For many, the greatest of all directors, few artists can claim to have had as seismic an impact on 20th-century cinema as Jean-Luc Godard, the iconic bad boy of the French New Wave who went from the cine-clubs of Paris to the forefront of world cinema and beyond. Wildly important and revered, perhaps only silent master D.W. Griffith has had such a direct influence on the language of film, a language Godard mastered immediately and spent the subsequent six decades of his storied career tearing apart and reconstructing in his own politically-charged image.
In fact, his filmography is so vast, varied, and littered with gold that immersing oneself in it is a daunting prospect. Should one start with his commercial heyday in the ‘60s? Or perhaps with his more radical experiments of form in the ‘70s? Maybe his more refined approach to arthouse in the ‘80s and ‘90s. What about his 21st-century works, his closing artistic statements to a world he has so ingeniously channeled and rejected? The truth is that there is no correct answer, per se.
Personally, I would recommend a somewhat chronological approach, but all of his films contain something of merit, and even at his lowest ebbs of inspiration, Godard is still a fascinating voice to engage with. But this article is not about the lowest ebbs, it is about the multitude of artistic highs within his oeuvre, forming the shape of an unrated top 15, with each series of selected films designed to demonstrate a particular phase or change in style, aesthetic or ideology.
Throughout, we will hopefully touch upon every aspect of his career, but for those still wanting more there is no better place to look than the films themselves — namely, the fifteen following:
LA NOUVELLE VAGUE (1960-1967)
Breathless (1960), A Woman Is a Woman (1961), Contempt (1963), Pierrot le Fou (1965)
Before evaluating the early films of Jean-Luc Godard, one must first understand the context in which they were made, both personally for Godard, culturally in cinema, and historically in the geopolitical landscape of post-World War II Europe.
Never a frequent cinema-goer in his youth, Godard was introduced to film through the essays and academia exposed to him by the bourgeois intellectuals his well-connected family would socially surround him. Throughout the 1950s, he became one of the most popular writers for the famous magazine Cahiers du Cinéma, an influential publication that popularised schools of thought such as the “auteur theory”, praising and evaluating the role of the director in the American films of the 1940s and the French films of the pre-war era. His fellow writers for the magazine, and close friends in Paris’ Latin Quarter, included François Truffaut, Jacques Rivette, Éric Rohmer, and Claude Chabrol; all canonized names in their own right, though none went onto the level of fame and acclaim that has accompanied Jean-Luc Godard ever since making his first foray into feature filmmaking: Breathless (À bout de souffle).
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Though Breathless was not the first French New Wave film (Chabrol and Truffaut had directed their celebrated debuts the year prior, and some have claimed Louis Malle’s Elevator to the Gallows and Jean Rouch’s Moi, Un Noir, both 1958, to be prototypical New Wave films), it was the one that established the underground cine-clubs of Paris as the new home for the most exciting voices in world cinema. Over two million French viewers saw the film upon its release in March 1960, and its stature among critics and filmmakers alike only grows larger as the years pass. Now, Breathless is considered a masterpiece as untouchable as those of the directors the director gushed over in his days of criticism and as a turning point in both the career of Jean-Luc Godard and film history.
Like many of Godard’s earliest films, Breathless is perhaps best viewed through the looking glass of history and cultural significance. The cinema he rallied against in his erudite and often brutal Cahiers du Cinéma essays was that of patriotic French identity and the state-imposed American films ceding them in box office popularity, both of which are funneled into and then distorted by the burgeoning voice of a young auteur with a point to prove and a society to rebel. One filmmaker that Godard did praise, however, was Howard Hawks (dubbing him “the great American artist), and the influence of his film The Big Sleep (1946) and, of course, Michael Curtiz’s Casablanca (1942) is evident from the off, forming the blueprint from which Godard expands and develops a style of clarity and deliberate contradiction.
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Though Godard uses lightweight cameras on the fly to immerse the viewers, he also purposefully disorients that same audience with desynchronized audio tracks and jarring jump cuts during the film’s famous murder scene, a set piece that deconstructs and questions the very nature of the lost lives one takes for granted when watching a gangster film. It’s no coincidence that both of the aforementioned true-blue Hollywood classics star Humphrey Bogart, whose suave, smooth-talking persona is mimicked by both lead actor Jean-Paul Belmondo and the character he portrays.
