There is little to say about Jean-Luc Godard that he hasn’t already said himself. Fittingly, TIFF’s retrospective, Godard Forever: Part One, allows his work to speak for itself, showcasing 15 features and multiple shorts from the early years of the French director, screenwriter, and film critic’s career.
Godard is most famous for his jump cuts, especially notable in Breathless (1960), but this exhibit features so much more. Godard’s gentle yet incisive use of the camera, the alarming yet invigorating sporadic violence, as well as the impressive car chases and lingering, expressive close-ups are a testament to his mastery of film.
For those new to Godard, or who are unfamiliar with his reputation as an experimental director, fear not— his films are surprisingly accessible to an open mind. Even the well-versed aficionado will catch new allusions with every viewing, since the subtlety of his films layer nuances. These films are meant to be a little elusive; it would ruin some of the cinematic magic if you could firmly grasp every moment.
While many of these early films are tied to particular historical events, the themes they explore remain timeless. Vivre Sa Vie (1962) opens with a quotation from Michel de Montaigne, a Renaissance philosopher fond of trying to answer the big questions about humanity, the self, art, beauty, and love. Godard Forever is an apt title for this retrospective, as the films presented display the endless human quest to discover and express our identities, within the confines of language, art, and film.
In Alphaville (1965), Godard’s protagonist compulsively takes photographs throughout the film, in a vain attempt to preserve a moment for the future, just as it slips into the past. The films in this retrospective are like these snapshots; we can easily date them to a single year, yet they are fluid and not anchored to their original time period. Even though the style and trappings are distinctly French New Wave cinema, the questions explored remain relevant today.
While Godard’s most celebrated works are easy enough to get a hold of, TIFF’s programming delivers some special treats, such as his short films, fresh restorations, 35mm prints, and archival prints. Of course, TIFF offers unparalleled viewing facilities for university students accustomed to the low definition of a laptop.
Given Godard’s status as one of the most influential filmmakers alive today, this retrospective clearly details the precedent set for contemporary filmmakers. It’s truly a mark of a game-changing figure to alter the parameters of their field to such an extent that their influence becomes almost unnoticed and automatic.
So is there anything left to say about Godard? Well, we shall see what Godard Forever: Part Two has in store, showcasing his later works. Godard himself is very much alive and well in the film industry. His latest and thirty-ninth feature film, Gooodbye to Language, promises to delve into the recurring concern with the limits of language and knowledge. Shot in 3D, this film is expected to be a striking experimental counterpoint to his French New Wave work from the ’60s. Since his filmography is far from complete, who knows how many more TIFF retrospectives are in store? Godard Forever, indeed.