Thoughts On: Pierrot Le Fou - The Auteur & The Broken Cinematic Space

01/11/2017

Pierrot Le Fou - The Auteur & The Broken Cinematic Space

Thoughts On: Pierrot Le Fou (Pierrot The Madman, 1965)

A miserable husband runs away with an ex-girlfriend who is caught in a web of troubles.


Godard is a filmmaker I've never really liked. I nonetheless make a return to his filmography once in a while in an attempt to find something to like about him and his filmmaking. The first film of his I ever saw was his most iconic: Breathless. I've seen this a handful of times now and despite everthing I learn about it, I just don't enjoy, or care for, the film. Secondly, I watched Vivre Sa Vie and, despite the character study that this is, in part, supposed to be, I just didn't connect with the film or the characters. The most recent feature-length Godard film I've seen was The Chinese. Though I like the idea of a film being about a film (which, considering their reflexivity, basically all of Godard's films are), I despised this film. Unlike the likes of 8 1/2, Day For Night or Interior. Leather Bar, The Chinese is a film about a film that is imbued with immeasurable pretence that is not given depth or nuance by the layers of the narrative; it is just grating.

Today, I've made a return to Godard with Pierot Le Fou and, thankfully, I didn't dislike this as much as The Chinese. Nonetheless, I did not like it much at all. (I do, however, love the plot summary - which says a lot in and of itself). Though I had to trudge through 2 hours of disconnect and boredom, there were a few moments of this narrative that not only projected the brilliance of the fundamental narrative and arrested me emotionally, but captured something of intellectual substance.


This scene and image is my favourite part of this film. Here we have a commentary on the American crime film - after all, Pierrot Le Fou, as is Breathless, has clear links to American noirs and gangster films - but also on the alienating pointlessness and haphazardness of our main characters' journey.

It is then at this point in the narrative that the two characters want to dump their car and happen upon a wreck. Not only do they completely disregard the accident and dead bodies at this moment, but they use this to their advantage and to fake a car crash to cover their tracks. As the scene progresses, and this is a common motif throughout the film, more of the location is revealed. Firstly, we get to recognise that there is a bridge and so understand how the absurd mise en scène of the car crash may makes sense. But, then we get the above wide shot which reveals that there is only a tiny section of the bridge absurdly placed by the side of the road. This shot completely breaks the cinematic space and the illusion of a genuine domain of reality just as the many fourth wall breaks of the film do. However, less direct than the couple turning to the camera and speaking or referencing the audience and the fact that the are in a film, this image is primarily surreal. There is then a hint of verisimilitude and cohesion in the cinematic space of Godard's scene as it is implied that the absurdity present here is apart of the rules of the film and space.

It is because of this cohesion and sense of structure that I like this moment--but also dislike the majority of everything else that I've seen from Godard. Godard, in often making films about cinema and filmmaking itself, 'speaks' in constant aphorisms, making statements about film instead of creating a true narrative. This is true of his more narrative-driven films, such as Breathless, just as it is true of his non-narrative films. However, this approach to film wasn't particularly new in Godard's era. A great film that has also broken cinematic spaces like Godard's films do would be Disney's Alice In Wonderland. In a way, many of Godard's films are Alice In Wonderland; his characters all fall down a rabbit hole and into the domain of the Queen of Hearts (Godard himself) and so have to survive under his absurd rules that constantly skew and re-shape reality. But, what separates Alice In Wonderland, and many films that have broken cinematic spaces that do not resemble Godard's, is the fact that there is cohesion and structure. In such, though Alice In Wonderland is absurd, nonsensical and surreal, this sentiment is imbued into the narrative; it gives birth to it and so defines the framework and functionality of the story in an accessible way. This leaves the audience with an inherent ability to understand and be immersed in the story - all because of structure.

We see this idea to be true of many experimental films, and some of the most stark examples would be those of the surrealists. If we look, for example, to Dulac's The Seashell And The Clergyman, we have a film that is about the cinema; like almost all experimental and avant-garde films are, this is about testing the forms of cinema and structures of storytelling. However, The Seashell And The Clergyman, whilst it has a cinematic space that is broken by this questioning of cinema, is held in tact by the fact that Dulac presents a story with an off-screen, omniscient structure. In such, we can understand that we are watching a surrealist film and interact with her narrative in a rewarding capacity.

Being able to understand films because of their conventions defines the success of genre and experiments. In such, we can understand and enjoy certain Bollywood films - even if they are absurdly different to traditional American cinema in many respects - by gripping and bringing into the film an understanding of the conventions of a mainstream Bollywood picture. As a result, even with minimal knowledge of the form of cinema, you can enjoy and understand a Bollywood movie to great effect. The same can be said of romance films, action films and adventure films, just as it can be said of surrealist films, expressionist films, impressionist films, modernist films, etc. These, in my view, are all successful forms of cinema because their conventions - their structure - can be understood in a manner in which the film becomes accessible and affective; knowing the conventions of a successful form of cinema should make the films that exists within it better.

Godard has his own form of cinema and, throughout his career, he has constantly re-invented it. However, whilst we can understand that we are watching a Godard film, there is no real structure to his films or approach. Even if there is, in my view, his form of cinema is a failed one as understanding Godard doesn't make his films worthwhile. This is all because his cinematic spaces alienate you without good reason and without enticing you; Godard presents a film that disregards the rules of cinema, yet doesn't communicate with his audience on a deep level.

This is the crux of all that is wrong with Godard's post-modern and post-structuralist approach. Great filmmakers break cinematic spaces and do astounding things in their new realm. I in fact believe this is an essential element of the auteur theory; an auteur creates their own form of cinema and thus there is a cinema of Murnau, Lang, Eisenstein, Epstein, Hitchcock, Renoir, Fellini, Rosselini, Ray, Bresson, Kurosawa, Tarkovsky, Dreyer, Vertov, Ozu, Varda, Truffaut, etc. However, whilst all of these filmmakers break rules and, in a way, make films about cinema, that comment on it and test its boundaries to find new techniques and approaches, all of these filmmakers have substance in their narratives and they communicate with their audience; they don't alienate them for alienation's sake. This is Godard in my view; he experiments, and thus alienates and breaks rules, for the sake of doing so. He is the Bruce Lee of cinema - he is like water - but he cannot win a fight; the water he is corrodes a cup like the blood of a xenomorph. Thus, there is no heart, no depth and no substance in Godard's cinema; he makes films with his dick, balls and brains, but he gives no soul and no heart to cinema; he is a failed auteur whose films represent pointless, masturbatory experiments.

However, these are my views only in regards to the likes of Pierrot Le Fou, Breatheless, Vivre Sa Vie and The Chinese. I still feel a need to explore more from Godard and hopefully discover that he is not a failed auteur. So, with that said, what are your thoughts on this film and all we've covered today?







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