There's cool and then there's Jean-Paul Belmondo. No one ever made being bored look so exciting, and the effortlessly graceful and impossibly hip actor gave the mid-'60s nouvelle vague a needed macho punch. He stalked the screen with the force of a boxer and the soul of a scholar. This 1965 pop art masterpiece finds the actor at the pinnacle of his powers, and marks the moment when Belmondo's favorite director, Jean-Luc Godard, discovered his own signature style.
Perhaps the most colorful noir ever made, Pierrot is a loopy romantic fantasy in caper garb, a dashed-off satire of crime-spree pictures that very casually manages to be great. Belmondo is Ferdinand, a bourgeois Parisian trapped by family and career who walks out on his life by exiting a dull party. In tow is his babysitter and former girlfriend Marianne, played fearlessly by the gorgeous Anna Karina. Their fling becomes an escape Marianne happens to be running from Algerian gangsters and the impulsive lovers flee to the countryside where they burn through money, cars and identities. The pair roams the Mediterranean coast downing a steady cocktail of romance and danger, if only to keep themselves interested in each other, in life. As the stakes rise their relationship frays. Ferdinand (whom Marianne calls "Pierrot") realizes too late that he's been played for a fool, dragged into a fight with gangsters that he didn't start.
The story flashes by in episodic bursts, pausing now and again for bits of absurdism, gunplay, philosophy and charming musical interludes. It's a high-wire act of filmmaking audacity; wit, color, style, and a joyful spirit bubble under the aloof hipness. Consider the scene that sees the couple attempting to swindle beach tourists by putting on a play called "Uncle Sam's nephew and Uncle Ho's niece" it's a dash of whimsy that sharply lampoons the Vietnam War.
It takes skill to make something this rich seem spontaneous. Contemporary audiences will be jolted seeing how a film so of-the-moment 42 years ago has lost none of its power it's thrilling to watch Godard almost invent post-modern cinema. The director continues to confound both the committed and casual viewer; critics continue to reappraise him. With Pierrot Le Fou, there should be no critical debate; the proof is all up there on the screen.
Showing at the Detroit Film Theatre (inside the DIA, 5200 Woodward Ave., Detroit; 313-833-3237), at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 4, and Friday and Saturday, Oct. 5-6, at 9:30 p.m.
Corey Hall writes about film for Metro Times. Send comments to letters[email protected].