Jean-Luc Godard is a French-Swiss filmmaker and central figure of the French New Wave film movement. To some, he is the most important artist of the 1960’s. To others, he is a total fraud. I am in agreement with the former, unless of course I am in the company of the those who are in agreement with the latter, in which case I too am in the latter. This contradictory notion might seem cheap, but I believe it is exactly what Jean-Luc Godard would want.
Since his 1960 film A bout de souffle (English: Breathless), Godard has churned out an expansive oeuvre of feature length films. His 1960’s French New Wave period are his most well known and well researched, thus making my choice of scope pretty easy. His films of this period are generally some sort of crime picture. The subject matter varies but a general connective theme is a sense of rejection for the new culture of Paris. Another important connection is Godard’s love of philosophy, particularly Georg Hegel. In a vast oversimplification of Hegel’s philosophical ideas in regards to Godard, Hegel saw the world as an active contradiction.
Godard himself was a contradiction. He was a Marxist born to an upper middle-class family in the 7th arrondissement (one associated with wealth). His films are interwoven with Paris, yet he spends much of his life Switzerland. He hated the influx of American consumerism yet loves Ford. He despises the new, modern Paris yet his films are considering the beginning of modern filmmaking.
An important development of this time was the Banlieue. Perhaps aided by the American car culture, upper class oriented Banlieues began getting developed at rapid rates. Many of upper middle-class Parisians began moving to these modernist meccas and adopting a consumerist lifestyle. Godard feelings on this new culture is best annunciated by his 1967 film Deux ou trois choses que je sais d’elle (English: Two or Three Things I Know About Her). The film equates the consumerist lifestyle of the upper middle class and the Banlieues as prostitution, a belief Godard held.
The Banlieues are an interesting choice for the King of Contradictions because they too are contradictions. Godard criticizes the Banlieues and the consumerist culture associated with them. It would be more accurate to say Godard criticizes the affluent Banlieues and the consumerist culture associated with them. Banlieues are equally associated in Paris with having the poorest residents, particularly immigrants. Banlieues on the western part of the city metropolitan area generally have higher income levels than the Banlieues of the north and east part of the city metropolitan area.
Godard’s films brought new meaning to Parisian cinema. The New Wave movement shattered much of the conceptions of the French film industry. Many filmmakers associated with movement derided earlier French films for their bourgeois connections and antiquated notions. Godard sought to create a new language for cinema, one that did not rely on the conventions of theater.