French cinema giant, Jean-Luc Godard, dies aged 91

Jean-Luc Godard -- who has died at 91 -- was the rebel spirit who drove the French New Wave, firing out a volley of films in the 1960s that rewrote the rules of cinema.

French cinema giant, Jean-Luc Godard, dies aged 91
A 1988 photo of Franco-Swiss filmmaker Jean-Luc Godard, who died "peacefully" on September 13, 2022 at his home in Switzerland, his family said in a statement. (Photo by AFP)

Between “Breathless” (“A Bout de Souffle”) in 1960 and the student protests of 1968, Godard exhilarated audiences as he shook the film world with his technical innovations and savage, occasionally lyrical, satires.

Sometimes working on two movies at the same time, he ranged over crime, politics and prostitution in a burst of creative energy that would inspire two generations of directors.

Godard’s witty aphorisms like “a story should have a beginning, a middle and an end — but not necessarily in that order”, became lodestars for filmmakers from Robert Altman and Martin Scorsese to Quentin Tarantino and Paul Thomas Anderson.

French cinema: 7 Jean-Luc Godard films to watch

But the flame that had burned so bright in the 1960s veered off into revolutionary politics and Maoist obscurantism in the 1970s, and he came to be seen almost as a tragicomic figure.

Godard spent several years experimenting with video before returning to commercial filmmaking — of a kind — in 1979.

Modern prophet

But the freshness was gone and critics accused him of becoming too elliptical, with some branding his early films misogynist.

Yet the increasingly reclusive Godard persevered down his singular path, before reinventing himself in his later years as a gnomic cigar-chomping prophet.

He shot his critically acclaimed “Film Socialisme” on board the Costa Concordia cruise ship in 2009, declaring that capitalism was heading for the rocks. When the ship ran aground three years later, it wasn’t just his small band of disciples who treated him as a visionary.

Born in Paris into a well-to-do Franco-Swiss family on December 3, 1930, Godard was lucky enough to spend World War II at Nyons in neutral Switzerland, returning to the French capital in 1949 to study ethnology at the Sorbonne.

But his real education was in the little cinemas of the Latin Quarter where he first ran into Francois Truffaut, Jacques Rivette and Eric Rohmer, all future luminaries of the French cinema.

He fell in love with American action cinema and began writing criticism under the pseudonym “Hans Lucas” with Truffaut, Rivette and Rohmer for small magazines like the “Cahiers du Cinema”, where they plotted to revolutionise the art.

After a failed attempt to make his first film in America, he went to work on a dam in Switzerland and saved enough money to make a film about it, “Operation Concrete” (1954).

It helped lay the foundation for his rapid ascent that would see him hailed as the leader of the French New Wave when “Breathless” was released in 1960.

‘The Picasso of cinema’

That swaggering story of a small-time crook on the run who romances a young American in Paris was a major landmark in French cinema, heralding the arrival of a generation of irreverent young film-makers determined to break with the past.

So big was its impact that Truffaut called Godard cinema’s Picasso, someone who had “sown chaos… and made everything possible”. As often with Godard, their friendship later turned sour, with Truffaut branding him a “shit” after the pair fell out in 1973.

By shooting on the fly in outdoor locations and improvising endlessly, Godard rewrote the rulebook and helped popularise the idea of the director as “auteur”, the creative force behind everything on the screen.

“Breathless” also gave the first big break to Jean-Paul Belmondo, who would later star in Godard’s masterpiece and most personal film “Pierrot le Fou” (1965), which explored the pain of his break-up with the Danish actress Anna Karina.

From the start, Godard’s career was dogged by controversy. “Le Petit Soldat” (1960), with its references to the Algerian war, was banned by the French authorities for three years and “Une Femme Mariee” (A married woman, 1964) had its title changed from “La Femme Mariee” by censors concerned that its adulterous heroine might be taken for the typical French wife.

But after “Weekend” (1967), a gory examination of the obsession with cars scattered with surrealistic traffic accidents, his work too often appeared self-indulgent.

Indeed, Godard became something of an intellectual oddity, emerging every few years from his bolthole in Rolle on the shores of Lake Geneva to lob a verbal grenade or two.

It was this tragic, cartoonish Godard on the slide who features in “Godard Mon Amour”, the 2017 comedy about him by Michel Hazanavicius, the Oscar-winning maker of “The Artist”.

But by then Godard was having the last laugh, with his reputation somewhat restored by a series of low-budget metaphorical films that questioned our image-saturated world.

“Film is over,” he told The Guardian in a rare interview in 2011, recanting his oft-quoted maxim that “photography is truth, and the cinema is truth 24 times per second”.

“With mobile phones, everyone is now an auteur,” he said.

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A guide for how to survive fall in France for homesick Americans

Looking to recreate American autumn festivities while living in France? Here are some of The Local's tips for how to avoid the seasonal homesickness this year.

A guide for how to survive fall in France for homesick Americans

For many, fall or autumn is a sacred time in the United States, marked by spooky cobwebs, weekends filled with visits to pumpkin patches, jugs of apple cider, and searching for the perfect Halloween costume. 

It is an easy time of year to feel homesick for Americans living in France, especially when it feels like you are missing out on holidays like Halloween and Thanksgiving with friends and family at home.

