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Film Files: ‘Pierrot le Fou’ and the Pop Art Movement

Our latest column, Film Files, explores the world of cinema and the culture that surrounds it. From dissecting the work of acclaimed auteurs to digging into the lesser-known cult classics, this series will provide recommendations and perspective for those looking to escape the current slate of sequels, reboots and remakes that Hollywood has to offer — catering to both the bedridden binge-watcher and 35mm purist.

Jean Luc Godard’s Pierrot le Fou (1965) is a whirlwind of color, sound, and texture. It’s a film that feels less like a traditional narrative feature and more like an experimental art piece, but that’s what makes it so damn entertaining. Those familiar with Godard won’t be surprised by his aggressive use of jump cuts or fourth wall-breaking characters (signatures that are present in most of his early work as well). What separates Pierrot le Fou from the rest of his filmography is its brazen assault on the culture of the time.

Ferdinand “Pierrot” Griffen and Marianne Renoir, played by Jean-Paul Belmondo and Anna Karina, respectively, take on Paris and the French Riviera like an international Bonnie and Clyde, throwing shade at the Vietnam War and other aspects of the status quo, including the state of cinema. The film mirrors many traits of the pop art movement of the late 1950s, utilizing disjointed clips and cartoons to rattle the viewer and disrupt the narrative. It’s kitschy juxtaposition at its finest. To celebrate the 50th anniversary of Pierrot le Fou, we’ve compiled a list of similar films with an affinity for bright colors, tight edits, and free spirits.

  • Roger Vadim’s Barbarella (1968), based on Jean-Claude Forest’s French comic series of the same name, is generally considered one of the campiest films of all time. Starring Jane Fonda as the titular heroine, Barbarella follows her kinky exploits in space amid colorful sets and retrofuturistic props. (Available on Netflix Instant.)

  • The British film Blow-Up (1966), from Italian director Michelangelo Antonioni, is another pop art staple that relishes in its own explicit sexuality. Featuring a jazzed-up, purely diegetic score from Herbie Hancock, Blow-Up is a hyperkinetic mystery that reflects the overstimulated nature of its characters.

  •  The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1964), directed by Jacques Demy, is a musical bursting with striking sound and color. The film’s aggressive palette mirrors the myriad of emotions experienced by its two leads during their hopeless romance in ’50s France.

  •  Jacques Tati’s French comedy Playtime (1967) mocks the modernist culture of the late ’60s through six sequences of meticulously constructed slapstick and architectural satire. The sterile, futuristic sets lend a certain level of coldness to the film’s endless visual gags.

  • Modesty Blaise (1966), another film based on a comic strip, parodied the ever-popular James Bond franchise through weird camp and self-referential comedy. By casting Monica Vitti and Terence Stamp as the titular spy and her sidekick, respectively, director Joseph Losey succeeded in creating a unique, colorful twist on the burgeoning spy genre.

 * ‘Pierrot le Fou’ (Pop Art edition) print by Yuko Shimizu for Black Dragon Press.

Column by Shea Garner. Eagerly await the release of ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’ with him on Twitter @sheaDUCK.

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