Pierrot escapes his boring society and travels from Paris to the Mediterranean Sea with Marianne, a girl chased by hit-men from Algeria. They lead an unorthodox life, always on the run.
- Ferdinand Griffon, ‘Pierrot’: Jean-Paul Belmondo
- Marianne Renoir: Anna Karina
- Maria, la femme de Ferdinand: Graziella Galvani
- Fred, le frère de Marianne (uncredited): Dirk Sanders
- Dwarf, le chef des gangsters: Jimmy Karoubi
- Gangster: Roger Dutoit
- Gangster: Hans Meyer
- Lui-Même: Samuel Fuller
- Marin: Aicha Abadir
- l’homme du port: Raymond Devos
- un Spectateur: Jean-Pierre Léaud
- Frank (uncredited): Georges Staquet
- Le pompiste: Henri Attal
- Le pompiste (uncredited): Dominique Zardi
- lazlo kovacs: Pierre Hanin
- Lazlo Kovacs: László Szabó
- Second Brother (uncredited): Pascal Aubier
- Gas station attendant #3 (uncredited): Maurice Auzel
- Madame Staquet (uncredited): Krista Nell
- Novel: Lionel White
- Original Music Composer: Antoine Duhamel
- Director of Photography: Raoul Coutard
- Director: Jean-Luc Godard
- Producer: Georges de Beauregard
- Production Design: Pierre Guffroy
- Original Music Composer: Serge Rezvani
- Editor: Françoise Collin
- Production Manager: René Demoulin
- Still Photographer: Georges Pierre
- Camera Operator: Jean Garcenot
- CRCulver: This is one of those utterly satisfying film experiences that seem to exploit every possibility of the cinematic medium
The French New Wave drew much inspiration from American crime stories, and Jean-Luc Godard’s 1965 film PIERROT LE FOU has a plot that is essentially simple: Ferdinand (Jean-Paul Belmondo), five years into a marriage that leaves him unsatisfied, meets his children’s babysitter and discovers that she’s an old flame of his, Marianne (Anna-Karina). They both want to run away, and as it turns out that Marianne already has some experience in the criminal underworld, the pair steal some cash and head towards the south of France. On their way to what they hope is a better life, they leave a trail of more crimes in their wake. However, tension builds between the two, as Pierre is mopey, obsessed with literature, and pessimistic, while Marianne is a capricious and spontaneous personality who doesn’t want to think about the future. When they are confronted by some other gangsters in Nice, things come to a head.
But it is the extremely elaborate way in which this story is told that elevates this from a cheap thriller to a masterpiece of avant-garde cinema. Scenes are depicted with exaggerated features, often becoming absurdist metaphors for the action that the audience should understand has happened. Two dialogues between the lovers turn into musical numbers. Even in straightforward thriller plot turns like shootouts, Godard avoids any pretence at realism. The old Brechtian technique of alienation, where the audience is continually reminded that they are watching staged action and not the real thing, is thus abundantly employed. Furthermore, Godard confronts 1960s consumer society and the Vietnam War.
It’s modernist and highly personal, sure, but PIERROT LE FOU is also instantly accessible to an open-minded audience due to its pop art feel. The colours in the elaborate set designs and landscapes are electric, it’s as if Godard and cinematographer Raoul Coutard in 1965 saw brighter shades of everything than we do today, and could bring that hyper-sensory perception across on film. Karina and Belmondo are not only masterful actors in themselves, they also have great chemistry together. When it all comes down to it, PIERROT LE FOU is simply an emotionally moving film. After I saw it the first time, I felt as if my life had changed forever, and I swiftly scheduled another viewing (the film continues to impress on rewatching).
I don’t know if this would be the best introduction to Godard. However, there is an especial pleasure in seeing his films in chronological order and coming to PIERROT LE FOU after the director’s nine preceding feature films. Godard packed this film’s storytelling technique, costumes, film score, and other elements with references to each of the movies he had made to date. These little winks, looks back at a productive and already storied career that in fact had only started six years before, are fun for aficionados.
The Criterion Collection released the film on Blu-Ray and DVD in 2008. Unfortunately, this release swiftly fell out of print after Criterion lost the North American rights. That’s a real shame, as the Blu-Ray presents this visually gorgeous film in the HD format it deserves, and there are many interesting extras on both the Blu-Ray and the 2DVD set: an hour-long documentary on Godard and Karina’s time working together, an interview with the elderly Karina made just for Criterion, archival interviews with cast and crew, and a featurette where Jean-Pierre Gorin presents the themes of the PIERROT LE FOUR in an audio track over excerpts from the film.