I’ve been trying to write out my thoughts about Jean-Luc Godard’s Pierrot le fou (1965) for days, but even after watching the film twice and enjoying all the wonderful extras included with the fantastic new Criterion DVD, I’m finding words inadequate to describe how much I’ve fallen in love with this wonderful movie in so short a time. My love for Pierrot le fou is so fresh, so passionate, so alive and so completely unabashed that I feel a little like a silly schoolgirl with a terrible crush on the cute new boy in class.
I’ve been curious about seeing Pierrot le fou for about 15 years after I came across still shots from the film featuring Jean-Paul Belmondo with his face painted bright blue. I also saw brief clips of the party scene from Pierrot le fou a few years ago in the fascinating Samuel Fuller documentary The Typewriter, the Rifle & the Movie Camera (Adam Simon; 1996) and became even more intrigued, but for one reason or another I never got around to watching it. I had hoped to attend the theatrical revival of the film last year, but sadly I wasn’t able to. As far as I know Pierrot le fou was never shown in the San Francisco Bay Area last year and the official Janus site seems to confirm this.
Thanks to Criterion’s recent DVD release of Pierrot le fou I was finally able to experience this amazing film for the first time and now I deeply regret not seeing it sooner. Pierrot le fou manages to combine everything I love about my two favorite Godard films (Contempt, 1963 and Week End, 1967) into one brilliant piece of work, while referencing every film the director had made before and predicting many of the more radical films he would make afterward. The basic plot of Pierrot le fou involves an unhappily married man named Ferdinand (Jean-Paul Belmondo) who meets up with an old flame named Marianne (Anna Karina) and the two abandon their old lives and begin a life of violent crime together. Unfortunately their combustible relationship begins to unravel under the stress of life on the run, but between their verbal sparing and love-making the audience is treated to a smart political and social satire with slapstick style comedy and an occasional musical number.
Pierrot le fou borrows elements from classic crime films such as Nicholas Ray’s They Live by Night (1948) and Joseph H. Lewis’ Gun Crazy (1950), but the film also takes a lot of inspiration from Jean-Luc Godard’s own Breathless (1960). It’s also worth noting that Pierrot le fou pre-dates Arthur Penn and Warren Beatty’s less interesting and more conventional Bonnie and Clyde (1967) by two years. For my money, none of the previously mentioned films come close to matching the offbeat magic conjured up in Pierrot Le fou by Godard and his two incredibly charming stars, Jean-Paul Belmondo and Anna Karina.
Pierrot le fou combines some of Jean-Luc Godard’s best writing and directing with stunning color photography by Godard’s longtime collaborator Raoul Coutard. The film manages to effortlessly mix comic-book style aesthetics with a painterly eye and the outcome is so wonderfully modern that Pierrot le fou still feels fresh and alive some 45 years after it was made.
Criterion’s magnificent two-disc restored widescreen DVD presentation of Pierrot le fou looks absolutely stunning and it’s loaded with fantastic extras, including a new video interview with actress Anna Karina who’s now 68 years old, and she offers some wonderful insights into the making of the film. The DVD also includes a new video program with audio commentary by filmmaker Jean-Pierre Gorin called A Pierrot Primer, a fascinating fifty-minute French documentary about director Jean-Luc Godard and his personal & working relationship with Anna Karina called Godard, L’Amour, La Poesie, a wonderful archival interview with the young and extremely adorable Jean-Paul Belmondo conducted while he was shooting Pierrot le fou and a brief archival piece about the Venice Film festival in 1965 that features interviews with Godard and Anna Karina. The DVD also contains the original theatrical trailer and a nice booklet with a new essay by critic Richard Brody, a 1969 review by Andrew Sarris and a 1965 interview with Godard. Pierrot le fou retails for $39.95 and it’s currently available from Amazon for $29.95. Criterion has really kicked-started 2008 by releasing some truly wonderful films on NTSC Region 1 DVD in recent weeks and I applaud them for it.
If you would like to see more screen shots from the film please see my Pierrot le fou Flickr gallery. I’ve also uploaded the wonderful song Ma ligne de chance that was sung by Anna Karina and Jean-Paul Belmondo in Pierrot le fou for anyone who would like to hear it.
– Ma ligne de chance (Anna Karina & Jean-Paul Belmondo)