paint he puts on his face. Blue, a symbol of the former life he left behind and is now trying to recover.
Second, personal style: Concerning the director’s personal style, there is much to say. He not only revolutionized filmmaking, but also created a series of devices that posterior directors and writer used extensively. For instance, in A Woman is a Woman, Godard employs the Brechtian Dissociation, a technique meant to break the barrier between the performers and the audience and drag them into the storyline, adding depth to the spectators’ experience as they now feel part of the story, empathizing with the actors and their actions in a deeper way. This technique, coming known as “breaking the fourth wall” seeks to give the audience a sense of control of the film as if they were part of the action and decided what could happen. For instance, situations as the wink Angela gives to the camera as soon as she is presented and the ceremonial bows Emile and Angela do when they argue are cleverly put to the audience knows the actor is speaking to them, making the narrative more intimate and intricate.
It would be impossible to speak about Godard’s personal style without referring to Breathless. Beside the technical quality of the film, its wardrobe and the characters style says much about its personality. The wardrobe and style choices added character to the performances and improved the actors’ characterization. For that reason, as a character, Patricia seems well-put and in sync with the persona the movie intended to show. Patricia’s haircut, makeup, and wardrobe add much to her personality, turning her a convincing portrait of the American girl influenced by the French culture, a nonchalant woman who lives life as it presents. On the other side of the spectrum, Michael seems to be trying too hard to fill the role he envisioned for himself. He looks sharp and well-dressed, not like a thug, but as a shady businessman or the mastermind he wants to be, often desperately. Nevertheless, his actions are contrary to the image he wants to provide, which adds to the hollow feeling that Michael gives as a character.
Last, the third part, the inner meaning: Breathless patented the rebellious nature of Jean-Luc Godard as a filmmaker. The lack of a linear narrative and the fact that the movie’s characters are constantly running away from something the characters have, which can be seen as well in Pierrot Le Fou where this time is not the man who runs but a woman. Both Michael and Marianne are, despite their differences, the characters share traits linked to unorthodox lifestyles meant to rebel against the traditional values. When looked at further, by employing such rebellious characters, Godard is showing his rebellious nature, rebelling against these Hollywoodian conceptions meant to encase cinema in a series of repetitive formulas that seemed to work commercially but gave nothing to the film industry and the cinema as an art. On the other hand, there is a great deal of existentialism in Goddard’s films as in all the circumstances, the characters want to live their lives and exert their free will wherever they go, living as outsiders if that is what it takes to be happy. In A Woman is a Woman, we can see a great deal of female liberation as Angela uses her agency to take decisions regarding her life without resorting to others, what often frustrates Emil. This agency and self-reliance go even further as Angela haves sex with Alfred as a way to take control over her body and feelings. Hence, while Godard’s films are not a slap in the face of Hollywood as an institution, they are the result of a careful watching that allowed him to take the best parts of the American filmmaking, fusing it with the French sensibility and politic and human depth that Hollywood movies lacked. Although auteur theory seems outdated now and highly discarded by contemporary critics, Jean-Luc Godard is indeed a master of his craft. Maybe the scripts are not as polished as editing and the camera use, but, paraphrasing Sarris words, an auteur is not an auteur because he is a jack-of-all-trades. Instead, an auteur is an auteur because its films do convey a meaning, often showing parts of the society that are closed to the rest.
Work Cited
Saris, A. “Notes on Auteurs Theory.” (1962). Print.

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