November 8, 2012
Pierrot le Fou (1965)
Grade: 53/100

Director: Jean-Luc Godard
Stars: Jean-Paul Belmondo, Anna Karina, Graziella Galvani

What it's about. A loosely constructed and surrealistic French comedy, romance, and crime adventure. Ferdinand (Jean-Paul Belmondo) is a jaded and bored 30ish husband, married to Graziella Galvani. They have an adorable toddler daughter.

They step out to attend a party and hire a gorgeous babysitter, Marianne (Anna Karina) to look after the little girl. Not too surprisingly, Ferdinand soon becomes bored with the party and ditches it, leaving his wife behind. He returns home and runs off with the babysitter.

At her place, there is a dead body with a large wound, and a cluster of machine guns against the wall. It turns out that hitmen are after Marianne because of money she stole, apparently from a crime syndicate.

So, Ferdinand and Marianne flee her apartment in her convertible for a road adventure. They have no money, which obligates them to rob a gas station, steal a car, etc. After much flirting and teasing on the part of beautiful Marianne, she is finally shot. Ferdinand responds by painting his face blue and blowing himself up with dynamite.

How others will see it. This movie is similar in feel to earlier Godard films such as Breathless and Band of Outsiders, which respectively starred Belmondo and Karina. The latter was married to Godard between 1961 and 1967. Godard is highly popular among a certain category of cinephiles who regard his films as irreverent, amusing, stylish, and romantic.

Pierrot le Fou was not as well received as Breathless, but nonetheless garnered a Golden Lion nomination at the Venice Film Festival. Belmondo received a Best Foreign Actor nomination from BAFTA. The film caused little stir on the American side of the Atlantic, but the vote total at is a respectable 10K and the user ratings are fairly high at 7.6.

However, there is a steady decline in ratings as audiences age, from 8.5 under 18 to 6.8 over 45. There is only a marginal gender gap, probably because both men and women enjoy Karina's performance, though for different reasons. To women, she represents freedom. To men, she's a world-class lay.

The drop in ratings among older audiences is likely due to expectations. They want a tighter plot and better actor motivation. Why would Belmondo abandon his toddler daughter to go on the run with a killer pursued by hitmen? The film's answer: why not?

How I felt about it. There is an undeniable pleasure in watching Karina endlessly tease and flirt with Belmondo, who plays along but largely maintains his deadpan expression. They are likeable enough, I suppose, but since they don't seem to care what happens to them, why should we assume the responsibility?

This movie reminded me of what I remember of Fellini's 8 1/2. If you are too lazy, or find it too tedious, to construct a cogent story, throw in a charismatic male lead, a ravishing model, and put them in a variety of settings until it is time to kill one or both of them off. The formula certainly worked for Breathless, not that that film is much better than this one.

I did like, though, the early party scene, where the well dressed and refined guests blow cigarette smoke in each other's faces while repeating trite product marketing lines, e.g. "It comes in a wonderfully fresh aerosol, as well as stick and roll-on." If Godard had continued on this path, skewering the upper middle class as brainwashed by corporate advertising, he might actually have succeeded in making a film worth an effort to see.