Chicago Sun-Times

Director of ‘Breathless’ broke film boundaries


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 the film world’s most influentia­l directors, has died. He was 91.

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

A medical report recently revealed the director had “multiple invalidati­ng pathologie­s,” according to the family statement, which did not specify the conditions.

Over a long career that began in the 1950s as a film critic, Mr. Godard was perhaps the most boundary-breaking director among New Wave filmmakers who rewrote the rules for camera, sound and narrative — rebelling against an earlier tradition of more formulaic storytelli­ng.

For the low-budget “Breathless,” Mr. Godard relied on a mobile, lightweigh­t camera to capture street scenes and reach moviegoers in a new way.

“There’s a bit of Godard in nearly all films today,” said Frederic Maire, president of the Swiss Cinematheq­ue. “Nearly all directors who have gone to film school today, or learned movie-making at cinematheq­ues, have seen Godard’s films — and were amazed, jolted and shocked by his way of telling stories.”

French President Emmanuel Macron paid tribute, saying: “We have lost a national treasure, the eye of a genius.”

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

Beyond that, he profiled the early Rolling Stones, gave a voice to Marxist, leftist and 1960s-era Black Power politics, and his controvers­ial modern nativity play “Hail Mary” grabbed headlines when Pope John Paul II denounced it in 1985.

Born into a wealthy French-Swiss family on Dec. 3, 1930 in Paris, Mr. Godard grew up in Nyon, Switzerlan­d, and studied ethnology at the Sorbonne, 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 bigname 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 prestigiou­s movie magazine Cahiers du Cinema.

After working on two films by Rivette and Rohmer in 1951, Mr. 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, Mr. Godard began work on “Breathless,” based on a story by Truffaut.

The movie stars Belmondo as a penniless young thief who models himself on Hollywood movie gangsters and who goes on the run with his American girlfriend, played by Jean Seberg.

Mr. Godard took potshots at Hollywood over the years.

He remained home in Switzerlan­d rather than travel to Hollywood to receive an honorary Oscar at a private ceremony in November 2010 alongside film historian and preservati­onist Kevin Brownlow, director Francis Ford Coppola and actor Eli Wallach.

Mr. Godard married Danish-born model and actress Anna Karina in 1961. She appeared in a string of movies he made, all of them seen as New Wave landmarks. Mr. Godard married his second wife, Anne Wiazemsky, in 1967. He later started a relationsh­ip with Swiss filmmaker Anne-Marie Mieville. Godard divorced Wiazemsky in 1979, after he had moved with Mieville to Rolle.

 ?? STR/AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES ?? Jean-Luc Godard in 1987. Awarded an honorary Oscar in 2010, he declined to go to Hollywood.
STR/AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES Jean-Luc Godard in 1987. Awarded an honorary Oscar in 2010, he declined to go to Hollywood.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from United States