Jean-Luc Godard: Legendary film director dies at 91 by assisted suicide
Film director Jean-Luc Godard, who spearheaded the revolutionary French New Wave of cinema, has died at 91.
Godard burst onto the scene with 1960’s À bout de souffle (Breathless), which started a run of acclaimed releases that rewrote the rules of film and influenced directors from Martin Scorsese to Quentin Tarantino.
A family representative said he died by assisted suicide in Switzerland.
French President Emmanuel Macron said Godard “had the vision of a genius”.
In a tribute on Twitter, Mr Macron wrote: “He was like an apparition in French cinema. Then he became a master of it.
“Jean-Luc Godard, the most iconoclastic of New Wave filmmakers, invented a resolutely modern, intensely free art. We have lost a national treasure, a man who had the vision of a genius.”
Godard’s legal advisor Patrick Jeanneret told the AFP news agency that the Franco-Swiss film-maker “had recourse to legal assistance in Switzerland for a voluntary departure as he was stricken with ‘multiple invalidating illnesses’, according to the medical report”.
Assisted suicide is legal in Switzerland in some circumstances.
Godard started as a film critic before stepping behind the camera with the stylish and edgy Breathless. Its stars Jean Seberg and Jean-Paul Belmondo were glamorous in a new, casual way, while the camera was constantly moving, the editing was swift and bold, and the script semi-improvised.
The director once said: “It was a film that took everything that cinema had done – girls, gangsters, cars – exploded all this and put an end, once and for all, to the old style.”
That was followed by Le Petit Soldat (The Little Soldier) – although the film was banned until 1963 because of its depiction of government-sanctioned torture.
Its cast included Danish model Anna Karina, who married Godard in 1961 and went on to appear in a string of his most successful films.
She played a nightclub dancer who wants a baby in 1961’s Une Femme est une Femme (A Woman Is A Woman); a young Parisian prostitute in 1962’s Vivre sa vie (My Life to Live); and a gang member in Bande à Part (Band of Outsiders) in 1965.
Tarantino named his production company A Band Apart, in reference to the latter film’s original title, and once said Godard was “so influential” to him as a director.
“Godard is one who taught me the fun and the freedom and the joy of breaking rules… I consider Godard to be to cinema what Bob Dylan was to music,” he said.
Godard’s rich seam of influential films in the 1960s also included Alphaville and Le Mépris (Contempt).
Contempt, from 1963, starring Brigitte Bardot, was named by Scorsese as one of his 10 favourite movies. It is “one of the most moving films of its era” and Godard was “the great modern visual artists of cinema”, the Taxi Driver director wrote in 2014.
Godard’s storylines also mixed up time and space, changing the idea of a fixed narrative. He once said: “A story should have a beginning, a middle and an end – but not necessarily in that order.”
He had more than 100 films to his name in total, also including Une Femme Mariée (1964), Pierrot le fou (1965), Masculin Féminin (1966) and Week-end (1967).
‘A new kind of cinema’
Actress Macha Méril, who starred in Une Femme Mariée, said: “He is a genius. What is a genius? It’s someone who does something that has never been done before and forces everyone else to change their way of thinking and doing.
“It’s like Picasso… Geniuses are people who change the way people think.”
He received an honorary Oscar in 2011, with the dedication reading: “For passion. For confrontation. For a new kind of cinema.”
Godard’s most recent work was released in 2018, although some thought he moved from being provocative to being wilfully obscure as his career went on.
Jean-Luc Godard filming student marches on the streets of Paris in 1968
Godard filming student marches on the streets of Paris in 1968
In a statement on Tuesday, his family said the director had died “peacefully at home”. They added: “No official [funeral] ceremony will take place. He will be cremated.”
Former French culture minister Jack Lang told the Reuters news agency: “He filled cinema with poetry and philosophy. His sharp and unique eye made us see the imperceptible.”
Others paying tribute included actor Antonio Banderas, who wrote: “Thank you monsieur Godard for expanding the boundaries of the cinema.”
Baby Driver director Edgar Wright wrote: “RIP Jean-Luc Godard, one of the most influential, iconoclastic film-makers of them all.
“It was ironic that he himself revered the Hollywood studio film-making system, as perhaps no other director inspired as many people to just pick up a camera and start shooting.”