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Happy 90th birthday to Jean-Luc Goddard
Instagram – @wilhelmschuermann

French new wave radical Jean-Luc Godard’s most iconic quotes

The pioneering Nouvelle Vague auteur behind Breathless and Masculine Feminine turns 90

Jean-Luc Godard, the French New Wave icon, today celebrates his 90th birthday. The director and film critic is credited with “revolutionising the motion picture form” in the 1960s through his narrative experimentation, unique sound design, and ground-breaking camera work. The cultural impact of his films was compared to that of Pablo Picasso by Susan Sontag, who once said that Godard is one of “the great culture heroes of our time” for being the “deliberate ‘destroyer’ of cinema.”

The 90-year-old director surprised fans recently when he gave a masterclass over Instagram Live back in April. In a discussion with Lionel Baier, head of the cinema department of ECAL (University of Art and Design Lausanne), Godard discussed ‘images at the time of coronavirus’ for an impressive 90 minutes, while smoking a fat cigar. From his iconoclastic rumination on French youth culture Masculine Feminine to acerbic black comedy La Chinoise, to sci-fi fantasy Alphaville and the initially banned A Married Woman, his oeuvre is unparalleled – he saw a rule, and broke it.

As well as his cinematic exploits, Godard was also known for his ability to turn a choice phrase. In celebration of his 90th birthday, we curate some of his most reflective and incisive.

“PHOTOGRAPHY IS TRUTH. THE CINEMA IS TRUTH 24 FRAMES PER SECOND”

This is perhaps the quotation most commonly associated with Godard, and although it could be considered relatively glib, it conveys the genuine belief he has for his chosen craft and its ability to transcend the purposes of mere entertainment.

“ALL YOU NEED FOR A MOVIE IS A GUN AND A GIRL”

A neat phrase that the director followed through on in many of his titles including his 1965 sci-fi noir Alphaville, his romance that same year Pierrot le Fou, and his mystery thriller Made in U.S.A which came out a year later, all of which prominently feature “girls with guns”.

“I THINK OF MYSELF AS AN ESSAYIST”

The full quotation: “I think of myself as an essayist, producing essays in novel form or novels in essay form: only instead of writing, I film them,” is an admittance from Godard that he does not care for passive viewership, but rather seeks to engage and challenge.

“A STORY SHOULD HAVE A BEGINNING, A MIDDLE, AND AN END... BUT NOT NECESSARILY IN THAT ORDER” 

In his BFI article, Where to Begin with Jean-Luc Godard, David Parkinson tells of Godard’s confession that he doesn’t really like telling a story, “I prefer to use a kind of tapestry,” the director says, “a background on which I can embroider my own ideas.” If you’d like to know what he means here, there’s no better place to start than his 1960 feature debut, Breathless, in which elegant, floating shot of Paris matter far more than any perceived plotline. 

“I BELIEVE AT THIS POINT MORE IN THE ALPHABET. THE ALPHABET HOLDS UNTOLD POSSIBILITIES”

In his Instagram Live stream in April, Godard was discussing the power of different art forms including photography, painting, and writing, and admitted that: “I believe at this point more in the alphabet,” due to its “untold possibilities.” He added that this is true now more than ever, because: “even Google’s parent company is called Alphabet.” 

You can watch Jean-Luc Godard’s recent Instagram Live in full below with English subtitles.