April 9, 2008

Pierrot Le Fou


Reviewer: Erin Donovan
Rating (out of 5): ***

Jean-Luc Godard's tenth film Pierrot Le Fou, one of the last he made before going full-tilt Marxist, has been restored and reissued in the extraordinary fashion we've all come to know and respect from Criterion. The Technicolor/Cinemascope print has been cleaned up from sad, past versions and a second disc of supplemental materials offers new insights into the film's genesis, production and lasting impact.

After attending a painfully buji party where the men only talk about cars and the women only talk about perfumes, Pierrot (Jean-Paul Belmondo) decides he's had enough of his wife, children and other middle class trappings. He runs off with Marianne (Anna Karina) his children's babysitter, with whom he had an affair years prior. They hit the road, fleeing a group of gangsters her brother had been involved with, take up in abandoned mansions by the riviera, begging for money from tourists and murdering anyone who gets in their way. Eventually romantic idealism gives way to monotonous expectation and obligation and Pierrot and Marianne break up, get back together, declare their love and hate for each other and eventually die.

Pierrot Le Fou is difficult for some people to watch. But the film is nothing if not experiential. Front-loaded with wit and adventure the first forty minutes boasts the bombastic American director Samuel Fuller making a cameo as a bombastic American director who declares "Film is... EMOTION!", the waifish Marianne overpowering a team of gas station attendants using Laurel and Hardy gags, Belmondo in a bit of street theater playing the nephew of Uncle Sam by drunkenly slurring "Hollywood, oh yeah" repeatedly. These are great moments of Godard's crafty humor and critique of cultural imperialism, political imperialism and the corrosive nature of suburban insularity.

But as the vitality and intrigue runs dry between Pierrot and Marianne so does the tone and energy of the film. There are numerous, plodding scenes of people staring into the camera reading poetry or sharing dull platitudes in voiceover -- a staple element of Godard's films that has not aged well. As well as several occasions where the viewer is simply invited to laugh at crude stereotypes: an angry midget wielding a gun larger than his own stature is murdered and then tossed over a sofa with one hand, a ghoulish middle-aged Arab woman babbles on about wanting to find a rich husband and a man weeping at the collapse of his marriage is harshly mocked by the arrogant Pierrot.

As we learn in the abundant extras for this two-disc release, Godard was nearly incapable of making work that wasn't nakedly autobiographical and in Pierrot it's hard not to see Godard's dedication to "genre deconstruction" as a bit pompous and shallow. It's a heartfelt statement of human relationships but contains no wisdom; Pierrot Le Fou a farcical comedy but is often violent and cruel; and it's an indictment of shallow American pop culture that attempts to gloss over the horrible things people do to each other but, contradictorily, it's a beautifully lensed film shot in Technicolor/Cinemascope

Nevertheless, Pierrot has clearly been an influence on many subsequent revered films, such as Arthur Penn's 1967 classic Bonnie and Clyde, Michael Haneke's Funny Games as well as more populist fare like Sin City, It's All Gone Pete Tong and even Dan in Real Life. It's also worth mentioning the film is reported to be Sonic Youth bassist Kim Gordon's favorite film of all time.

The second disc of this collection features a 50-minute documentary on the personal and professional relationship between Jean-Luc Godard and Anna Karina, a new interview with Karina, a 36-minute Pierrot introduction from frequent Godard collaborator Jean-Pierre Gorin, a series of on-set interviews with the incredibly charming Belmondo; the film's theatrical trailer; and a few brief interviews with Karina and Godard from that year's Venice film festival.

See also: Los Carabiniers, Daisies, Eyes Wide Shut, Natural Born Killers.

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Posted by cphillips at April 9, 2008 11:42 AM

Is this the Erin Donovan who acted in A VERY BRITISH COUP? If so, I would like to get in touch with her (as a writer)

Posted by: David Van Vleck at January 12, 2009 9:13 PM

Nope. Sorry, David good luck!

Posted by: Erin D. at January 13, 2009 10:53 AM
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