Having seen all of Jean-Luc Godard’s films, it would be easy to look back on his first with a chuckle and see it as an underdeveloped thesis statement for what his future movies would entail, but to reduce a film such as Breathless to that is truly a disservice. Martial Solal’s swooning score, Raoul Coutard’s black-and-white cinematography, Truffaut and Godard’s freewheeling screenplay: it’s cinema at its most gleefully anarchic and capital I important, and sixty years (and 40-something Godard films) later, it still holds up as a brilliant work.
Needless to say, Godard had set the bar quite high with his very first feature film, and it is true that such a level of acclaim and reverence has never met one of his individual works since. The closest to Breathless’s success and fame worldwide is most likely Contempt (Le Mépris). Starring Michel Piccoli, Jack Palance, Fritz Lang (as himself), and a scantily clad Brigitte Bardot, it tells the tale of a producer and director trying to film an adaptation of Homer’s The Odyssey who are often sidetracked by studio interference and the disintegration of their screenwriter’s marriage.
In a similar way, Godard’s emphasis in Contempt appears to be something beyond a straight adaptation of Alberto Moravia’s popular existentialist novel Il disprezzo; though the plot is somewhat adhered to, more attention is placed on the gorgeous tracking shots and long takes chronicling the external bombast and inner inanity of the movie industry. It is a wonderful work of metatextual fiction and one that is buoyed by a joyous sense of collaboration behind the scenes. Lang’s role grabs the headlines, but fellow New Wave filmmakers Luc Moullet and Jacques Rouzier were hired for the crew; both Godard and Coutard take turns in front of the camera, and legendary Italian producer Carlo Ponti bankrolled the project. By all means, Contempt is one of the great films about filmmaking, but not one drenched in the glamour or messaging that such a prestigious title may suggest.
Perhaps Ponti’s greatest contribution to the film was the suggestion of Bardot in the role of Camille, the complacent and intelligent wife of protagonist Paul. The model and actor’s employment was largely based on her famous good looks, but she ultimately adds a humane touch to a film of daunting intellectual prowess.
Watch Video Essay on Jean-Luc Godard’s Alphaville (1965)
In typical Godard fashion, Bardot’s sensuality is both embraced and played around with. In the film’s opening scene, included retroactively at the behest of American financiers, her nude body is draped across the bed in a manner at once mocking and enhancing her beauty. Beyond the bedroom, Bardot and Piccoli’s compelling lovers’ quarrels rarely leave the confines of their apartment, entrapping them within the stifling domesticity their marriage has erected in place of the passion and romance of young love. The tragedy and flaws of humankind weigh down the ambition and seeming perfection of art. In other words, a bonafide masterpiece.
Throughout Godard’s career, he has collaborated frequently with several cinematographers, editors, co-directors, screenwriters, and actors, the most famous of these collaborators being the late Anna Karina, The actress, writer, and singer who was Godard’s wife for a four-year period between 1961 and 1965, during which they made seven films together, the first of which being the underwhelming Algerian war drama Le Petit Soldat (filmed in 1961, but delayed until 1963), and the last of which being the trans-Atlantic romp Made in U.S.A. (1966) in a body of work once described as “the most influential in the history of cinema” by Filmmaker magazine. Of these films, two have been included here.
Stream “Contempt” BY Jean-Luc Godard on Netflix France Library
The first, A Woman is a Woman (Une Femme est une femme), was just the second Jean-Luc Godard film to be released, but it already demonstrates the filmmaker is at ease with his own abilities, yet not afraid to innovate or be led astray from his comfort zone. It is a true exercise in cinematic stylistics, bamboozling the audience with impromptu song numbers and tying them back in through a gripping love triangle, whose members forever break the fourth wall to tell the audience just how they feel. In fact, such is the film’s brazen confidence and intertextual power that at one point, a character declares the very film he’s starring in a masterpiece before sitting down to watch himself in Breathless on the television.
This speaks to a cultural awareness that permeates Godard’s oeuvre, starting in the ‘60s and spanning all the way to his hyper-digital collage essays in the 2010s. He knows his place in the world of film, and he knows the ways in which he can use them to deconstruct the form and utilize it best to portray his worldview. This is best expressed in a political context later in his career, but he first touched on the politics of class, albeit in a somewhat light-hearted manner, in Pierrot le Fou.
