'Poetry is a game of loser-take-all' : On Pierrot le fou

posted: 11 May, 2009
Pierrot le fou is being screened at Orion (National Audiovisual Archive of Finland), this Wednesday, at 7 PM, and I THINK Anna Karina is going to be there in person.


Of course I’m basing this on something a friend mentioned a few weeks ago - he was getting up early to stand in a queue to get tickets.  And my initial reaction, of course, was ”Oh, she’s still alive?”


I should have followed him and tried to get my own ticket, but I just watched Pierrot a few weeks ago and my French isn’t good enough to handle a film without subtitles yet (well, there will be Finnish and Swedish subtitles, but that’s no help).  Though maybe that’s appropriate for a film where the two lead characters communicate with each other in a way where they might as well be speaking different languages.  Yet, strangely they are in sync.

Pierrot is maybe my favorite Godard film, though don’t hold me to that because after a few beers I'll ramble on about the greatness of Masculin féminin or Le mepris or Alphaville too.  I love it for many reasons: the way it rolls like a giant ball of expanding energy, the quotable lines, the humour -- and also because it seems like a connecting link between the French New Wave and 1970s American cinema.


Actually, I might only mean Badlands when I speak of this influence.  I’ve never read any criticism about Pierrot le fou in particular, but it must be seen as an antecedent to Malick’s masterpiece.  I recently watched an obscure and INSANE film called Deadhead Miles, which was written by Malick shortly before he made Badlands.  The difference between the two is enormous (Deadhead is obscure for good reason), but both have a freewheeling anarchy, strongly connected with the motion of the road and the automobile -- as does Pierrot, exemplified by Ferdinand and Marianne.


Week-end is Godard’s much more extreme vision of automotive futurism, yet trapped in a thunderous gridlock; Pierrot is rather a film about motion itself, with cars and trains and boats ;; the destination is irrelevant. 


While capturing stills for this post, I was struck by how every frame of this film is stunning and iconic.  Your can take your pick, and then print full-colour posters to sell to college kids.  These should be the images to line dorm room walls; the sniggering Belmondo in the bath, instead of a limp Pulp Fiction or A Clockwork Orange poster.  Or maybe I’m just showing how out of touch I am with contemporary college dorm decoration...


I generally think the idea of male/female ’chemistry’ is a bullshit construct of film critics and promotional agencies, but it’s hard to deny the explosive energy of this film, driven only by its two stars.  If I was going to the event here, maybe I could ask Karina if the presence of hubby Jean-Luc, unseen to us behind the camera, drove the sparks we see with her and Jean-Paul: a performance both passionate and detached.


There’s a little bit of everything Godard in here: the politics (not as strident as his later stuff, which I still have to investigate), a critique of middle-class urban life (drawn out in the brilliant party scene at the beginning), and wry smirks instead of genuine honesty.


Of course, I'm not going.  Fuck it -- books are better than films.
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