Top 10 Jean-Luc Godard Films

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Jean-Luc Godard: An Introduction

Jean Luc Godard does things the way he wants them. He’s his own man. Nobody, not even his loyal audience sway him. He makes movies his way, no other way. Cinema meant so much to Godard, he viewed the course with which it would take with horror and derision. This is the guy who debunked Spielberg as “not very good”. An early apostle to the cine clubs that proliferated Paris in the fifties, he made contact with fellow devotees Truffaut, Jacques Rivette and Eric Rohmer. It was they that espoused the auteur theory – the film was the director’s, it was their vision, films were not collaborations – the cast and crew did what the director directed and it was the director’s job to do just that – direct.

Godard’s first feature came in 1959. “Breathless” (A Bout de Souffle), formed part of the New Wave movement, which was characterised by shooting quickly and on low budgets, dealing with contemporary life and youth culture and perceived in an unsentimental manner. Godard broke with all conventions of filming, delighting in smashing axiomatic rules and conventions. Godard’s output following “Breathless” was prolific, producing two or three films every year. His next feature “The Little Soldier” (Un Petit Soldat) in 1960, cast Anna Karina, the Danish model who would become Godard’s muse and regular leading lady throughout the first half of the 1960s. With “Crazy Pete” (Pierrot le fou, 1965) Jean-Luc Godard embarked on a new film form that blurred the demarcation between cinematic narrative and cinematic essay.

Whatever conventions Jean-Luc Godard had abided by through the early 60s were completely abandoned by his 1967 movie “Week End”. In addition, from this point on, Godard’s work would become more politicised. Throughout the remainder of the sixties, Godard’s work expressed a fundamentally Marxist social critique and challenged, engaged, and even lectured his audience. Week End was a powerful indictment of living the bourgeois dream in modern France. However, he followed Week End with a series of films that were overly didactic, perhaps with a view to stirring a revolutionary consciousness in the cinema going masses. Godard returned to more conventional cinema in 1979 with his “Sauve qui peut la vie” which perhaps revealed the beginning of Godard’s maturity, dealing as it did more with sensuality and poetry.

He would continue in this vein throughout the eighties producing fantastic works that included Passion (1981), Prénom Carmen (First Name Carmen, 1983), Je vous salue Marie (I Salute Thee Marie / Hail Mary, 1985), Détective (Detective, 1985), King Lear (1987), Soigne ta droite: une place sur la terre comme au ciel (Keep Your Right Up: A Place on the Earth as in Heaven, 1987), and Nouvelle vague (New Wave, 1990). During the 1990s, he worked on the mammoth eight part series Histoire(s) du cinema which combined all the innovations of his video work and engagement in twentieth century issue and the history of film itself. Godard continues to work, his latest feature being drama Socialisme starring Patti Smith.

To see our Top 10 Francois Truffaut list – CLICK HERE

The 1965 film Alphaville and Important Political Implications

Jean Luc-Goddard’s masterpiece Alphaville is a classic of French New Wave cinema. Though at its surface, Alphaville is nothing more than a hard-boiled detective film about computers that run society, the power and importance of the film takes clearer shape as one probes deeper. It’s an intoxicating concoction of science fiction, film noir, and radical philosophy. Goddard crafted Alphaville into a harrowing and timeless vision that will haunt the minds of generations. And this is a good thing! Seeing, understanding, and remembering Alphaville is essential because of its warnings of the inevitability of machine-dominated society, how this can lead to fascism, and how it can also lead to the eventual acceptance of human abuse.

The threat of a reduction of human influence and control in society becomes ever greater as our daily lives become more and more integrated with automated devices and machinery. Alphaville highlights some of the devastating ramifications of machine-supported life, and it’s not hard to visualize the ways in which our society is approaching a similar state. In Alphaville, a double agent from another civilization can easily infiltrate their technology dominated world, because the citizens themselves have no connection to law and enforcement. Thus, if an intruder can satisfy the blind eyes of a machine, no matter how sophisticated that machine, they can escape the bounds of any societal structure. This can be seen today with criminals who manage to create new identities in the virtual world of computer information. Another dangerous concern threatened in Alphaville is the formation of computer-controlled fascism.

When the scandal for excessive and illegal government wire-tapping of private citizens occurred, President Bush said it was imperative that the public trust them. This is a far cry from the original roots of democracy, wherein the entire point was that government is not to be completely trusted. But in an information and technology based society, the government can gain power of vast amounts of intelligence without physically breaking into or disrupting peoples lives. This technological disconnect makes governmental power grabs invisible, just as the Alphaville super computers control every facet of society with an unseen (and nonexistent) hand.

