Backlog #17: Pierrot Le Fou (1965)

I false-started on this film twice, falling asleep both times at the 40 minute mark. This is in spite of its plot, which is very simple: a man leaves his family and runs off with the nanny. Supported by various surreal crimes, they take to an idyllic lifestyle on the Riviera, before she becomes bored. When they eventually reunite, her true loyalties become clear and it ends in conflict and bloodshed.

This simple plot is packaged however, as a sparkling but unfocused narrative (it was plotted the day before filming and scripted as it went along) that drifts between brilliance and tedium. It’s a critique of our capitalist, materialist society (shallow, valueless and pitiful) through the frame of a rambling road movie (similar to Godard’s Weekend two years later) where a couple embark on a journey from where they can and do survey the ruins of our world.

I preferred the first third of the film, where Ferdinand and Marianne flee Paris and make their way south. Most of the dramatic inspirational moments were here: the start, where Ferdinand reads aloud to his pre-school daughter a description of Velazquez’s late period, the party scene which sets the scenario he runs from, the bizarre crimes they commit. After this point I found that the narrative and characterisation ran out of steam too much. Perhaps I was too tired to be tuned in to details.

Still, it’s an entertaining watch, if hard work. The leads are charismatic and engaging enough, the music is memorable and evocative and the cinematography is splendid: a widescreen vivid palate of primary colour is presented. The dialogue is full of zingers and bangers and Godard’s ideas and asides are always engagingly brilliant. Pierrot Le Fou is too much of a transition for it to be my favourite Godard (I tend to prefer his smaller scale monochrome) or further still his best, but it’s a remarkable film.

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