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‘Enfant terrible’ of French cinema Jean-Luc Godard dies aged 91

French New Wave director Jean-Luc Godard has died at the age of 91.

Dubbed the “enfant terrible” of the French New Wave due to his provocative work, Godard revolutionised popular cinema in 1960 with his debut feature Breathless.

The film, titled A bout de souffle in French, made stars of its lead actors Jean Seberg and Jean-Paul Belmondo. Its unconventional use of jump cuts is cited as revolutionary in film, and it frequently ranks among the best movies ever made.

Godard is understood to have died peacefully, surrounded by his loved ones at his home in the Swiss town of Rolle, on Lake Geneva, on Tuesday, according to Swiss news agency ATS who quoted Godard’s partner Anne-Marie Mieville and her producers.


French President Emmanuel Macron paid tribute to Godard, calling him a “national treasure”.

He tweeted an image of the iconic director, calling him “the most iconoclastic of the New Wave directors” who “invented a resolutely modern, intensely free art form.”

He added: “We have lost a national treasure, the eye of a genius.”

Godard’s film career began in the 1950s, however, he started off as a film critic before moving behind the camera, where he rewrote the rules of filming, sound and narrative.

His controversial modern nativity play Hail Mary, which also starred Belmondo, grabbed headlines when Pope John Paul II denounced it in 1985.

His films were often politically charged and experimental, appealing to just a small circle of fans and frustrating many critics who considered them overly intellectual.

Jean Seberg and Jean-Paul Belmondo, Breathless 1959 directed by Jean-Luc Godard. Christophel Collection/BELLA Production.

1 Jan 1959
Jean Seberg and Jean-Paul Belmondo, in Breathless, 1959. Pic: Christophel Collection/BELLA Production

Cannes Film Festival director Thierry Fremaux told the Associated Press Godard’s death was: “Sad, sad. Immensely so.”

Born into a wealthy French-Swiss family on 3 December 1930 in Paris, Godard grew up in Nyon, Switzerland, going on to study ethnology (the study of different people and their cultures) at the Sorbonne in France’s capital.

It was there he became drawn to the cultural scene that flourished in the Latin Quarter “cine-club” after the Second World War, becoming friends with future big-name directors Francois Truffaut, Jacques Rivette and Eric Rohmer.

In 1950 he founded the short-lived Gazette du Cinema, and by 1952 he had begun writing for the prestigious movie magazine Cahiers du Cinema.

After working on two films by fellow-New Wave directors Jacques Rivette and Eric Rohmer in 1951, Godard tried to direct his first movie while travelling through North and South America with his father, but never finished it.

His first successful film was a 20-minute documentary about building a dam in Switzerland called Operation Concrete. Showing initiative, he had taken a job on the site as a construction worker to finance the project.

His first real short film – All Boys Are Called Patrick – was released in 1959, with his breakout feature Breathless – based on a story by Truffaut – released the following year.

The movie tells the story of a penniless young thief who models himself on Hollywood movie gangsters, on the run in Italy with his girlfriend after shooting a police officer.

Godard was also involved with collective film projects including French movie The Seven Deadly Sins and Italian film Let’s Have a Brainwash.

May 14, 1968 - Camera in hand, the director Jean-Luc Godard supported the cause of the students and workers marching from La Place de la Republique to Denfert-Rocheereau on May 13th in his own way. - Image ID: E0Y1XH (RM)
Godard changed the face of cinema thanks to his novel use of jump-cuts and narrative style

Known for his uncompromising left-wing political views, his socialist ideas often came to the fore in his work.

His lifelong advocacy of the Palestinian cause also brought him repeated accusations of antisemitism, despite his insistence that he sympathised with the Jewish people and their plight in Nazi-occupied Europe.

In December 2007 he was honoured by the European Film Academy with a lifetime achievement award and in 2010 he was given an honourary Oscar alongside film historian and preservationist Kevin Brownlow, director-producer Francis Ford Coppola and actor Eli Wallach.

However, he decided not to go to Hollywood to receive the prize, which was “for his contributions to film in the New Wave era”, preferring instead to stay at home in Switzerland.

Godard married Danish-born model and actress Anna Karina in 1961, and she went on to appear in a string of his films. They divorced in 1965.

He married his second wife, Anne Wiazemsky, in 1967, but they divorced in 1979.

He leaves behind his partner of 44 years, Swiss filmmaker Anne-Marie Mieville.


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