The only certainty is uncertainty

In the cinematic tapestry of history, one name stands out like a vibrant brushstroke on a canvas of celluloid: Jean-Luc…

The only certainty is uncertainty

Representation image

In the cinematic tapestry of history, one name stands out like a vibrant brushstroke on a canvas of celluloid: Jean-Luc Godard. Much like a fine Bordeaux, Godard’s films have aged gracefully, leaving an intoxicating and complex taste on the palate of cinephiles. The avant-garde world of this cinematic maverick is a rich blend of artistry, rebellion and an everelusive ‘Godardian’ essence that continues to bewitch and baffle audiences to this day.

The crushing weight of Godard’s passing on this day last year resonates with a profound, almost unbearable intensity. It was a moment that left me utterly staggered, as if the very foundation of cinematic brilliance had trembled and shifted. The night before, as if by some eerie cosmic design, I had immersed myself in the dystopian wonders of Alphaville, unknowingly drawing closer to the end of an era.

In those days, I was in journalism school, and that day, every conversation, every article, seemed to orbit around the seismic loss of this luminary. As a fervent cinephile, Godard’s demise cut deep, a wound that festered with a profound ache. To lose the last living sentinel of The French New Wave (La Nouvelle Vague) was a cosmic injustice, a closing of a chapter that spanned decades of unbridled creativity and rebellious spirit.


His films make the audience step into a world where rules are meant to be broken, where reality is fragmented into a kaleidoscope of moments, and where the fourth wall is not so much a barrier as it is a fleeting suggestion. Godard’s cinematic playground is a place where the boundaries of story-telling are pushed, pulled and torn asunder with a mischievous grin. It’s a realm where form and content engage in a never-ending dance, challenging our perceptions and prodding our intellect.

Godard’s cinematic oeuvre is not just a medium for storytelling; his films are intricate drapes woven from fragments of reality, philosophy, poli- tics and art. With a filmography that spans over six decades, Godard’s work can be described as a continuous exploration of the boundaries of cinema and a relentless quest for cinematic truth.

Jean-Luc Godard’s 1960-film Breathless (French title: À bout de souffle), a groundbreaking masterpiece that forever altered the landscape of cinema, remains a seminal work of the French New Wave movement. One of the most iconic aspects of Breath- less is its jump cuts. Godard employs abrupt, discontinuous editing, which gives the film a jagged, frenetic pace. This choice reflects the impulsiveness and restlessness of the film’s central characters, Michel and Patricia, while also challenging the traditional continuity editing techniques of the era. Breathless is not just a film; it is a cinematic declaration of independence, an embodiment of youthful rebellion and a harbinger of a new era in cinema.

As we move forward through Godard’s filmography, we encounter a kaleidoscope of styles, themes, and narratives. Contempt (1963) is a cinamatic tone poem, a profound exploration of love, ambition and the corrosive effects of disillusionment. Godard masterfully weaves together the threads of a failing marriage, painting a portrait of human frailty against the backdrop of the film industry’s machinations. The film is wrapped within the confines of a film within a film. Godard’s trademark use of colour is on full display here. Each hue, meticulously chosen, evokes a complex palette of emotions. The contrast between the stark, modernist interiors and the idyllic, sun-drenched exteriors mirrors the internal conflict of the characters, a visual dialectic that elevates the film to a realm of visual poetry.

But Godard is not content with just telling stories; he wants us to question the very nature of story-telling. Pierrot le Fou (1965) is a fever dream of rebellion and romance, an exuberant yet deeply contemplative exploration of freedom in all its chaotic glory. The film unfolds as a vibrant mosaic of intertextual references, from poetry to pulp fiction, embodying Godard’s playful approach to sto- rytelling. The narrative, though punc- tuated by moments of surrealism and absurdity, is underpinned by a poignant meditation on the disillu- sionment of love and the elusive nature of freedom. The film bursts forth with a riot of colours, embodying the free-spirited, anti-establishment ethos of its protagonists.

Godard’s political engagement is another hallmark of his work. In Weekend (1967), he stages an audacious, almost surreal journey through a ‘France on the brink of societal collapse’. Godard thrusts his audience into a maelstrom of violence, consumerism and amorality, presenting a relentless critique of a society careening towards its own destruction. The film’s central characters, Corinne and Roland, are a testament to Godard’s unflinching portrayal of human depravity.

Godard’s predilection for jump cuts is employed to jarring effect, further unsettling the viewer and heightening the film’s sense of disorientation. Vivid and saturated hues punctuate scenes of violence and absurdity, creating an almost hallucinogenic experience. The juxtaposition of grotesque imagery with picturesque landscapes serves to heighten the film’s visceral impact. Weekend is a cinematic firestorm, a raw and unapologetic dissection of a world teetering on the brink of collapse. It’s a stark reminder that, for Godard, cine- ma is not just a form of entertainment; it’s a powerful tool for societal reflection and criticism.

As we fast forward to his later works, such as Nouvelle Vague (1990) and In Praise of Love (2001), we wit- ness a filmmaker who has not mel- lowed with age but has instead
evolved, continuing to push the boundaries of cinema. He incorpo- rates video, digital technology and nonlinear narratives, challenging our expectations and forcing us to re-evaluate the very essence of storytelling.

In Nouvelle Vague, Godard’s cinematographic choices are a testament to his ability to adapt and evolve with the medium he helped redefine. The blend of traditional and experimental techniques speaks to his unwavering commitment to pushing the boundaries of cinematic expression. The inclusion of clips and references to classic films, interwoven with Godard’s own observations, creates a rich tapestry of intertextuality. This serves as a bridge between the past and present, inviting viewers to con- template the enduring legacy of The French New Wave movement and its continued influence on contemporary filmmaking.
In Praise of Love unfolds in two distinct halves, each presenting a dif- ferent perspective on the same story. This duality serves as a reflection of the film’s central themes: the interplay between past and present, the fragility of memory, and the inextricable link between personal history and collective memory.

Godard’s films are not merely stories captured on celluloid; they are philosophical inquiries, political manifestos and visual symphonies. His work has redefined the language of cinema, inspiring generations of filmmakers to embrace experimentation and intellectualism.

Whether you find yourself mesmerised or mystified by his films, one thing is certain: Jean-Luc Godard’s cinematic legacy is a treasure trove of innovation, intellect and indelible artistry that continues to captivate and challenge audiences worldwide.

(The writer is a journalist on the staff of The Statesman.)