Jean-Luc Godard, godfather of French New Wave cinema, dies at 91

He was among the world's most acclaimed film directors, known for classics like 'Breathless' and 'Contempt'



Photos: Reuters
Photos: Reuters

By Reuters

Published: Tue 13 Sep 2022, 1:28 PM

Last updated: Tue 13 Sep 2022, 2:41 PM

Film director Jean-Luc Godard, the godfather of France's New Wave movement in cinema, died on Tuesday aged 91, the newspaper Liberation said, citing people close to the Franco-Swiss director.

Godard was among the world's most acclaimed directors, known for classics like 'Breathless' and 'Contempt', which pushed cinematic boundaries and inspired iconoclastic directors decades after his 1960s heyday.

His movies broke the established conventions of French cinema in 1960, and helped kickstart a new way of filmmaking — replete with handheld camera work, jump cuts, and existential dialogue.

For many cinephiles, no words are good enough: Godard, with his tousled black hair and heavy-rimmed glasses, was a veritable revolutionary who made artists of movie-makers, putting them on par with master artists and icons of literature.

"It's not where you take things from — it's where you take them to," Godard once said.

Godard was not alone in creating France's New Wave (Nouvelle Vague) — a credit he shares with at least a dozen peers, including Francois Truffaut, Agnes Varda, and Eric Rohmer — most of them pals from the trendy, bohemian Left Bank of Paris in the late 1950s. However, he became the poster child of the movement, which spawned offshoots in Japan, Brazil, Hollywood and, more improbably, in what was then Communist-ruled Czechoslovakia.

"We owe him a lot," former French culture minister Jack Lang wrote in an emailed statement.

"He filled cinema with poetry and philosophy. His sharp and unique eye made us see the imperceptible."

Quentin Tarantino, director of 'Pulp Fiction' and 'Reservoir Dogs' in the 1990s, is often cited as one of a more recent generation of boundary-bending tradition that Godard and his Paris Left Bank cohorts initiated.

Earlier came Martin Scorsese in 1976 with 'Taxi Driver', the disturbing neon-lit existential-psychological thriller of a Vietnam veteran-turned-cabbie who steers through the streets all night with a growing obsession for the need to clean up seedy New York.

Godard was not everyone's idol. Wild-child Canadian director Xavier Dolan, who at 25 shared an award with an octogenarian Godard at the Cannes film festival in 2014, courted controversy every bit as much as Godard did, but called him "the grinchy old man" and "no hero of mine".

New Wave, new ways

Godard was born into a wealthy Franco-Swiss family on December 3, 1930 in Paris' plush Seventh Arrondissement. His father was a doctor, and his mother the daughter of a Swiss man who founded Banque Paribas, then an illustrious investment bank.

This upbringing contrasted with his later pioneering ways. Godard fell in with like-minded folk whose intellectual dissatisfaction with humdrum movies that never strayed from convention sowed the seeds of the breakaway movement that came to be called the Nouvelle Vague.

With its more forthright, offbeat approach to sex, violence and its explorations of the counter-culture, anti-war politics and other changing mores, the New Wave prioritised innovation in the making of movies.

Godard was one of the most prolific of his peers, producing dozens of short-, and full-length films over more than half a century from the late 1950s.

"Sometimes reality is too complex. Stories give it form," Godard said.

Most of his most influential and commercially successful films came in the 1960s, including 'Vivre Sa Vie' (My Life to Live), 'Pierrot le Fou', 'Two or Three Things I Know About Her' and 'Weekend'.

He switched to directing films steeped in leftist, anti-war politics through the 1970s before returning to a more commercial mainstream. Recent works, however, such as 'Goodbye to Language' (2014), and 'The Image Book' (2018) were even more experimental, and slimmed his audiences largely to Godard geeks.

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