The greatness of Godard’s films is subject to its critical interpretation
The roots of Godard’s greatness lies in his sheer bravado to embrace and put on display what seemed real to him in a way that was devoid of any illusions. His perception of reality inspired him and made him the influential figure he is today. But the interpretation of his films and success depends upon the lens with which one views him.
A leading figure in the French New Wave, Jean-Luc Godard holds tremendous sway in the field of cinema to this very day. He is revered for pushing the bounds of cinema and forcing the audience to look beyond the pomp and glamour of the silver screen and to think over what it is that his characters are trying to say. How much of this reverence, however, is attributed to him because of his influence and not because it was unconventional and thus new? One of his most acclaimed movies, "Breathless", was considered revolutionary because of the newly employed techniques of jump cuts and single shots during conversations. Yet, when looked at closely, its plot emerges to be a story that has been told and retold since the beginning of time. It follows the illegal activities of the petty criminal Michel Poiccard (Jean Paul Belmondo) and Patricia Franchini - a budding American journalist and his love interest - while also spitting out casual sexist remark. This also contradicts Godard’s portrayal of strong female characters. His political stances also shadow his film career, particularly his acknowledged Anti-Zionism and alleged Anti-Semitism. The endpoint of this argument would be a subjective definition of the word great, which depends on the lens with which Godard’s movies are viewed.
Godard used modern and never before seen filmmaking techniques to achieve his artistic ambitions and make films which compelled his audience to immerse themselves completely into its subject matter, but also realize the socio-political reality in the film’s subtext. This approach adopted by Godard ensured that he left his mark on generations to come. However, his influence alone does not make him the great filmmaker he is known to be. His greatness lies in his scathing critique of Hollywood and his audacity to do so publicly at a time when Hollywood dominated the filmmaking scene. He spelled out the brutal truth that Hollywood was a bourgeoisie-pleasing capitalist venture in totality, a fact that everybody was well aware of but nobody dared to say out loud. Unlike most people in his time, Godard never felt the need to align himself with the existing power structure even if it threatened his professional career. Thus, Godard’s greatness lies in his boldness to swim against the current.