'Pierrot-Ferdinand reads a paperback edition of Elie Faure's Histoire de l'Art and frequents works of art in the form of postcards that can be pinned to the wall. His experience is that of the ordinary twentieth-century man who accedes to art through commentary and reproductions' (Kaleidoscope p.85).
As well as the vignettes on the covers of the two volumes of Faure, above, paintings from the history of art appear in Pierrot le fou in four different ways.
- as postcards pinned to a wall:
Fitzgerald's novel is connected to Chagall's Cap Ferrat (and to Pierrot le fou) by its Rivierasetting. The commentary puts the 1934 novel on the same level as 'Diadem of Blood', the June 1965 comic book from which the illustration comes:
Pierrot le Fou (pronounced [pjɛʁo lə fu], French for "Pierrot the madman") is a 1965 French film directed by Jean-Luc Godard, starring Jean-Paul Belmondo and Anna Karina. The film is based on the 1962 novel Obsession by Lionel White. It was Jean-Luc Godard's tenth feature film, released between Alphaville and Masculin, féminin. The film was the 15th highest-grossing film of the year with a total of 1,310,580 admissions in France. The film was selected as the French entry for the Best Foreign Language Film at the 38th Academy Awards, but was not accepted as a nominee.
Ferdinand Griffon (Jean-Paul Belmondo) is unhappily married and has been recently fired from his job at a TV broadcasting company. After attending a mindless party full of shallow discussions in Paris, he feels a need to escape and decides to run away with an ex-girlfriend, Marianne Renoir (Anna Karina), leaving his wife and children and bourgeois lifestyle. Following Marianne into her apartment and finding a corpse, Ferdinand soon discovers that Marianne is being chased by OAS gangsters, two of whom they barely escape.
Marianne and "Pierrot" – the unwelcome nickname meaning "sad clown," which Marianne gives to Ferdinand during their time together – go on a travelling crime spree from Paris to the Mediterranean Sea in the dead man's car. They lead an unorthodox life, always on the run. Settling down in the French Riviera after having burnt the dead man's car (full of money) and sunk a second car into the Mediterranean Sea, their relationship becomes strained. Griffon ends up reading books, philosophising and writing in his diary. Marianne becomes bored by their living situation and insists they return to town, where in a night club they meet one of their pursuers. The gangsters waterboard Pierrot and depart. In the confusion, Marianne and Ferdinand are separated, with her travelling in search of Pierrot and him settling in Toulon.
After their eventual reunion, Marianne uses Ferdinand to get a suitcase full of money before running away with her real boyfriend, Fred (Dirk Sanders), to whom she had previously referred to as her brother. Pierrot shoots Marianne and her boyfriend, and then paints his face blue and decides to blow himself up by tying sticks of red and yellow dynamite to his head. Regretting his decision at the last second, he tries to extinguish the fuse, but fails and is blown up.
Themes and style
Marianne's nickname for Ferdinand, "Pierrot" is a reference to Claude Sautet and his first movie, Classe tous risques (1960).
Like many of Godard's films, Pierrot le fou features characters who break the fourth wall by looking into the camera. It also includes startling editing choices; for example, when Pierrot throws a cake at a woman in the party scene, Godard cuts to an exploding firework just as it hits her. The film has many of the characteristics of the then dominant pop art movement, making constant disjunctive references to various elements of mass culture. Like much pop art the film uses visuals drawn from cartoons and employs an intentionally garish visual aesthetic based on bright primary colors.
Sylvie Vartan was Godard's first choice for the role of Marianne but her agent refused. Godard considered Richard Burton to play the role of Ferdinand but gave up the idea.
As with many of Godard's movies, no screenplay was written until the day before shooting, and many scenes were improvised by the actors, especially in the final acts of the movie. The shooting took place over two months, starting in the French riviera and finishing in Paris (in reverse order from the edited movie).Toulon served as backdrop for the film's denouement, photography for which included footage of the storied French battleship Jean Bart.
Jean-Pierre Léaud was an uncredited assistant director on the movie (and also appears briefly in one scene).
The American film director in the party scene is Sam Fuller as himself.
The Criterion Collection has released Pierrot le fou on Blu-ray Disc in September 2008. It was one of its first titles released on Blu-ray Disc. However, the Blu-ray Disc was discontinued after Criterion lost the rights to StudioCanal.
The 1962 Ford Galaxie that was driven into the water and sunk was Godard's own.
On review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes the film received an 85% "Certified fresh" approval rating, based on 39 reviews collected with an average rating of 7.8/10. The website's critical consensus: "Colorful, subversive, and overall beguiling, Pierrot Le Fou is arguably Jean-Luc Godard's quintessential work."
In other media
The twentieth episode of the anime series Cowboy Bebop shares its title with Pierrot le Fou. The episode focuses on an assassin known as Mad Pierrot Tongpu, who targets show protagonist Spike Spiegel.