COURTESY OF JANUS FILMS
In a season plagued with mindless blockbusters, franchise features and sequels upon sequels, the Jean-Luc Godard Film Festival at the Silver Spring, Md.-based American Film Institute Silver Theatre and Cultural Center serves as an alluring alternative.
“It is a real retrospective moment for Godard and the other names associated with the French New Wave movement in filmmaking,” said Todd Hitchcock, an AFI film programmer. “The movement is reaching its 50th year anniversary.”
Godard, who was born to French and Swiss parents in 1930, attended school in both countries. Despite this, he discovered his passion for film while studying at the Sorbonne in Paris. Prior to 1950, Godard would spend his nights at Paris ciné-clubs, mingling with renowned filmmakers Jacques Rivette, Claude Chabrol, Fran?ois Truffaut, Jacques Rozier, Jacques Demy, and André Bazin. These fellow film enthusiasts would soon become Godard’s contemporaries in the French New Wave movement, which holds the ideal that reality is the true essence of cinema. This artistic principle served in direct opposition to the 1950s mass market capitalism of the Hollywood film system, which Godard condemned for its artificial aesthetics and diluted representation of reality. Instead, Godard preferred long, deep-focus shots that compiled a more cohesive scene without superfluous editing, as he sought to maintain an unwavering ambiance of realism.
Godard and his New Wave peers founded, edited and contributed to the influential French magazine Cahiers du Cinéma, which essentially redefined the basic elements of film theory and critique and developed the modern idea of a cinematic “auteur.” Godard held a job as a construction worker on a dam project at the time, which inspired him to craft the documentary, “Opération béton.” Proud of his work, Godard continued to experiment with the short film medium and went on to direct such fiction pieces as “Une femme coquette,” “Tous les garcons s’appellent Patrick” and “Une histoire d’eau.”
Soon after, Godard moved into the field of feature-length cinema with his 1960 film “Breathless,” which is often regarded as the era’s seminal French New Wave film. The Godard Film Festival began at the end of May, but weekly screenings will continue until July 3. Upcoming films will include “Masculin, féminin,” a vivid portrayal of youth and sex in politically charged 1960s Paris. The film chronicles a young man’s efforts to court a budding pop star and keep her overprotective friend at bay. The love-triangle that ensues over 15 separate acts exhausts the stylistic elements of numerous genres from documentary to musical and political theater.
The AFI Silver Theatre and Cultural Center will host an appearance by Richard Brody, a film writer for the New Yorker, as part of the film festival. Brody recently published his book on Godard, “Everything is Cinema: The Working Life of Jean-Luc Godard,” and will deliver a speech following a 7 p.m. screening of Godard’s 1967 film, “La Chinoise.” The film chronicles the trials and tribulations of a group of Maoist students who spend a summer in a Parisian apartment, where they plan and execute their hip, radical demonstrations. Brody will be available for book signings before he introduces the subsequent screening of Godard’s controversial 1962 film “My Life to Live,” which began as a documentary on prostitution, yet evolved into a full-length feature film as a result of Godard’s passionate relationship with the film’s lead actress.
Although the screenings of Godard’s quintessential classics have already passed, festival patrons can still immerse themselves in more obscure Godard fare, including “Two or Three Things I Know About Her,” “My Life to Live” and “Weekend.” While most of the festival’s films were crafted decades ago, Godard’s reflections on youth are timeless, especially “Masculin, féminin,” Hitchcock said.
“The themes of the film are still pertinent to modern youth,” he said. “The upshot of Godard creating films ahead of their time is that they still seem fresh and relevant today.”