Pierrot le Fou

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Pierrot le Fou
2009 theatrical re-release poster.
Directed by Jean-Luc Godard
Produced by Georges de Beauregard
Written by Jean-Luc Godard
Based on Obsession by Lionel White
Starring Jean-Paul Belmondo
Anna Karina
Music by Antoine Duhamel
Cinematography Raoul Coutard
Edited by Françoise Collin
Films Georges de Beauregard
Distributed by Société Nouvelle de Cinématographie (SNC)
Release dates
  • 5 November 1965 (1965-11-05)
Running time
110 minutes
Country France
Language French
Budget $300,000 (est.)
Box office 1,310,579 admissions (France)[1]

Pierrot le Fou (pronounced: [pjɛʁo lə fu], French for "Pierrot the madman") is a 1965 French film directed by Jean-Luc Godard, starring Anna Karina and Jean-Paul Belmondo. The film is based on the 1962 novel, Obsession, by Lionel White. It was Jean-Luc Godard's tenth feature film, released between Alphaville and Masculin, féminin. The film was the 15th highest grossing film of the year with a total of 1,310,580 admissions in France.[2] The film was selected as the French entry for the Best Foreign Language Film at the 38th Academy Awards, but was not accepted as a nominee.[3]


Ferdinand Griffon (Jean-Paul Belmondo) is unhappily married and has been recently fired from his job at a TV broadcasting company. After attending a mindless party full of shallow discussions in Paris, he feels a need to escape and decides to run away with his baby-sitter, an ex-girlfriend, Marianne Renoir (Anna Karina), leaving his wife and children and bourgeois lifestyle. Following Marianne into her apartment and finding a corpse, Ferdinand soon discovers that Marianne is being chased by OAS gangsters, two of whom they barely escape.

Marianne and "Pierrot" - the unwelcome nickname meaning "sad clown," which Marianne gives to Ferdinand during their time together - go on a traveling crime spree from Paris to the Mediterranean Sea in the dead man's car. They lead an unorthodox life, always on the run. Settling down in the French Riviera after having burnt the dead man's car (full of money) and sunk a second car into the Mediterranean Sea, their relationship becomes strained. Griffon ends up reading books, philosophizing and writing in his diary. The baby-sitter becomes bored of the Robert Louis Stevenson-ness[further explanation needed] of their living situation and insists they return to town, where in a night club they meet one of their pursuers. The gangsters waterboard Pierrot and depart. In the confusion, Marianne and Ferdinand are separated, with her traveling in search of Pierrot and him settling in Toulon.

After their eventual reunion, Renoir uses Griffon to get a suitcase full of money before running away with her real boyfriend, Fred (Dirk Sanders), to whom she had previously referred as her brother. Pierrot shoots Marianne and her boyfriend, and then paints his face blue and decides to blow himself up by tying sticks of red and yellow dynamite to his head. Regretting his decision at the last second, he tries to extinguish the fuse, but, due to the dynamite obstructing his vision, fails and is blown up.


Themes and style

Marianne's nickname for Ferdinand, "Pierrot" is a reference to Claude Sautet and his first movie, Classe tous risques (1960).

Like many of Godard's films, Pierrot le fou features characters who break the fourth wall by looking into the camera. It also includes startling editing choices; for example, when Pierrot throws a cake at a woman in the party scene, Godard cuts to an exploding firework just as it hits her. The film has many of the characteristics of the then dominant pop art movement,[4] making constant disjunctive references to various elements of mass culture. Like much pop art the film uses visuals drawn from cartoons and employs an intentionally garish visual aesthetic based on bright primary colors.

Pierrot le fou is sometimes seen as an early and paradigmatic example of postmodernism in film.[5] The film's postmodern elements include its parodic but affectionate attitude towards American pop culture, its deliberate mixing of high and low art, its frequent dissection of popular movie conventions, and its use of a decentered, collage-like (or paratactic) narrative structure. The central character of Ferdinand also embodies Jameson's notion of the postmodern citizen as a victim of "compensatory decorative exhilaration" or a mass media-addled mindset in which individuals lose the ability to distinguish truth from fiction or important issues from trivial ones.[citation needed]


Sylvie Vartan was Godard's first choice for the role of Marianne but her agent refused.[6][7] Godard considered Richard Burton to play the role of Ferdinand but gave up the idea.[7]

As with many of Godard's movies, no screenplay was written until the day before shooting, and many scenes were improvised by the actors, especially in the final acts of the movie. The shooting took place over two months, starting in the French riviera and finishing in Paris (in reverse order from the edited movie).[7] Toulon served as backdrop for the film's denouement, photography for which included footage of the storied French battleship Jean Bart.

Jean-Pierre Léaud was an uncredited assistant director on the movie (and also appears briefly in one scene).

The American film director in the party scene is Sam Fuller as himself.

The Criterion Collection has released Pierrot le fou on Blu-ray Disc in September 2008. It was one of its first titles released on Blu-ray Disc.[8] However, the Blu-ray Disc was discontinued after Criterion lost the rights to Studio Canal.

References in other works

  • Mathieu Kassovitz's first short film is called Fierrot le pou (Fierrot the louse).
  • In the Doctor Who episode "Voyage of the Damned", the Tenth Doctor quotes an oft repeated phrase from the film, "Allons-y, Alonso".
  • The twentieth episode of Cowboy Bebop is entitled "Pierrot le Fou". The villain featured is referred to as "the Mad Pierrot".
  • There is a quote from the film in the French-British-Italian movie The Dreamers, said by Eva Green in English.
  • "One Word Emotions" is a 2010 pop-rock song by The Sour Notes that is themed and titled after the scene when Ferdinand interacts with director Sam Fuller, who describes the cinema: "Film is like a battleground. Love. Hate. Action. Violence. Death. In one word . . . emotion".
  • In Godard's Masculin, féminin, Madeline (Chantal Goya) mocks Paul (Jean-Pierre Léaud), saying (as translated in English) "You haven't the guts, you're no Pierrot le Fou".
  • In the third episode of Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, "Android and I", a reel of this film can be seen on the shelf as Togusa and Batou are investigating the house of a suspect. Other Godard works are also scattered through the scene. Themes from this episode parallel themes from both this movie and Godard's complete oeuvre, especially Breathless.
  • American band Poet Named Revolver took its moniker from a line in the film.[9]

See also


External links