Pierrot le Fou: A Wild Ride with Purpose
The 1965 Jean-Luc Godard film, Pierrot le Fou (Pierrot the Crazy), opens in the home of a typical middle-class French family. Ferdinand Griffon dit Pierrot (Jean-Paul Belmondo), the husband, is in the bathtub reading a book about the artist Velasquez. He calls his young daughter over to read some of the book to her. She is interested and stands by the tub as he reads.
His wife yells into the bathroom and tells him not to read that stuff to their daughter and to get ready for the party. The daughter goes away, and he soon gets out of tub to dress. He is dreamy, handsome and intellectual. He’s wife Maria (Graziella Galvani) is practical and stern.
Before they leave for the party, she tells him that a relative of their friends can baby sit their daughter. The party is strange almost as if all the couples are appearing in a TV commercial while in a dream state. He leaves the party early and returns home alone. There he finds the baby sitter Marianne Renoir (Anna Karina). She has missed the last train home, so he offers to give her a ride.
There are feelings between the two. They bond. That night, He stays at her flat which is bare except for paintings and posters, a bed and table. We observe that Marianne lives in a mental state that is full of art and philosophy.
Soon they leave and the leaving becomes the beginning of a road trip. They have little money with them, so to live they economize and steal. They travel through the picturesque French countryside and along the seacoast searching to live without compromise.
One funny scene is at a gas station where a car is on a lift. Ferdinand pays the young mechanic to bring the lift down to the ground. They get into the brand-new convertible straight off the lift and speed off. To them this is the trill of being alive.
The trip continues while Ferdinand spends money on books while Marianne’s goal is to celebrate. She keeps searching for new experiences. Most of the time Ferdinand wants a quiet, still place where he can read and relax. He wants his life to look like a graceful painting with him in the foreground lying on his stomach reading with a stack of books next to him.
They go to beaches lined with lovely little cafes. Marianne grows tired of the scene but Ferdinand finds it comforting. But if they had the money, they would go to the US because escape and discovery are part of their intentions. He doesn’t want to stop; he wants to experience more.
She wants to go to happening places in the US, like Las Vegas. He doesn’t really care about money except using it just to drive and stay in lovely remote places. As the movie goes into the third act, the two pull apart. Their differences surface, and Marianna wants to leave. She left once for a short time, and she’s not quite ready to go again. Finally, she leaves but he follows her and they reunite on a small island.
Belmondo is excellent. He is the perfect combination of cool and nervous energy. Karina is fascinating in her role. One moment she is gentle and loving and next she is raising hell with a look of terror in her eyes and endless searching in her soul. The interior and outdoor settings present a dramatic backdrop for the feelings between the two and the intensity of their journey.
Director Jean Luc Goddard has created a movie only second to his superb, Breathless. Goddard stories are beautiful but instructive. He wants the audience to believe that life truly follows existential philosophy. At one-point Belmondo’s character says, “Dreams are part of us and we are part of dreams.” The same lovely but unsteady dream they live is not forever but full of love and danger. There is the constant tension produced by war images in the background and in particular, the Vietnam and Algerian wars, and the existential philosophy that grows out of WWII.
If you have never seen a Goddard movie see Breathless first and then Perrier le Fou. You’ll be fascinated or bored maybe to the point of frustration. Goddard would expect either reaction.