Biography of Jean-Luc Godard

Jean-Luc Godard is a French-Swiss director and screenwriter known as one of the founding participants in the French New Wave. He is known for his radical and experimental approach to filmmaking, an existentialist philosophical bent, and his direction of visually-beautiful and innovative French films.

Godard was born in Paris to a wealthy family, and was raised in Switzerland. His introduction to film came not from seeing an actual film, but from reading an essay by Malraux, Outline of a Psychology of Cinema. Afterwards, he attended the Lycée Buffon in Paris and became close with many influential cultural figures, many of whom knew his parents. At university, he studied anthropology at the University of Paris, but spent most of his time with other film buffs, and eventually attending ciné-clubs, clubs in which iconic films were screened. From there, Godard became interested in criticism, before finally beginning to make films of his own.

His first film was a documentary called Opération béton, then a 10-minute short called Une femme coquette. In 1958, he directed a short Charlotte and her Boyfriend, as an homage to Jean Cocteau. The release of Breathless in 1960 marked the beginning of Godard's most well-known period, in which he would establish himself at the vanguard of the French New Wave. Breathless incorporated many elements of American film noir and used playful photographic techniques to tell a story that was half romance and half crime. Next, he directed The Little Soldier with Anna Karina, about the Algerian War of Independence, then My Life to Live, again with Karina, then Les Carabiniers and Contempt, his most commercially successful film.

In 1964, Godard created a production company with his wife, Anna Karina, called Anouchka Films, and directed a slew of films: Band of Outsiders, A Married Woman, Alphaville, Pierrot le Fou, Masculin Féminin, Made in U.S.A., Two or Three Things I Know About Her, La Chinoise, and Week-end.

Towards the end of the 1960s, Godard's radical politics began to come even more to the forefront of his work. He declared that he wanted to be "making political films politically." Many of these films push the limits of our expectations of filmmaking—for example, Letter to Jane, a film made in collaboration with the Hollywood sex symbol Jane Fonda about her visit to the Viet Cong during the Vietnam War.

Godard began making more traditional films once again in the 1980s and has continued into the present with films such as Passion, Prénom Carmen, In Praise of Love, Notre musique, Film Socialisme, Goodbye to Language. He is currently working on a film called The Image Book.

Study Guides on Works by Jean-Luc Godard

Breathless is the less-than-perfect translation of the French title of Jean Luc-Godard’s 1960 explosion into the world of international cinema: À Bout de Souffle. Along with Francois Truffaut’s The 400 Blows, which was released a little under a...