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Jean-Luc Godard, filmmaking pioneer and theorist, dies at 91

The director and critic who helped birth the French New Wave movement ‘made everything possible’

SHARE Jean-Luc Godard, filmmaking pioneer and theorist, dies at 91

Swiss-French director Jean-Luc Godard during the award ceremony of the “Grand Prix Design,” in Zurich, Switzerland, Nov. 30, 2010. Director Godard, an icon of French New Wave film who revolutionized popular 1960s cinema, has died, according to French media. He was 91.

Gaetan Bally, Keystone via, Associated Press

Jean-Luc Godard, the Franco-Swiss filmmaker, critic, theorist and “last great 20th-century modernist,” died Tuesday, reports The Guardian.

He kept company with the now famous group of directors including Claude Chabrol, Jacques Rivette, François Truffaut and Luc Moullet, fighting to usher in a novel perspective on film through his criticism and theory. The French press coined the group’s movement “La Nouvelle Vague,” the New Wave, as they pushed the boundaries of experimentation and elevated the director’s authorship, reports The New York Times.

Frederic Maire, president of the Swiss Cinematheque, told The Associated Press that “There’s a bit of Godard in nearly all films today.”

At age 19, he was publishing articles for La Gazette du Cinema, where his ideas were complex and original. In one of his articles, “Towards a Political Cinema” he revealed a deep knowledge of film history and an unshakeable belief in his own views, announcing to the world that the priest of old had been replaced by the actor.

Before making movies of his own, Godard wrote. As La Gazette du Cinema folded after five editions, he wrote for the magazine “Cahiers du Cinéma,” the publication that gathered the group that would start the New Wave movement in France.

Godard made several attempts at feature films, releasing “All Boys Are Called Patrick” in 1959, while starting work on the film that would be his first breakout success. Truffaut’s “The 400 Blows” and Godard’s “Breathless,” released in 1959 and 1960, respectively, would set a new tone for French movie aesthetics, per The Associated Press.

According to the biographer Richard Brody, “(Breathless) instantly launched cinema as the primary art form of a new generation.”

David Bordwell in his book “On the History of Film Style,” points to Godard’s influence in a wide range of movies from Martin Scorsese and Francis Ford Coppola to Quentin Tarantino.

Marsha Kinder, a professor of critical studies at the USC School of Cinematic Arts, told the LA Times that “there is no one like him in the whole history of cinema,” and that “he made everything possible.”

Godard was no stranger to controversy. The New York Times reports that a debate on whether Godard held anti-Jewish views “put a shadow over plans by (the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences) to honor him” with an honorary Oscar. He did not attend and was well known for his disregard for Hollywood.

Surrounded by his friends and family, French magazine Liberation reports that Godard died in Switzerland through physician-assisted suicide.

In his autobiography, “Godard On Godard” he said, “He who jumps into the void owes no explanation to those who stand and watch.”