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In theory, there is not much separating the crazed lovers on the run in Pierrot le Fou from those in Breathless five years prior, but the revisitation of this story is an interesting lens to look through when reflecting on Godard’s enormous artistic progression over such a short time span. What stuns immediately is just how visually bombastic it all is, as Belmondo and Karina are slathered in technicolor and neon lights: their shadows reflected on doorways, their faces painted red. They are runaway rebels from the law, as Belmondo escapes the angst and frustration of bourgeois inner-city Paris for the great unknown with his ex-girlfriend Marianne, played with typically enigmatic charm by Karina, a woman who happens to be on the run from the Algerian mob.
The ensuing hijinks coalesce into the most linear, traditionally structured screenplay of Godard’s entire career, but the infectious joy of subversion never departs from his style. This culminates in an ending that may appear anti-climactic, but upon further thought is the perfect conclusion to a film that so beautifully straddles the line between mainstream narrative and politically confrontational cinema. In many ways, you feel it is a personal film for Godard, as soon later, he himself would become the man bored of his bourgeois lifestyle running for an escape, though one he found not in the faraway hills of continental Europe, but in a new breed of political filmmaking he would spend the next decade refining and perfecting, contorting the language of cinema to suit his own ideals.
Obviously, all of these periods come with more than their fair share of highlights, so honorable mentions of movies that couldn’t quite make the cut will be listed at the end of each.
- Vivre Sa Vie (1962) — One of Godard’s most touchingly humane films. An episodic portrayal of an icy yet vulnerable Parisian prostitute played to perfection by Karina in perhaps her most affecting role.
- The Married Woman (1964) — An examination of beauty standards and the agency of the modern woman, shot in beautiful black-and-white and buoyed by a brilliant opening montage in which the physicality of the body itself is under the microscope.
- Alphaville (1965) — One of Godard’s few early forays into genre cinema, in which the dystopian bleakness of a future in which towns are run by machines is contrasted by bourgeois production design and noir-ish visuals.
- Masculin Féminin (1966) — For some, Godard’s masterpiece. A faux-documentary take on the blossoming youth culture of mid-‘60s Paris, marking the director’s first collaboration with Jean-Pierre Léaud.
THE TURNING POINT (1967-1969)
La Chinoise (1967), Weekend (1967), Sympathy for the Devil (1969)
Due to the frustrating constraints of time, this Godard retrospective/ranking is divided into just five subsets. For that reason, it may seem trivial and bizarre to have an entire phase dedicated to just a two-year period, but there can be underestimating just how pivotal the time between 1967 and 1969 was not just to Godard’s career but to the history of French culture and politics. This is largely down to May 68, a series of student and worker-led protests that took place around major French cities rebelling against capitalism, consumerism, and imperialism, in an attempt to reject the American economic blueprint that had been enforced upon their livelihoods.
In a sense, Godard was at the cultural forefront of this revolution: his 1969 film Joy of Learning was filmed whilst the riots were ongoing; he formed is own radical art collective in the wake of the events (more on that later); and he even prophesied them in the playfully satirical La Chinoise.
For all its political subtext, La Chinoise is a fairly direct and often hilarious comedy. The objects of Godard’s playful ire here are the wannabe student revolutionaries bubbling under the surface of mainstream political discourse in the year proceeding May 68. In bright colors, he lays bare their contradictions and hypocrisies through a series of humorous vignettes, combining dialogue set pieces with musical numbers and an ingenious verité-style discussion with philosopher Francis Jeanson conducted by the director himself.
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More importantly, the film marks a structural pivot in the narrative storytelling of Godard, as his radical politics and adamant belief systems removed him further and further from his accessible, early ‘60s pomp. Though the art-pop photography of Raoul Coutard and the presence of screen icon Jean-Pierre Léaud distinguish La Chinoise as a film still arguably of La Nouvelle Vague in hindsight, it is something quite different altogether. Whilst his contemporaries were still finding their footing, Jean-Luc Godard had already carved out one of the 1960s most beloved filmographies. He found it his artistic and political duty to stray from it.
This departure from mainstream narrative film continued in 2 or 3 Things I Know About Her, the critically garlanded faux-documentary released later that same year, and reached breaking point in Weekend. One of Godard’s most definitive and enduring artistic statements, it is widely regarded by historians and scholars to be the end of his New Wave period, and in this list proves the focal point for a two-year period of boundless creativity and artistic freedom. The film’s final frame declares “the end of narrative cinema”, such is the extent of Weekend’s ambitions.
