French New Wave director Jean-Luc Godard has died aged 91.
Nicknamed “l’enfant terrible” of the French New Wave because of his provocative work, Godard revolutionized popular cinema in 1960 with his first feature film A bout de souffle.
The film, titled Breathless in French, starred its lead actors Jean Seberg and Jean-Paul Belmondo. Its unconventional use of jump cuts is cited as revolutionary in filmmaking, and it often ranks among the best films ever made.
Godard died peacefully, surrounded by his loved ones at his home in the Swiss town of Rolle, on Lake Geneva, on Tuesday, according to the Swiss news agency ATS which cited Godard’s partner Anne-Marie Mieville and her producers.
French President Emmanuel Macron paid tribute to Godard, calling him a “national treasure”.
He tweeted an image of the iconic director, calling him “the most iconoclastic of New Wave directors” who “invented a decidedly modern, intensely free art.”
He added: “We have lost a national treasure, the eye of a genius.”
Godard’s film career began in the 1950s, but he started out as a film critic before moving behind the camera, where he rewrote the rules of filming, sound, and storytelling.
His controversial modern nativity play Hail Mary, which also starred Belmondo, made headlines when Pope John Paul II denounced it in 1985.
His films were often politically charged and experimental, appealing to only a small circle of fans and frustrating many critics who considered them too intellectual.
Cannes Film Festival director Thierry Fremaux told The Associated Press that Godard’s death was: “Sad, sad. Immensely.”
Born into a wealthy Franco-Swiss family on December 3, 1930 in Paris, Godard grew up in Nyon, Switzerland, then studied ethnology (the study of different peoples and their cultures) at the Sorbonne in the French capital.
It was there that he was drawn to the cultural scene that flourished in the “ciné-club” of the Latin Quarter after the Second World War, befriending the future great directors François Truffaut, Jacques Rivette and Eric Rohmer.
In 1950, he founded the short-lived Gazette du Cinéma and, in 1952, he began to write for the prestigious film magazine Cahiers du Cinéma.
After working on two films by fellow New Wave directors Jacques Rivette and Eric Rohmer in 1951, Godard attempted to make his first film by traveling through North and South America with his father, but failed to do so. never finished.
His first successful film was a 20 minute documentary about the construction of a dam in Switzerland called Operation Concrete. Showing initiative, he had taken a job on the construction site as a construction worker to finance the project.
His first proper short – All the Boys Are Called Patrick – came out in 1959, with his Breathless feature – based on a story by Truffaut – released the following year.
The film tells the story of a penniless young thief inspired by Hollywood movie gangsters, on the run in Italy with his girlfriend after shooting a policeman.
Godard also participated in collective film projects, including the French film The Seven Deadly Sins and the Italian film Let’s Have a Brainwash.
Known for his uncompromising left-wing political views, his socialist ideas have often featured prominently in his work.
His lifelong advocacy of the Palestinian cause also earned him repeated accusations of anti-Semitism, despite his insistence that he sympathized with the Jewish people and their plight in Nazi-occupied Europe.
In December 2007 he was honored by the European Film Academy with a lifetime achievement award and in 2010 he received an honorary Oscar alongside film historian and curator Kevin Brownlow, director- producer Francis Ford Coppola and actor Eli Wallach.
However, he decided not to go to Hollywood to receive the award, which was “for his contributions to cinema in the New Wave era”, preferring instead to stay at home in Switzerland.
Godard married Danish-born model and actress Anna Karina in 1961, and she went on to appear in a series of his films. They divorced in 1965.
He married his second wife, Anne Wiazemsky, in 1967, but they divorced in 1979.
He is survived by his companion of 44 years, the Swiss filmmaker Anne-Marie Mieville.