The 1965 Venice Film Festival gave the film world its first look at pictures including Luchino Visconti’s Sandra, Luis Buñuel’s Simon of the Desert and Akira Kurosawa’s Red Beard. But one title stands above all, even if it initially met with boos from an uncomprehending audience: Jean-Luc Godard’s Pierrot le fou, which premiered on 29 August 1965.
Continuing his headlong reinvention of cinema (this was his 10th film in six years), Godard used the model of the classic couple-on-the-run movie to tell the story of what he called the “last romantic couple”: a Parisian (Jean-Paul Belmondo) and his babysitter (Godard’s then-wife Anna Karina) who take off for the south of France with a cache of gun-running money.
In true Godardian style, the flimsy plot was an excuse for satirical digressions (on capitalism and the Vietnam war), kaleidoscopic stylistic devices, sunny musical numbers and a merciless examination of male-female incompatibility, shot in intoxicating primary colours by Raoul Coutard.
Godard would soon leave storytelling behind altogether, but Pierrot le fou fed into a spate of New Hollywood criminal-couple films, beginning with Bonnie and Clyde (1967). More recently, it helped inspire the young-lovers-escaping-to-an-idyll narrative of Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom (2012).
Despite the negative reception for the film’s Venice premiere, Pierrot le fou’s reputation has grown and grown since its release in November the same year. In the 2012 Sight & Sound poll, international critics voted it the 43rd greatest film ever made.
Watch Jean-Luc Godard and Anna Karina discussing Pierrot le fou at Venice for French TV in 1965