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“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.


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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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…

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A-O Rewind

Celebrating Portlandia One Sketch at a Time

The final season of Portlandia approaches.

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GIFs via Giphy

Most people measure time in minutes, hours, days, years…At IFC, we measure it in sketches. And nothing takes us way (waaaaaay) back like Portlandia sketches. Yes, there’s a Portlandia milepost from every season that changed the way we think, behave, and pickle things. In honor of Portlandia’s 8th and final season, Subaru presents a few of our favorites.


Put A Bird On It

Portlandia enters the pop-culture lexicon and inspires us to put birds on literally everything.

Colin the Chicken

Who’s your chicken, really? Behold the emerging locavore trend captured perfectly to the nth degree.

Dream Of The ’90s

This treatise on Portland made it clear that “the dream” was alive and well.

No You Go

We Americans spend most of our lives in cars. Fortunately, there’s a Portlandia sketch for every automotive situation.

A-O River!

We learned all our outdoor survival skills from Kath and Dave.

One More Episode

The true birth of binge watching, pre-Netflix. And what you’ll do once Season 8 premieres.

Catch up on Portlandia’s best moments before the 8th season premieres January 18th on IFC.

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WTF Films

Artfully Off

Celebrity All-Star by Sisters Weekend is available now on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Sisters Weekend isn’t like other comedy groups. It’s filmmaking collaboration between besties Angelo Balassone, Michael Fails and Kat Tadesco, self-described lace-front addicts with great legs who write, direct, design and produce video sketches and cinematic shorts that are so surreally hilarious that they defy categorization. One such short film, Celebrity All-Star, is the newest addition to IFC’s Comedy Crib. Here’s what they had to say about it in a very personal email interview…


IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Celebrity All-Star is a short film about an overworked reality TV coordinator struggling to save her one night off after the cast of C-List celebrities she wrangles gets locked out of their hotel rooms.

IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Sisters Weekend: It’s this short we made for IFC where a talent coordinator named Karen babysits a bunch of weird c-list celebs who are stuck in a hotel bar. It’s everyone you hate from reality TV under one roof – and that roof leaks because it’s a 2-star hotel. There’s a magician, sexy cowboys, and a guy wearing a belt that sucks up his farts.


IFC: What was the genesis of Celebrity All-Star?

Celebrity All-Star was born from our love of embarrassing celebrities. We love a good c-lister in need of a paycheck! We were really interested in the canned politeness people give off when forced to mingle with strangers. The backstory we created is that the cast of this reality show called “Celebrity All-Star” is in the middle of a mandatory round of “get to know each other” drinks in the hotel bar when the room keys stop working. Shows like Celebrity Ghost Hunters and of course The Surreal Life were of inspo, but we thought it
was funny to keep it really vague what kind of show they’re on, and just focus on everyone’s diva antics after the cameras stop rolling.

IFC: Every celebrity in Celebrity All-Star seems familiar. What real-life pop personalities did you look to for inspiration?

Sisters Weekend: Anyone who is trying to plug their branded merch that no one asked for. We love low-rent celebrity. We did, however, directly reference Kylie Jenner’s turd-raison lip color for our fictional teen celebutante Gibby Kyle (played by Mary Houlihan).


IFC: Celebrity seems disgusting yet desirable. What’s your POV? Do you crave it, hate it, or both?

Sisters Weekend: A lot of people chase fame. If you’re practical, you’ll likely switch to chasing success and if you’re smart, you’ll hopefully switch to chasing happiness. But also, “We need money. We need hits. Hits bring money, money bring power, power bring fame, fame change the game,” Young Thug.


IFC: Who are your comedy idols?

Sisters Weekend: Mike grew up renting “Monty Python” tapes from the library and staying up late to watch 2000’s SNL, Kat was super into Andy Kaufman and “Kids In The Hall” in high school, and Angelo was heavily influenced by “Strangers With Candy” and Anna Faris in the Scary Movie franchise, so, our comedy heroes mesh from all over. But, also we idolize a lot of the people we work with in NY-  Lorelei Ramirez, Erin Markey, Mary Houlihan, who are all in the film, Amy Zimmer, Ana Fabrega, Patti Harrison, Sam Taggart. Geniuses! All of Em!

IFC: What’s your favorite moment from the film?

Sisters Weekend: I mean…seeing Mary Houlihan scream at an insane Pomeranian on an iPad is pretty great.

See Sisters Weekend right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib

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