What Makes Jean-Luc Godard An Iconic Film Director?

Jean-Luc Godard was an avant-garde genius in the world of filmmaking. His name is a symbol of cinematic innovation.

Mar 27, 2024By Theo Kapetanakis, MA Film Studies, BA Cultural Technology & Communication

jean luc godard iconc film director


Jean-Luc Godard is a legendary figure in the world of cinema. His visionary filmmaking approaches transformed the art of visual storytelling and made him a central figure in the history of film. Godard worked as a director, screenwriter, actor, and an exceptional film critic. Undoubtedly, he was the most famous filmmaker of the revolutionary French New Wave movement, also known as the Nouvelle Vague in France, which blossomed in the late 1950s and early 1960s.


Who Was Jean-Luc Godard?

Portrait of Jean-Luc Godard. Source: Cineccentric


Jean-Luc Godard was born on December 3, 1930, in Paris, France. He was raised in a family of Swiss-French heritage. Godard made his first steps as a film critic before shifting to filmmaking and becoming a director himself. He co-founded the famous film magazine Cahiers du Cinéma. He was also part of the magazine’s group of critics, which included other filmmakers of the French New Wave like François Truffaut and Éric Rohmer.


As a filmmaker, he pursued his storytelling visions expressed through camera work and pioneering approaches to film editing. Godard loved the contradictions on the silver screen and, from time to time, he deliberately aimed to emotionally disconnect the audience from his films. Moreover, as a director, he used to skip characteristics of conventional storytelling, such as catharsis. Godard intentionally removed the element of catharsis from his films so that the viewer could have a deeper understanding of the story. He believed that cinema’s true essence was in the overall experience. In Godard’s mind, all conventions were meant to be questioned.


Motivations & Filmmaking Approaches of a Genius 

Jean-Luc Godard at the Cannes Film Festival, 1982, Source: Npr


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Most of the time, Godard’s methods were based on a practical approach. He believed that knowledge about cinema came from experiencing films, books, and other art forms. Godard was inspired by solid emotions, strange attractions, and uncertainty.


For Jean-Luc Godard, creating a film was a practical process for discovering or confirming an initially abstract concept. His method involved numerous trials, setbacks, high production costs, and a firm reliance on his instinct, which was in a constant state of exploration. In his view, a true filmmaker actively fostered collaboration and exchanged ideas with all of his partners. Jean-Luc Godard’s innovation in cinema extended far beyond a single aspect. His willingness to push boundaries, challenge norms, and provoke human nature through his films left an indelible mark on the art of filmmaking. His artwork serves as a reminder that the seventh art can be an inexhaustible source for creative expression and social exploration.


What Made Godard a Cinematic Innovator?

Jean-Luc Godard, Source: Flicks


The French New Wave is one of the most significant and innovative film movements. As a result, Godard’s impact on the art of filmmaking is infinite as he reshaped the medium of cinema in multiple ways. Here are some of the key aspects that made Godard a true innovator.


Godard’s films are synonymous with experimental storytelling. He shattered traditional narrative conventions, often blurring the lines between fiction and reality. In Breathless and Weekend, he employed techniques like jump cuts and non-linear narratives, challenging the audience members to engage with different aspects of cinema in thrilling new ways. His approach to narrative structure has paved the way for unconventional storytelling, serving as a continued source of motivation and inspiration for contemporary filmmakers.


According to Godard, a film operates on two distinct levels—the visible and the invisible. The visual level serves as a filter, selectively allowing rays of light to pass through when adequately aligned, thereby unveiling the hidden elements to the audience. Conversely, the aspiration of every creator should extend beyond the apparent. The filmmaker’s path to achieving this goal involves persistent self-examination. Furthermore, critics should pose inquiries, especially before the inception of a film, just like detectives during their process of investigation.


Portrait of Jean-Luc Godard. Source: The Wall Street Journal


Godard’s films were not solely about entertainment—they served as platforms for political and social commentary. In the politically charged climate of the 1960s, his boldness tackled issues such as consumerism, alienation, and the complexities of romantic relationships. His films stand out as mirrors, reflecting the tumultuous era and provoking significant discussions about the world.


