Pierrot le Fou

Pierrot le Fou ★★★½

"That's what makes me sad: life is so different from books. I wish it were the same: clear, logical, organized." ~ Marianne

If I had never seen Jean-Luc Godard's "Weekend" (1967), I might have enjoyed this even more. I couldn't help but compare the two as the story played out. They are both road trip films about a man and a woman who get involved in violence, ending in gun play, yet I found this to be lacking in the cleverness and polish that intrigued me so much in the director's later film.

The screenplay was developed by Godard from a 1962 novel called "Obsession" by Lionel White. Jean-Paul Belmondo plays Ferdinand Griffon aka 'Pierrot' (the sad clown), who is unhappily married to a wealthy Spaniard (Graziella Galvani). He's recently lost his job with a television broadcaster, and when happenstance leads him to a reunion with his old flame Marianne Renoir (Anna Karina), he doesn't think twice about taking off with her and abandoning his family, which includes a daughter he refers to only as "little girl."

The runaway couple's journey will involve gun runners, several murders, stolen cars, fist fights, petty theft, staging an auto accident, roughing in a shanty on the Riviera coast, duping some tourists, and magically evading any contact with the police entirely. But don't mistake this for an action adventure movie. It can be downright satirical, tossing in a Hollywood-style musical number or two, showing party guests mouthing lines from TV commercials in place of conversation, and deliberately toying with the standard "chapters and scenes" structure employed by so many films. At one point Ferdinand breaches the fourth wall, too, but it is done in such a way as to mock the convention, rather than communicate with the audience.

No doubt Godard had fun making this. He emptied his entire bag of tricks, and I think that's why I was a little less satisfied with this effort than with the other five films of his I have seen. It's as if he decided to do some grandstanding to satisfy his own ego, and those who already believe he's pretentious will find plenty of support for their view here.

That said, it's still a very watchable film, and it is impossible not to appreciate the characters created by Belmondo and Karina. In fact, Belmondo was nominated for BAFTA's Best Foreign Actor Award, while Godard received the Sutherland Trophy from the British Film Institute and was nominated for a Golden Lion at Venice.

Part of my French Nouvelle Vague challenge.

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