Alphaville features two ingenious absurdities: celebrated public executions and automaton-like prostitutes. The public executions take place at a swimming pool surrounded by fancily dressed spectators who applaud every shooting. There has always been gruesome execution in human society, but what Goddard was pointing to in Alphaville was the sickening distance between members of high society and those who don’t fit in and therefore must be executed. Those who don’t fit in with the machine-dominated world become machines themselves that simply must be destroyed. The other people who become machines are the ubiquitous prostitutes whose approaches to seduction are as tantalizing as reading a tax form.

These absurdities have not yet been realized in today’s society to this degree, but the warnings of Alphaville are ever more significant. The fascist takeover is only aided by a debased, pseudo-cyborg civilization where the government can more easily seize power and the human element has been reduced. If people just want to watch Alphaville for its splendid entertainment value and creative, iconoclastic filmmaking techniques, that’s completely understandable. But hopefully everyone will see the film and heed the warnings about where society may be heading.


1. Breathless (1960) “A Bout de Souffle”
2. Band of Outsiders (1964) “Bande à Part”
3. Week End (1967)
4. Pierrot le Fou (1965) “Crazy Pete” / “Pierrot Goes Wild”
5. My Life to Live (1962) “Vivre sa Vie”
6. Alphaville (1965)
7. Contempt (1963) “Le Mépris”
8. Made in U.S.A. (1966)
9. A Married Woman (1964) “Une Femme Mariée”
10. Two or Three Things I Know About Her (1967) “Deux ou Trois Choses que Je Sais d’Elle”

Contributors: Russell Shortt is a travel consultant with Exploring Ireland, the leading specialists in customised, private escorted tours, escorted coach tours and independent self drive tours of Ireland. Please visit Russell’s website:
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Tim Bushnell is a creative writer sifting through a sea of old classic films and educational videos with the historical film company Quality Information Publishers. Their historic film and video library is available for viewing at
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About the Author
Editor of Top 10 Films, Dan Stephens is usually found pondering his next list. An unhealthy love of 1980s Hollywood sees most of his top 10s involving a time-travelling DeLorean and an adventurous archaeologist going by the name Indiana.

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  1. Avatar
    victor enyutin Reply

    “Detective” by Jean-Luc Godard (1985) analyzes the changed role of humanistic (public) intellectuals in the Western societies (a trend that started around the last quarter of 20th century and, as we can see today, it intensifies in the new century), and how this change has influenced everybody’s behavior and world view. From around the 18th century Western intellectuals had a leading role in European historical/cultural development. They were people who tried to root spirituality in socio-political realities. They were carriers of democratic sensibility and tried to create a unity between culture and the masses of people, they risked their comforts and sometimes life for the sake of existential truth. According to “Detective”, it is not true anymore – intellectuals today are transformed into technical specialists hired by the social powers.

    Godard represents such intellectuals in the film. One of them – a private investigator with an air of a philosopher and a poet (Laurent Terzieff with his charm of other-worldliness), but his thinking about life is reduced and flattened. His nephew Isidore (Jean-Pierre Leaud in his top performance as a comic actor) is the personification of today’s liberal sensibility (gentle and conformist) and the main focus of Godard’s tragic vision of today’s advanced societies where intellectuals betray their traditional historic-moral mission.

    In “Detective” Godard offers his classification of human groups/clans today’s post-industrial societies consist of. One group filled by those who live by investing money – they are personified by an intelligent and educated married couple (Natalie Baye and Claude Brasseur – both are masters of gentle characterization, through the art of acting, of the states of the human soul). The other group is those who multiply money invested into their entrepreneurial adventures – they are personified by sports events businessman (Johnny Halliday who proved to be a very sophisticated actor).But the main clan Godard metaphorically names “mafia” – it is people who live and make their fortunes on extorting money (Godard’s Mafiosi take from people money with a matter-of-factness of tax collectors and righteousness of users of taxpayers’ funds for their personal self-enrichment through government contracts).

    The film is dedicated to the analysis of relationships between these clans and to the depiction of private love life of people belonging to them). The emotional and intellectual condition of the young people is characterized by Godard through several personages including “the wise young girl” (Julie Delpy‘s first irresistible performance) – this point of the film is especially important for American viewers today to contemplate on to be able to understand better the future of US and Europe.

    Please visit: to read the essays about “Detective” (with analysis of forty shots from the film) and other Godard’s films, and also essays dedicated to films by Bergman, Resnais, Bunuel, Bresson, Kurosawa, Pasolini, Antonioni, Cavani, Fassbinder, Bertolucci, Alain Tanner and Moshe Mizrahi.

  2. Avatar
    m morgan Reply

    I think this is a good list. But I feel Masculin Feminin should be regarded as well…say instead of Alphaville.

  3. Avatar
    mark Reply

    The list confirms the conclusion I came to vis-a-vis Goddard about 15 years ago – his relevence has stayed stuck in the 1960s ….

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