A bold statement, yes, but one entirely justified by the rise of political thought in Godard’s work and the rifts in class and ideology of the French public, here typified and played to tragicomic perfection by Mireille Darc and Jean Yanne as a middle-class couple whose weekend away takes a turn for the worst. Said turn entails a series of increasingly surreal encounters with outsiders in the countryside as their consumerist lifestyle slowly crumbles underneath their personal dissatisfaction and the larger woes of global capitalism. A glorious manifesto of formal cinematic experimentation and radical political thought, perhaps Godard’s definitive artistic statement as it embodies everything his filmmaking can do so well and is one of his masterpieces.
In this era, however, Godard’s interests went further than French borders. In 1969 he made Sympathy for the Devil whilst in Britain, focusing on the music of the British invasion, the rise of the Black Panthers, Marxism, and workers’ rights in the country’s far-left. The result? One of the greatest cultural curios of that decade, in which the line between the artful and political is ingeniously smudged.
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The film’s core is a series of scenes in which Godard captures the artistic process of The Rolling Stones when writing the iconic hit song that gives Sympathy for the Devil its title. Gradually over the course of several studio hours, we see the track develop from a blip of inspiration into a fully-fledged song, and its one of cinema’s purest delights to see such talented musicians working together in an articulate, good-faith, and exhilarating manner.
The filmmaking spends just as much time focusing on the wider societal importance of the British music of the time, cutting between scenes of Mick Jagger and co. to hilarious set pieces, all impeccably framed by Anthony B. Richmond’s cinematography, slowly tracking from left to right, emphasizing the absurdity and potency of these sequences. The effect of this is an endlessly entertaining collage of a time and place, a capsule bursting at the seams with subtext, visual flare, and thematic depth. It also marked the final time for almost a decade that Godard would adhere to and deploy the traditional grammar of film language.
- 2 or 3 Things I Know About Her (1967) — Acclaimed experimental essay film centered on the effects of consumerism, investigating the modern Parisian lifestyle through a character study of a housewife-turned-prostitute.
GROUPE DZIGA VERTOV (1969-1976)
Wind from the East (1970), Tout Va Bien (1972), Here and Elsewhere (1976)
Groupe Dziga Vertov was a radical artistic collective founded in 1968 by Godard himself, alongside fellow leftist thinkers and filmmakers such as Jean-Pierre Gorin and Jean-Henri Roger. Together, they are credited with just nine feature-length films, though their influence lasts on the films the directors would make later in the 1970s. It took them time to find their footing (the group made a stuttering debut in 1969’s A Film Like Any Other ), but ultimately Groupe Dziga Vertov remains one of the most fascinating and oft-overlooked periods of Godard’s career and one deserving of far more recognition.
Perhaps the reason why the films are so compelling is the same reason that they are inaccessible to a wider audience. The group primarily existed as a radical reimagining of all previous film language, rejecting the montage theory of Eisenstein, the capitalism apparatus of filmmaking, and the concept of sole directorial authorship. The closest they ever brushed with the mainstream was 1972’s Tout Va Bien, starring Jane Fonda and Yves Montand, but for all of that film’s Hollywood stars, colorful sets, and moments of humor, it’s still an experimental work in relation to his of La Nouvelle Vague. Nevertheless, it holds its own as a thoroughly entertaining and compelling examination of workers’ rights, as the aforementioned couple is caught in the midst of a factory revolt.
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Co-directed with Gorin, the film takes all but five seconds to begin deconstructing itself as a pair of dueling voiceovers debate the merits of Fonda and Montand’s role in the production and the purpose of such a work in general. Fonda’s casting occupies a strange space in Tout Va Bien; though she plays her role of the American foreign correspondent to perfection, the political and personal rifts that were developing between her and Godard are palpable throughout. For proof of this, one needn’t look further than Letter to Jane: An Investigation of a Still (released the same year), a scathing hour-long indictment of what Godard and Gorin, then Maoists, saw as faux-radicalism from one of Hollywood’s brightest stars — even when crossing wires with the mainstream, Godard remained firmly controversial and uncommercial.
As watchable and fascinating as Tout Va Bien is, the magnum of opus of the movement is actually a more obscure film released two years prior — 1970’s Wind from the East (Le Vent d’est). It would be easy to call it Godard’s magnum opus too, but maybe not as he claims no directorial credit within the text itself. Instead, it is shared amongst his cast and crew, fitting for a film so steeped in a communal sense of rejection of norm, reflected in both the fictional strikes on screen and the creative process behind them. In no uncertain terms, Wind from the East represents a monumental step forward for the language of cinema, eschewing traditions of narrative storytelling and filmmaking in an attempt to reconstruct film grammar on the terms of the far-left ideology the group was founded upon.
