Saturday, May 18, 1968. the cannes festival It takes place with apparent normality while a few kilometers away the students burn containers and demonstrate against a system that offers them no alternative. The cinema remained anesthetized, looking the other way while the new generations asked to blow up everything. ANDhe show had to go on, but Jean-Luc Godard, who died this Tuesday at the age of 91, accompanied by the senior staff of the Nouvelle Vague, did not think the same. That same morning, Roman Polanski, president of the jury, was called and told that Cannes should show its support for the demonstrations. They ignored them.
A few hours later, the image will remain for posterity. Godard, Truffaut, Carlos Saura and Geraldine Chaplin hung from the curtain of the Palais des Festivals to stop the screening of Peppermint Frappé, directed by Carlos Saura himself, who did not hesitate to support the cancellation of a contest that could have been his first Palma de Gold. Godard's horn-rimmed glasses flew with a slap, riots and crowds began, but they achieved their goal, stopping the festival. In front of everyone, including the news cameras, Godard released a lapidary phrase: "We talk about solidarity with students and workers and you talk about close-ups and tracking shots. You are idiots!".
A phrase that perfectly defines the political commitment of the filmmaker. A political commitment that was taking shape in him and that he embraced little by little, as he was introduced to the French cultural elites. No one thought that little Jean-Luc, born in Switzerland into a bourgeois Protestant family, son of doctors and grandson of bankers, would revolutionize the norms established in the stuffy cinema of the 1960s and end up making a markedly political film with Maoist messages.
Many considered his early films to be just entertainment, the aesthetic whims of a bourgeois playing at being an artist. They saw At the end of the getaway as a twist to the 'noir' that so inspired Godard and his companions. They did not realize that what Godard was proposing was an amendment to the entire cinema of the time. It was 1960, and Hollywood set the standards. The cinema was just as they said, with a marked academicism that did not allow exploring all its possibilities. Truffaut, Varda, Resnais, Godard and company said no, that cinema could be as free as they wanted.
Godard's eminently political messages would come later, but nothing more anti-system than challenging the US and all its machinery. Godard always despised Hollywood, in fact he didn't even go to receive the honorary Oscar that he was awarded in 2010. His rejection of Hollywood had a clear reason, he was the visible head of an imperialism that imposed a single way of doing things. "Imperialism is a group of people who want to force others to make films the way they want," he said in the spring of 1968 in the United States, in meetings with university students gathered by Claire Clouzot, granddaughter of the legendary filmmaker and who would later publish Sight and Sound.
A statement that made it clear that before hanging from that curtain, politics was already present in his films. Do not wait for the obvious La Chinoise (1967). His mantras were clear since in 1959 he said that "a tracking shot is a moral issue." If a single camera movement responded to an ethical and not an aesthetic decision, a film was always a political issue. A statement of intent by the author.
His second film, The Little Soldier (1963), was banned by French censors for daring to talk about the conflict with Algeria when it was at its hottest. In Los carabineros (1963) he once again denounced the injustices of the war through a fictitious conflict in which one travels from the idealization of the young people who enlisted to a clearly anti-war message; Even in El contempto (1963), one of the best 'cinema within the cinema' films, he slapped the American producers who wanted to control the directors. All while destroying the established norms of cinema as it was then known.
Godard never hid his origins within a wealthy family. "I was a bourgeois filmmaker, and then a progressive filmmaker, and then I was no longer a filmmaker, but simply a film worker. I ran away from a bourgeois family to get into show business. And then I discovered that show business was a bourgeois family even bigger than mine. It has been more difficult trying to escape from my show business family than from my parents," Jean-Luc Godard said in the book on Jean-Luc Godard. Think between images (Intermediate Editorial).
The 'show business' bourgeoisie would break her with each film, although her communist, and more specifically Maoist, leanings began after her breakup with Anna Karina and when she began her relationship with Anne Wiazemsky in 1967, a student who was 17 years old at the time. and that he was in the midst of the ebullience of all the student movements that would explode a year later. A relationship that would be described in Bad Genius (Michel Hazanavicius, 2017).
In 1967 his two most eminently activist works were released, Le week-end, a critique of the alienation of the bourgeois class to which he seemed condemned to belong, and La Chinoise, a clearly communist manifesto that has, with an ironic and de mala leche, the story of a group of student activists in a France that lived the moments before May 68. A group of young people who talk about the war in Vietnam or the tensions between Soviet Russia and read Maoist texts. They want to end the system, with capitalism, but their position on taking up arms divides them.
"La Chinoise is mainly about French youth. For three or four years I had wanted to make a film about a specific type of youth, the students, the youth of knowledge. Gradually the events in China became important and the Cultural Revolution was the spark that set off La Chinoise. So it's also about the communist youth," Godard would say of his own film.
"You had a preconceived idea of what a political film should be," Godard told US students in 1968. "Your difficulties stem from your false idea that people on a screen are made of flesh and blood, while that what you see are shadows and you reproach these shadows for not being alive. What is alive is not what is on the screen, but what is between you and the screen", he settled on what for him is political cinema .
The news that Jean-Luc Godard's death was not caused by illness, but because he was "tired", because he wanted it that way by making the decision to receive assisted suicide, is the definitive sign that the personal is political, and that for the filmmaker not only the tracking shot was a moral issue.