June 26, 2013 by abbyo
Greetings, readers! This week I’m reviewing another French New Wave movie instead of Czech new wave. This is because I already had this review ready to go, and my schedule this week didn’t allow me to watch Milos Forman’s “Firemen’s Ball” in time for posting today. For now, enjoy this review, and I’ll be back with a post on “Firemen’s Ball” next week!
In a recent essay for Badass Digest, cinema criticism stud Film Crit Hulk lays out four major ways of consuming art. These four forms of consumption explain how we’re able to evolve from enjoying only movies like “Ghostbusters,” to enjoying movies like “Ghostbusters” and movies like “Night of the Hunter.” Basically, the more you challenge yourself with what you watch, the more analytical your mind becomes. It’s the natural progression for true film nerds and those who write about movies for a living.
However, the author’s giant green persona also makes the case that the fourth and highest level of art consumption is a level that can only be attained (with a few exceptions) by people with practical experience in the creation of art. These are people who know how something is made and can appreciate a work of art for its craft alone.
“Pierrot Le Fou” is a movie that, I think, can only be fully appreciated by fourth-level people. It’s a movie that makes next to no sense unless you know a significant amount about the use of lighting or space in a shot, or can decipher what would seem to the casual viewer like totally random compositions and symbols. It’s just a difference in the way a person’s mind works when they’re watching a film. There were things I enjoyed about “Pierrot,” but there’s much more that went right over my head.
In the film, bored bourgeois husband Ferdinand (the always-alluring Jean-Paul Belmondo) runs off with babysitter Marianne Renoir, played by Anna Karina. They go on a killing spree, hiding out in the wilderness and looking for Marianne’s gun-running brother in hopes of earning some ill-gotten income while Ferdinand writes a novel.
But director Jean-Luc Godard has much more in mind for “Pierrot” than a simple plot of lovers on the run. He intercuts the often surreal action with strange images—neon signs, comics, impressionist paintings—that at first glance connect only tangentially (and sometimes not at all) with the story. There are also some very pointed, but bizarrely-executed critiques of consumerism, Americans and the Vietnam War. “Pierrot” can feel like a crazed whirligig of a movie that speaks in code. It’s easy to feel like you’re not quite smart enough to get the message.
However, I know there are people who do understand “Pierrot Le Fou,” people that have cracked the code and been deeply affected by what Godard is trying to communicate. I know this because the film’s thumbprints are all over the movies of directors who are plenty influential in their own right; filmmakers like Wes Anderson, Terry Gilliam, and David Lynch. Warning: the film references are about to get super-contextual and heavy, so strap yourselves in kids. It’s about to get meta up in here.
Wes Anderson is probably the director who most directly borrows from this particular film, especially in “Moonrise Kingdom.” That movie uses both “Pierrot’s” color palette and wilderness survival motifs. And there are some shots Anderson practically copies directly from Godard’s movie. If you watch the two films as a double-feature, you’ll see Anderson wearing his love for “Pierrot Le Fou” like a scout merit badge.
But David Lynch would also seem to have a pretty strong connection to this film. This movie’s occasionally bizarre, stilted use of language and sound, and its cryptic appearance and awkward dismissal of characters are both hallmarks of Lynch’s work. And there’s one very striking image in “Pierrot,” of a man with a pair of scissors stuck through his throat, which Lynch seems to have put his own weird spin on in “Blue Velvet.”
Movies like “Pierrot Le Fou” are why Jean-Luc Godard is so often regarded as a filmmaker’s filmmaker. Starting here, and continuing with his later films, which only get more and more radical, he’s using a cinematic language that only a select few people can comprehend. From that standpoint, it’s pretty genius. But for viewers who don’t have that kind of vocabulary, “Pierrot” is a very difficult movie to get through. With this movie, Godard seems to be intentionally alienating his audience. He didn’t make this movie for the people who wouldn’t get it. He made it expressly for the people who he knew would.