Sounds intellectually intimidating, yes, but in essence, the film is, in fact, a black comedy, in which Godard satirizes the bourgeois student revolution, the capitalism overtaking the West, and even himself in some spots, with one scene brandishing him a boring “intellectual”. Though Godard is often criticized by his detractors for arrogance and self-indulgence, here we see a more naked, pure, and self-reflexive form of creation, changing and questioning the very medium that separates him and his political views from the audience he is trying to challenge, persuade and provoke. It’s a film scarcely seen and often reviled by those who do, but it’s an interesting thought experiment to consider just where modern cinema could be had this radical revolution gained more popularity and influence.
Whilst Letter to Jane was, technically speaking, the last film Groupe Dziga Vertov made together as a collective, their ethos and techniques were echoed in Godard films released later in the 1970s, often made with a similar set of collaborators. The best of these is undoubtedly Here and Elsewhere (Ici et ailleurs), co-directed with his partner Anne-Marie Miéville and Gorin, in which, again, we see Godard exploring a political realm outside his own. This time, creating a visceral political reaction by juxtaposing images of consumerist French modernity with footage of the fedayeen initially shot by his former group but reimagined and deconstructed by the critical eye of its creators. The effect of said juxtaposition is hardly subtle, but subtly has never been the way in which this particular filmmaker operates, and by showing such a blunt and overt contrast between the livelihoods of both parties.
As always, they critique consumerist and capitalist society but also look inwards, critiquing their own antics and philosophy earlier that decade, showing the cinematic deception often deployed by Godard and co. to propagate their political ideals. It’s a work that asks a lot of its viewers and of itself, but certainly worth a watch if one is to truly delve into the director’s transitional, video-based period of the late 1970s.
- British Sounds (1970) — Another Godard film shot in London, as he examines the revolutionary spirit of the students and workers of Britain, taking us inside bars, factory production lines, and news reports. Co-directed by Jean-Henri Roger and sometimes called See You at Mao.
- Numero Deux (1975) — One of Godard’s most compelling experimentations with video, as sequences play out concurrently on two separate televisions. Not entertaining in the traditional sense, but worthwhile nonetheless.
TRANSITION AND REFINEMENT (1980-1999)
First Name: Carmen (1983), King Lear (1987), Histoire(s) du Cinéma (1988)
Covering a time span of 23 years with a subheading is truly an exercise in futility, but those two words do feel apt to describe a period in which Godard followed his artistic muse into a lot of interesting artistic avenues.
After Here and Elsewhere, Godard took four years away from filmmaking before returning with 1980s Every Man for Himself, a film with such a pivotal role within his filmography that the great auteur himself referred to it as his “second debut,” though sadly it reaches nowhere near the quality level of his first one. Eventually, he did hit his stride with First Name: Carmen (Prénom Carmen), a rare excursion into a genre that morphs from an arthouse conversation piece into a thrilling bank heist and back again. This is all illuminated by some of the prettiest pictures in Godard’s canon, the result of a long-overdue reunion with Raoul Coutard, a sign of the director’s development.
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Instead of rejecting his ‘60s body of work on principle alone, he acknowledges and accepts the role they have played in shaping contemporary French cinema and even recalls their verve with its editing and visual pallet. The signs of development and maturity (not to say he was immature previously) are evident from the more slow, refined, and contemplative tone the film adopts in its final third, both highly philosophical yet utterly cinematic. Proof, as if any were required, that Godard’s filmmaking could stand the test of time in a new decade.
When discussing Jean-Luc Godard’s output during the ‘80s and ‘90s, critics will usually address the respectable, accomplished, and acclaimed arthouse dramas such as Passion (1982) or Hail Mary (1985), but truth be told, his best and most enduring work from these decades remain his experiments with genre fiction (already touched upon with First Name: Carmen), documentaries, and adaptations such as King Lear (1987).
A loose reimagining of Shakespeare’s historical classic, it is perhaps the most fascinating and bizarre film the great master ever made; a Canon Films production whose contract was written on a napkin at the prior year’s Cannes Film Festival. The oddities only intensity from therein: Godard himself stars alongside fellow directors Woody Allen and Leos Carax, Hollywood teen starlet Molly Ringwald, and an up-and-coming Julie Delpy in an alternate, dystopian universe where the Chornobyl disaster and destroyed most of human life and art.