Godard’s distinctive visual style was renowned for its boldness and originality. He collaborated with innovative cinematographers like Raoul Coutard to craft striking visuals and iconic frames. His exceptional use of color, framing, and composition not only defined his aesthetic but also enriched the thematic depth of his work.


Godard’s characters were multidimensional and complicated, often defying conventional hero archetypes. With a discerning perspective, he delved into the complexities of human relationships, creating characters that resonated with realism. His portrayal of love and desire was both authentic and groundbreaking in its execution.


A Journey Through Jean-Luc Godard’s Masterpieces

Poster for Contempt, by Jean-Luc Godard, 1963. Source: IMDb


The top 5 Godard films offer a captivating exploration of his brilliance and showcase his impact on the cinematic world. With complex narratives, distinctive techniques, and thought-provoking themes, they stand as a testament to his lasting artistic legacy. His profound influence on the medium and his continued ability to captivate and inspire audiences can be noticed in all of these films. Here are five Godard movies you should watch.


1. Breathless, 1960

Breathless, by Jean-Luc Godard 1960.


Breathless is Godard’s masterpiece that shaped the French New Wave and defined it in the audience’s collective memory. This iconic film tells the story of Michel Poiccard (played by Jean-Paul Belmondo), a young car thief on the run, and his passionate romance with the captivating Patricia Franchini (played by Jean Seberg). Through its innovative visual storytelling approach and jump cuts, Breathless remains a cult classic and a must-see for film enthusiasts and visionary filmmakers.


2. Contempt, 1963

Contempt, by Jean-Luc Godard 1963.


Contempt is a visually striking intellectual exploration of love, art, and human relationships. Featuring Brigitte Bardot and Michel Piccoli, the film follows the story of a marriage as it becomes interconnected with the world of cinema. Godard’s profound self-reflection to merge the personal and the philosophical makes Contempt a vital part of his cinematic portfolio.


3. Pierrot le Fou, 1965

Pierrot le Fou by Jean-Luc Godard 1965. Source: Criterion


Pierrot le Fou is a mesmerizing blend of romance, human quest, and social evaluation. Featuring Anna Karina and Jean-Paul Belmondo, the film invites us on a surreal journey of two lovers who venture into a puzzling voyage. Godard’s directing approach, combined with his vibrant use of colors, makes this film a cinematic masterpiece.


4. Weekend, 1967

Weekend, by Jean-Luc Godard, 1967.


Weekend is a sharp, surreal piece of satire that offers a critical perspective on consumerism and bourgeois society. Godard’s film technique of long shots, inspired by the legendary Alfred Hitchcock, challenges traditional filmmaking norms, making this film a provoking audiovisual perfection. The traffic jam scene in Godard’s Weekend is a chaotic, reckless, and satirical representation of social deterioration. It serves as a visual allegory for the film’s sharp critique of consumerism and the bourgeois lifestyle in general.


5. Jean-Luc Godard’s Band of Outsiders, 1964

Poster for Band of Outsiders, by Jean-Luc Godard, 1964.


Band of Outsiders blends elements of crime, romance, and comedy. The film follows the adventures of two friends involved in a criminal conspiracy. Famous for its iconic dance scene, The renowned dance scene showcases the three main characters spontaneously dancing in a Parisian coffee shop, infusing a sequence of spontaneity into the film’s storyline. Band of Outsiders features Godard’s skill in effortlessly merging genres, creating a memorable and entertaining cinematic experience.

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By Theo KapetanakisMA Film Studies, BA Cultural Technology & CommunicationTheo is a filmmaker and author with tremendous passion for storytelling. He holds an MA in Film Studies from Middlesex University, London (1st Scholarship Award), and a BA in Cultural Technology & Communication from the University of the Aegean. His work includes, film directing, audiovisual arts, video editing, and scriptwriting. Furthermore, Theo is a Graphic Designer & Media Editor at TheCollector. In his spare time, he publishes articles on his specialty.