Six facts about Jean-Luc Goddard – the godfather of modernist cinema

·3-min read
Jean-Luc Godard was one of the leading figures of the French New Wave  (AFP via Getty Images)
Jean-Luc Godard was one of the leading figures of the French New Wave (AFP via Getty Images)

Swiss-French cinematographer and director Jean-Luc Godard, who has died aged 91, is considered one of the most influential directors in the history of cinema.

The filmmaker found fame in the late 1950s, as one of the leading figures of the French New Wave, and directed dozens of films in a career that spanned more than 50 years.

Here are five facts about his filmmaking.

1. He put himself in his films

Jean Luc-Godard’s personal struggles appear through characters in his films.

In 1963’s Le Mepris, Michel Piccoli plays a French playwright, tasked with reworking a film adaption of Ulysses.

The film looks at the tensions between commercialism and creativity, and portrays a disintegrating marriage, based on his own marital struggles with Anna Karina.

Many characters in his films are a mouthpiece for himself, but in his later films, he made himself a feature of his films, too.

In 1995, he directed the documentary film JLG/JLG: Self-Portrait in December, and more recently, in 2018, the essay film The Image Book.

2. He said all you need to make a film is a girl and a gun

All you need to make a film, Godard once wrote, is a “girl and gun”, which he proved in his 1960 debut Breathless, starring a girl, Patricia, who is involved with a petty criminal, Michel, who is on the run for shooting a policeman.

The movie had an instant impact, winning acclaim and huge profits, despite its meagre budget. Now, 60 years on, it is acknowledged as an all-time classic.

3. He got into movies backwards

Godard began his career as a film critic for a French magazine called Cahiers du Cinéma, and, like many critics, held the belief that if he had the money, he would be able to make a better film himself.

In his case, he made his fantasy a reality.

4. He pioneered the jump cut

One of the most radical elements of Breathless was the use of the editing technique known as the ‘jump cut’.

Filmmaking before and after Godard would usually use smooth editing, to give the illusion of continuous time, but in Breathless Godard cut the film within the shot, making time appear to jump forward.

Godard was proclaimed a pioneer of modernist cinema because of the way he forced the viewer to appreciate they were watching a film, causing them to reflect on the nature of cinema.

5. He wrote the script as the film was being made

Breathless was filmed on location using handheld cameras, and Godard wrote the script on the day while feeding the actors lines as they filmed, reports the BBC.

Using this technique allowed Breathless to have a spontaneous and documentary-like feel, often infuriating actors who wouldn’t know their lines until they began filming.

6. He was a huge cinephile

Godard had great knowledge and love for cinema, and was an avid cinematographer, sometimes watching a film several times in one day.

His films are often littered with references to other works, which is another modernist trait.