The structure is as seemingly gung-ho as the premise, separated into separate, seemingly unrelated acts, but in the maelstrom, a sense of Shakespeare’s text is, in fact, captured. In typically original and innovative fashion, Godard eschews the narrative restrictions of strict adaptation and instead conceptually channels what he sees as the core theme of the original work — in this case, the disconnect between language and thought — into an entirely new medium where the essence of the text, the concept of adaptation and value of art are critiqued. This critique is further complemented by some genuinely eerie world-building and cinematography whose taste for simple framing and authentic color is an interesting contrast.
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There remains in this era, however, a singular masterpiece in 1988’s Histoire(s) du Cinéma — a sprawling experimental documentary on the 20th-century film. Running at a gargantuan 266 minutes (no other Jean-Luc Godard film passes the two-hour mark), it’s a film that’s impossible to entirely comprehend in one sitting but even harder to resist once the viewer truly comes to terms with the scale and importance of the piece. A vivacious love of cinema is evident from the very first frame, and a thorough, passionate understanding of the medium: its history; its theory; its political and societal ramifications.
Myriad sights and sounds overlap and interact with one another as Godard’s narration jumps from the earliest days of artistic cinema all the way through his influences and the impact of his own work, creating an enthralling collage and a timeless reminder of film’s immense power. Of course, this power stretches far beyond the emotional. It extends into the realm of politics and human psychology, and by examining this, Godard paints a gorgeously abstracted canvas, at once enamoring and difficult, challenging and delightful; a work of paralyzing ambition and beauty.
- Hail Mary (1985) — Acclaimed modern retelling of the Virgin birth of Christ, one of Godard’s most accomplished formal dramas.
- Rise and Fall of a Small Film Company (1987) — Small-scale TV chronicling the trials and tribulations of low-budget film funding, starring a gloriously mustachioed Jean-Pierre Léaud.
- Nouvelle Vague (1990) — Godard embraces modernity whilst considering him and La Nouvelle Vague’s influence on popular culture, starring Alain Delon as an enigmatic drifter.
THE 21st CENTURY (2000-present day)
Film Socialisme (2010), The Image Book (2018)
Put simply, the manner in which Godard has artistically transitioned into the new millennium is staggering, utilizing the technologies of the 21st century to create a new plethora of bold, interesting, and innovative works. Godard dabbled slightly with these modern techniques in the 2000s, the saturated imagery of Our Music (2004); the vacillating color pallets of In Praise of Love (2001), before his new hyper-digital brand of experimental cinema reached its logical artistic conclusion in Film Socialisme (2010).
The first film Jean-Luc Godard released after an unofficial six-year hiatus from cinema, Film Socialisme saw the great auteur return to the limelight with one of his most complete and beautiful works. The film begins with a series of incidents taking place on a densely populated cruise ship, using an array of (mostly non-subtitled) languages and clashing cultures to demonstrate the full breadth of globalization. Then, typically unrestrained from the boundaries of traditional narrative, Godard turns his eye to myths and the “liberté, égalité, fraternité” motto of France; after all, maybe those two things are one and the same.
Through hyper-digital camera lenses, blurred images, and static images, the director illuminates the ever-increasing augmentation of technology into life and art. Ultimately, Film Socialisme is proof that any medium is at its most inspiring and emboldening when pushing the limits of what it can feasibly exist as. It’s no surprise that it was met with animosity by the mainstream Anglo-speaking critical establishment, but for those who have followed the path of Godard’s career and evolution, it’s a project of thrilling clarity.
2018’s The Image Book (Le Livre d’Image) was far warmer received (winning an honorary Palme d’Or), but is no less angular in form and structure. In his latest feature, Jean-Luc Godard eschews any sort of story to create something resembling a documentary essay, one casting its net typically far and wide into the global landscape of politics, war, and culture. In many ways, it dovetails nicely with Goodbye to Language, the director’s dabble in 3D released four years prior, but The Image Book feels a slightly more vivacious and humane film.
True to its title, it is an invigorating celebration and critique of the power and beauty of the moving image: its ability to capture the greatest and worst aspects of the human condition. From Eisenstein to Bay, the director carefully selects footage from over 150 films, recalling the vivacious passion for cinema present in Histoire(s) du Cinéma, but with a renewed nuance and a sense of purpose. It’s a film of intangible beauty and indescribable effect, and a fitting coda to a career that of endless innovation, influence, and genius, and a worthy final selection on which to conclude this lengthy overview.