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DID YOU READ

“Pierrot le Fou,” “Hélas pour Moi”

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By Michael Atkinson

Let us belt the battle cry of Godard, cinema’s own Robespierre and Whitman and Dylan all rolled into one transfiguring powerhouse, reinventing film from Day One and never letting the rest of the world quite catch up. We’re lucky to have had him, and to have him still. There should be no question that Godard has been to his medium what Joyce, Stravinsky, Eliot and Picasso were to theirs — utterly unique, rule-rewriting colossi after whom human expression would never be quite the same. Quentin Tarantino may be the most famous public genuflector before Godard’s legacy, but Martin Scorsese, Abbas Kiarostami, Gus Van Sant, Spike Lee, Lars von Trier, Jim Jarmusch, Raul Ruiz, Mohsen Makhmalbaf, Richard Linklater and Wong Kar-Wai, among innumerable others, all owe him a debt they could never pay out. Wrestling in any capacity with movies as art means facing his body of work and taking a deep breath. Workaday reviewers still quake in dread at the prospect of having to elucidate the complicated reality of a Godard film to their readers. Somehow, though, the seductive energy of this most elusive filmmaker maintains its grip on each successive generation of moviehead, and now, years after graduating to video-making himself, Godard’s oeuvre is finding itself properly feted on DVD.

When I interviewed Anna Karina, swooningly, in 2001 for the re-release of “Band of Outsiders,” I asked her what was her favorite of the seven features she’d made with Godard, and, after demurring (“If you had seven children, how would you say which one you prefer? After all, it was a love story, wasn’t it?”), she dared to guess mine, and nailed it: “Pierrot le Fou.” Of the Godardian ’60s, this effervescent, self-mocking, effortlessly iconic masterpiece may be the filmmaker’s quintessential work, the ultimate commentary on how life and movies fuck and spawn spectacularly beautiful children. It’s not merely a guy-&-girl-on-the-run film, nor a farcical tango with the subgenre, but a catapulting Godardianism, a living tissue, a fabulous and hilarious shared week in the life of Godard, Karina and co-star Jean-Paul Belmondo as they make a movie together on the Cote d’Azur, and make it part of our lives, too. Karina and Belmondo, whatever their screen names, jump magically – that is, cinematically – from being acquaintances meeting at a high-end party (where Sam Fuller appears, pronouncing famously on the essence of cinema) to homicidal lovers escaping to a depopulated, semi-tropical island (in a convertible!), blithely leaving thug corpses in their wake.

Where another filmmaker would focus on the telling of the tale, Godard trains in on the vibe, the aura, the juice, the silly élan of the movie-life experience. His reputation as cold, intellectually forbidding artist is decimated by “Pierrot,” which in all of its advertising-haiku clutter and goofy playacting is rampagingly spontaneous, intimate, irreverent and sometimes as messy as a fucked-in bed. The few musical numbers, whispered off-handedly by Karina, alone reveal a filmmaking heart bleeding with joy at the world. “Pierrot” is very much a young man’s movie, a spirited lark with tragic modernist undertones and a sense of pretending that plays like new lovers’ experimentation with life. But it’s not real (when asked why there’s “so much blood” in the film by a journalist, Godard famously replied, “That’s not blood, that’s red.”), it’s a movie.

But the movie is real, of course, a graceful, rebellious, life-affirming fact of our culture community, just as much as it was real in 1965 for Godard and his young, lovely, ocean-eyed wife, playing at being a genius and a movie star on the beach. The Criterion party thrown for “Pierrot,” so supercool and long overdue, comes with an extra disc packed with interviews, docs and video pieces.

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Godard, like us all, has aged, and if his formal voice has remained furiously consistent over the decades, he has been perfectly frank about his maturation from a crazy jukebox meta-movie youth to a pensive, cynical old man finding poetry less in the buoyant fantasy of movieness than in the captured simplicities of earthly life: young girls with translucent skin, meadows in the breeze, European metropoli cooling at dusk, spectators frozen by the beauty of landscapes. Sticking out in a new box set of Godard’s later films (including 1982’s “Passion,” 1983’s “First Name: Carmen,” and 1985’s “Detective”), “Hélas pour Moi” (1993) takes as its structure the Greek myth about Zeus and Alcmene, but as Godard has aged, his movies became even more fragmented and, at the same time, more contemplative. “Hélas pour Moi” is a creative nonfiction essay, built from multi-layered tableaux of random incidents and gestures and dramatic dialogues and arguments with God on love, devotion and memory, which to Godard all translate to regard for The Past, and our pitiful disregard for it. Godard is still attentive to pure cinema: The long composition-in-depth featuring a park, a couple, a voyeur, a trash collector and a canal ship is breathtaking, as is the simple close-up that Godard morphs into a emotional statement by beginning in sub-irradiated overexposure and moving slowly to brooding, portentous underexposure.

But his primary movies-are-life idea still stands. The reality of cinema is all there: the experience we have watching, the experience Godard and his team had filming, the passage of minutes, the affectionate distance between the actors (including Gerard Depardieu) and their “roles,” between the camera itself and what it photographs – all of it happily naked to the eye and mind, none of it slickly masked by editing sleight-of-hand or “story.” What the work may be “about” at any given moment is never prioritized over the beauty of a morning garden, a woman’s watchful eyes, the political injustice currently burning in the filmmaker’s conscience, or the fact that he may be eating an apple. For Godard, it’s all good.

“Pierrot le Fou” (Criterion Collection) will be available on DVD on February 19th; “Hélas pour Moi” is now available as part of the Jean-Luc Godard Box Set (Lionsgate).

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Final Countdown

The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at IFC.com

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Rev Up

Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

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Give Back

Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

It’s the final countdown to Christmas and thanks to IFC’s movie marathon all Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, you can revel in classic ’80s films AND find inspiration for your last-minute gifts. Here are our recommendations, if you need a head start:

Musical Instrument

Great analog entertainment substitute when you refuse to give your kid the Nintendo Switch they’ve been drooling over.

Breakfast In Bed

Any significant other or child would appreciate these Uncle Buck-approved flapjacks. Just make sure you’re not stuck on clean up duty.

Cocktail Supplies

You’ll need them to get through the holidays.

Dance Lessons

So you can learn to shake-shake-shake (unless you know ghosts willing to lend a hand).

Comfy Clothes

With all the holiday meals, there may be some…embigenning.



Get even more great inspiration all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC, and remember…