READ MORE: Readers’ tips: How to create an authentic Thanksgiving in France

While it might never be the same as a New England fall, here are some tips on how to make autumn in France feel a bit more like home:

For when you miss pumpkin patches:

Yes this is possible in France! Pumpkins grow in fields across central France, and they are available in most supermarkets once the fall season has begun. However, if you are looking for a traditional pumpkin patch experience, that might be a bit trickier to find. If you devote yourself to a bit of research, then you will likely be able to find a ‘Fête de la Citrouille‘ or ‘Foire à la citrouille‘ (Pumpkin festivals) near you. These are more like fall fairs, complete with ‘heaviest pumpkin’ competitions and food stands.

While these might be a bit different from what you are used to, they are a great way to enjoy pumpkins (in a French way).

Many of these events will be announced on Facebook, so you can start by searching there. 

If you live in the Paris region there are a few pumpkin patches not too far outside of the city. The ‘Fermes de Gally‘ host a yearly pumpkin picking and carving festival. You could also visit “Ferme du Logis” or the “Vergers de Champlain.”

For when you want to celebrate Halloween:

You have a few options for trick-or-treating, if that’s your thing. You can always organise a private event with some other Halloween enthusiasts. Though, keep in mind that in France people say “des bonbons ou un sort” instead of ‘trick-or-treat’ in English. The other option is to see whether your local mairie is hosting an event. While Halloween is definitely not as popular in France as it is in the United States, it is becoming more common. 

If you are looking for a more official, organised event, you might consider going to the “Disney Halloween Festival.” During the festivities, the ‘villains’ take over the park, which is fully decorated for Halloween. When you enter the park, you’ll be greeted by smiling scarecrows with pumpkins on their heads, lanterns lighting up the park, and characters in ‘scary’ (kid-friendly) costumes.

During the actual Halloween weekend, the park hosts dedicated soirées. Tickets usually go for 79€ to 89€ per person.

Another option, particularly if you have older kids looking for a scarier Halloween, might be Parc Asterix. Each year, usually for the entirety of the month of October, the park is decked out in autumn colours with pumpkins, corn, and even straw bales. If you want to take younger children, you can go to the ‘Petit frisson’ (small scare) section. 

For when you miss pumpkin flavoured everything:

You do not have to give up pumpkin spice if you stay in France this fall! Starbucks (with locations across the country) sells pumpkin spice lattes.

If you want to make your own PSL, you can find ‘pumpkin spice’ in France (with a bit of effort). Carrefour reportedly sells the seasoning (see HERE). For the truly determined, you can find pumpkin spice on French Amazon too. 

The best bet for finding pumpkin spice – for all your baking and coffee needs – is to see if there is a local American épicerie or store near you. You might try the “Brooklyn Fizz” store in Lyon; “The Great McCoy” market in Paris; or the “Épicerie Americaine” in Bordeaux.

If there are not any, you can always try the online store “My American Market.”

For pumpkin scented candles, you can either replace with another fall scent (search: “bougie parfumées automne“) or you can order a Bath and Body Works candle online – see HERE

Finally, if you are looking to make a homemade pumpkin pie, consider doing so with an actual pumpkin. Pumpkin purée is hard to come by in France, but chopping up the pumpkin yourself is certainly one way to satisfy the craving.

For when you miss apple picking and cider:

In France, Normandy and Brittany are known for apple production, with their own apple cider traditions. Take a trip to Normandy and enjoy apple and cider festivals – learn more HERE.  

READ MORE: French figures: The drink that sparked a regional crockery battle

While the festivals might be lacking in apple cider donuts, you can always try your hand in making some homemade. Most of the ingredients should be accessible, though you might struggle a bit early in the season with locating nutmeg (muscade en français). As the fall season goes on, most large grocery store chains ought to stock up.

For apple pie cravings, consider trying the French equivalent: tarte aux pommes. Though it might be exactly the same as American apple pie with vanilla ice cream on top, it is still delicious and available in most boulangeries. 

If you live in the Paris area, or you are visiting, you can check out Boneshaker Donuts. The owners combine French and American traditions, and always have a full fall assortment. 

For when you miss American football:

Another source of homesickness for many Americans is the lack of American football on television in France. 

If you have a VPN on your computer, you might not run into this issue as much, but for those looking to simply watch football on cable TV, you have some options as well.

Comparitech recommends France’s two official NFL broadcasters: L’Equipe and beIN Sports. L’Equipe reportedly airs every Sunday game and playoff live, including the Super Bowl. It is free to use, so you do not need to purchase a premium subscription to view NFL games. 

Another tip might be to visit Irish, British or Scottish pubs in your area. Oftentimes, they will have access to sports channels that air NFL games too. 

For college football, Hulu’s live TV option should allow you to stream most games. 

Unfortunately, the ESPN + subscription will locate your IP address, so this is not possible without a VPN. However, you can purchase the NFL Game Pass and use it from France. You can choose between watching the Redzone or simply a single, specific game. This also allows you to split your screen, so you can watch multiple games at once.

For when you are just generally homesick:

While this might not be the perfect antidote, it might be an opportunity to make the most out of France’s fall traditions. You can start creating new hobbies and pastimes that might just become your craving this time next year. Visit a spooky French cemetery, go to your local market and buy fresh squash and Brussels sprouts, sip mulled wine, or even go out foraging for mushrooms.

The Local put together a full guide to autumn in France HERE.

READ MORE: 11 ways to make the most of autumn in France

If you are missing the foliage, consider going for a hike or weekend trip to any of these French locations that are known for stunning fall views. 

At the end of the day, if you really cannot handle being far from home during autumn, consider simply visiting the US. While flights to the US are always going to be pricey, the trip is usually cheaper in autumn than during peak times, such as summer vacation or Christmas. This off-season trip might be what you (and your wallet) needs.