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Pierrot Le Fou

In perhaps Pierrot Le Fou's most famous scene, Samuel Fuller, playing himself, memorably defines cinema as "Love, hate, action, violence, death. In one word, emotion!" Fuller's words ring bitterly ironic, as it would be hard to imagine a film with less visceral emotion than Pierrot Le Fou. In yet another of his playfully perverse mid-'60s genre deconstructions, director Jean-Luc Godard starts with the base components of a gut-bucket noir—a hard-luck Joe, a dizzy dame, a car, dead bodies, stolen loot, and a mad dash from Johnny Law—and diligently drains them of danger and excitement. He foregrounds the artifice, never letting audiences forget they're watching actors in a film instead of real people.

Pierrot Le Fou reunites Godard's two iconic stars. Jean-Paul Belmondo and Anna Karina don't play a man and a woman so much as the intellectual abstractions Man and Woman. With a cigarette forever dangling rakishly from his mouth, Belmondo exudes world-weary cool as a man who trades in the boredom and ennui of his bourgeoisie existence for the boredom and ennui of life on the lam after he and Karina hotfoot it out of Paris with the police in hot pursuit. In the French Riviera, they bicker, flirt, break up, and reconcile while being pursued by gangsters. He's a product of the intellect, full of ideas and allusions. She's controlled by emotions, a creature of impulse and hunger. Together, they embody the mind/body split at the film's core.


Godard's characters speak in riddles, jokes, pop-culture references, and advertising slogans. They've internalized the mindless happy talk of consumerist culture, yet the lingering specter of Algeria and Vietnam hovers just beneath the surface. Raoul Coutard's dazzling Cinemascope cinematography and Antoine Duhamel's Bernard Herrmann-esque score lend an almost opulent lushness to what nevertheless feels unmistakably like one long glib postmodern joke. At best, Pierrot Le Fou is a giddy comic-strip parody of pulpy noirs that elevates goofing around to the level of pop art. At worst, it feels like the product of a man rapidly losing interest in anything beyond politics and ideology. Maybe that's why everything feels so doggedly inconsequential.

Key features: Informative interviews with Godard, Karina, and Belmondo; a documentary on Godard and Karina's relationship; and a video essay by Jean-Pierre Gorin.

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