Baltimore Sun

Director shaped French New Wave


GENEVA — Jean-Luc Godard, the iconic “enfant terrible” of the French New Wave who revolution­ized popular cinema in 1960 with his first feature, “Breathless,” and stood for years among world cinema’s most vital directors, died Tuesday. He was 91.

Godard died surrounded by loved ones at his home in the Swiss town of Rolle, his family said in a statement. The statement gave assisted suicide, which is legal in Switzerlan­d, as the cause of death.

Godard defied convention over a long career that began in the 1950s as a film critic. He rewrote the rules for camera, sound and narrative.

He worked with some of the best-known actors in French cinema, such as Jean-Paul Belmondo, who was propelled to stardom through Godard’s films, and Brigitte Bardot, who starred in his acclaimed 1963 work “Contempt.”

While many of his works were lauded, Godard also made a string of films that were politicall­y charged and experiment­al, and pleased few outside a small circle of fans, while frustratin­g many critics who saw them as filled with overblown intellectu­alism.

Born into a wealthy French-Swiss family on Dec. 3, 1930, in Paris, Godard grew up in Nyon, Switzerlan­d, and studied ethnology at the Sorbonne in France’s capital, where he was increasing­ly drawn to the cultural scene that flourished in the Latin Quarter “cine-club” after World War II.

He became friends with future directors

Francois Truffaut, Jacques Rivette and Eric

Rohmer and in 1950 founded the short-lived Gazette du Cinema. By 1952 he had begun writing for the movie magazine Cahiers du Cinema.

After working on two films by Rivette and Rohmer in 1951, Godard tried to direct his first movie while traveling through North and South America with his father, but never finished it.

Back in Europe, he took a job in Switzerlan­d as a constructi­on worker on a dam project. He used the pay to finance his first complete film, the 1954 “Operation Concrete,” a 20-minute documentar­y about the building of the dam.

Returning to Paris, Godard worked as spokesman for an artists’ agency and made his first feature in 1957 — “All Boys Are Called Patrick,” released in 1959 — and continued to hone his writing.

He also began work on “Breathless,” based on a story by Truffaut. It was to be Godard’s first big success when it was released in March 1960.

His cinematic creations were suffused with gritty, sassy tones of a resurgent postwar France — known domestical­ly as the “Glorious 30” years through to the late 1970s — and they

served up some of the most poignant images and lines from what was then a rich, avantgarde heyday of French filmmaking.

Along with Truffaut’s “The 400 Blows,” released in 1959, Godard’s “Breathless” set a new tone for French movie aesthetics. Godard rejected convention­al narrative style and instead used frequent jump-cuts that mingled

philosophi­cal discussion­s with action scenes.

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