Jean-Luc Godard, pioneer of the French New Wave film movement, dies at 91

·5 min read

Jean-Luc Godard, the French-Swiss director of Vivre Sa Vie and Contempt who changed the course of filmmaking in the 1960s with his movie Breathless, died Tuesday at 91.

The Associated Press, citing Swiss news agency ATS, reports Godard's partner Anne-Marie Mieville and her producers as saying Godard died peacefully while surrounded by loved ones at his home in the town of Rolle on Lake Geneva.

Alain Berset, head of the Switzerland Department of Home Affairs, addressed Godard's death in a statement released on Twitter. "I am very touched by the announcement of the death of Jean-Luc Godard," he said, according to a translation. "Switzerland is losing one of its greatest filmmakers. His works have inspired generations of directors around the world, his immense legacy and influence will go down in history."

French President Emmanuel Macron said Godard "became a master" of French cinema. "Jean-Luc Godard, the most iconoclastic of New Wave filmmakers, had invented a resolutely modern, intensely free art," he said in a statement. "We are losing a national treasure, a look of genius."

Bob Dylan, in a 1985 interview with Rolling Stone (as preserved by the New Yorker), was notably quoted as saying, "I figured Godard had the accessibility to make what he made, he broke new ground. I never saw any film like Breathless, but once you saw it, you said: 'Yeah, man, why didn't I do that, I could have done that.' OK, he did it, but he couldn't have done it in America."

Breathless, released in March 1960, was Godard's first big successful film. The French crime drama starred Jean-Paul Belmondo as Michael, a criminal who models himself on Hollywood gangsters like Humphrey Bogart. He goes on the run from authorities after shooting a policeman and turns to Patricia (Jean Seberg), an American student and aspiring journalist. (Belmondo died a year earlier at the age of 88.)

The film became notable for its stark shift in narrative storytelling, bold visuals, and use of jump-cuts. Along with François Truffaut's The 400 Blows and Alain Resnais's Hiroshima mon amour, which had both released in theaters a year earlier, Breathless is credited as sparking a new movement in French cinema that the press would call "La Nouvelle Vague" (the New Wave).

Jean-Luc Godard
Jean-Luc Godard

CHRISTOPHE D YVOIRE/Sygma via Getty Images Filmmaker Jean-Luc Godard, a revolutionary voice in French New Wave cinema, died at the age of 91.

Godard was also known for taking a political stance in his work. One clear example was The Little Soldier, which was meant to be released in theaters in 1960 but was banned by the French government until 1963. Its content, which referenced the French colonial war in Algeria, implied that France was involved in a dirty war.

Another example was 1967's Weekend, which tackled the hypocrisies of bourgeoisie society. One of the most notorious scenes from the film is an eight-minute tracking shot of the main Parisian couple stuck in a traffic jam as they leave the city.

Those paying tribute to Godard in light of his death shows the reach and influence his work had in Hollywood.

"RIP Jean-Luc Godard, one of the most influential, iconoclastic film-makers of them all," tweeted director Edgar Wright (the Cornetto trilogy, Last Night in Soho). "It was ironic that he himself revered the Hollywood studio film-making system, as perhaps no other director inspired as many people to just pick up a camera and start shooting..."

Others paying tribute on social media include filmmakers like Scott Derrickson (Doctor Strange, The Black Phone) and Peyton Reed (Ant-Man, Bring It On), actor Stephen Fry (Gosford Park), and organizations like BAFTA, the Cannes Film Festival, and TCM.

Related content: