French cinema legend Jean-Luc Godard passed away peacefully in Switzerland on Tuesday, leaving behind an extraordinary legacy. He was 91 years old, and died by assisted suicide. An irreplaceable presence in French cinema, Godard was a leading figure associated with the Nouvelle Vague or French New Wave movement in the 1950s and 60s. He earned a reputation for making politically charged and iconoclastic films that will be remembered for generations to come. His experiments with the form left an imprint on not just French, but world cinema that cannot be erased. Filmmakers and fans are paying their tributes and fondly remembering his films today.
If you haven’t explored his work already, we’ve listed down five Jean-Luc Godard classics that you simply should not miss.
1. Breathless (1960)
There is no better place to begin this list than the 1960 crime drama that went on to become symbolic of the French New Wave. A petty theif, Michel, tries to persuade his love interest, Patricia, to flee with him to Italy after stealing a car and killing a policeman. With the jump cuts in this film, Godard significantly changed the existing rules of filmmaking for the better.
2. Alphaville (1965)
Alphaville is another unforgettable classic. In this neo-noir take on science fiction, Godard manages to capture the essence of a dystopia without using any special effects, sets or props. The plot revolves around secret agent Lemmy Caution (Eddie Constantine) who embarks on a mission to a dictatorship called Alphaville. Emotional and provocative, the film is just as impactful today as it was in the 1960s.
3. Pierrot le fou (1965)
Starring Anna Karina, Pierrot le fou is a visual masterpiece from start to finish. Tired of married life and bourgeois society, Ferdinand runs away with his ex-lover, Marianne, in search of adventure. Their journey soon turns into a crime spree as they try to escape hitmen. Above all, it is the vivid imagery that makes this film stand out among Godard’s work as one of his finest.
4. Weekend (1967)
Roland and Corrine Durand, a middle class couple, escape to the countryside for a weekend getaway. What follows is a black comedy full of violence and playful satire. The lengthy scene where Roland and Corrine are stuck in a tedious traffic jam is fondly remembered as one of Godard’s best. He created a single, seemingly endless shot that goes from comical to hilariously absurd.
5. Vivre sa vie (1968)
Godard breaks this film into twelve episodes that depict Nana, a Parisian woman’s downfall. Battling poverty and a mariage that is falling apart, she eventually turns to prostitution. The film is intimate and heart wrenching, with beautiful cinematography. Anna Karina shines once again as the protagonist.