Pierrot le Fou ★★★½

The first hour of Godard's farewell to the manic, Hollywood noir-infected first phase of his career is breathtakingly romantic, playful and vivid, putting his classic disaffected stand-in Belmondo on the road with his erstwhile beloved Anna Karina after a lousy party in which everyone spouts ad slogans and an inevitable bloody killing. It's too self-reflexive and crazy to be a traditional lovers-on-the-run movie, and it even separates itself considerably from later beloved oddball entries in the subgenre like Badlands, but it does owe a thing or two to Gun Crazy, and honestly that film's strict, claustrophobic economy ends up pointing out the problems with this one... even though they have considerably different goals. The overload of ideas, charming pastiche and tangential sidelines seem to be winding down into something morbid but satisfying, but then there's an entire hour left; and in that hour, even though nothing derails exactly, the tightness of the enterprise wholly falls to pieces. That's despite a litany of wondrous, indelible moments: turntables on the water, unexpected song and dance numbers, and these two weirdos speaking directly to you, the Viewer. Godard should've raised his arms to the heavens in gratitude that his two leads are inexhaustibly game to render his indulgences so routinely credible; but after a while, his subversive and smarmy toying with cinematic convention just grows tiresome: a whole lot of almost Tashlin-like "business" that despite its layers of references and in-jokes and critical commentary really seems to say very little that wasn't already clear by the end of the first act. Of course it never stops being gorgeous, and of course it should be seen more than once, certainly including by me before you take a single word I have to say about it seriously.

Also, I know this paints me as a square, but I do pick up on several layers of derision toward Karina's Marianne -- the picture alternately seems to place her on a patronizing, distancing pedestal as some sort of infallible, fascinating dream girl and then, as she increasingly shows agency and independence apart from Ferdinand's fantasies (which, to be fair, are pointedly ridiculed), she gets violently punished, though stating it that way feels uncharitable. It all seems a tad adolescent in a way that lays the cards of Godard's inner life and perspective on the table in a way that (a) wouldn't necessarily have been so apparent or bothersome to me had I seen it in my early twenties, so in a way I regret that I didn't; and (b) surprises me, given how sympathetic and even heroic Jean Seberg is in Breathless. Anyway, once again I wonder if I've done myself a disservice by spending years reading about and building expectations toward some of these cinematic touchstones before actually seeing them...

(All that said: Belmondo's mocking American accent is as good as Ray Davies' in "Village Green.")