Avant Godard – Part 3 (Pierrot Le Fou and Conclusion on Godard’s Music).

Part 1. Part 2.

The first of these musical destructions comes when Pierrot and Marianne are housed in the flat of a dead man.  So far, the film has shown little sign of doing anything as extreme as breaking out into musical numbers, so when Anna Karina starts to sing along to the accompaniment of a piano track, it instantly kills the little illusion Pierrot Le Fou had left in being believable.  This scene is interesting for a number of reasons.  Listening to the piano track, it is clear from its quality that the piano is somewhere on set and not mixed on a non-diegetic level.  It’s almost plausible that Godard will cut away to a piano and show a random character playing it, yet he doesn’t.  Marianne simply starts to sing a song about love to Pierrot, with a piano track coming from nowhere.  This is one of the most Avant Garde effects in French New Wave cinema, not just because of its ambiguity within the story but because of its ambiguity within itself.  Even in the scenes from other films, the director was clearly stopping and starting the music on the records during post production.  Here, it is ambiguous as to who is actually in control.

This disturbance is magnified yet again later in the film in the most surreal scene to be analysed.  It must be pointed out that Pierrot Le Fou is in no way a musical.  If this was a Stanley Donen film, all of this would be vaguely plausible.  However, Godard stretches his fantasy to the very limits with yet another musical number.  The difference between this and the first seems to hit the final nail in the coffin of realism with its completely unexplainable sounds.  Pierrot and Marianne are walking through the wood near the house they’ve taken up in.  Marianne begins to sing Ma Ligne De Chance to Pierrot but within seconds, a clearly mixed, non-diegetic backing track of guitar, bass and other instruments enters for Karina to follow.

Whereas in the previous scene, the music was plausibly coming from the room (there could be a piano in there for all the viewer knows), here the music is definitely in the viewer’s sound world.  Yet, the characters can hear it and not only listen to it but interact, sing and dance to it.  Even Pierrot, who remained quite bemused in the previous scene, chips in some lines of the song and runs about dancing.  This comes from nowhere and the film has done little to warn the viewer of its impending break out into song.

With this, Godard pushed further in playfully destroying all attempts previously made to create realism in the film.  It seems a logical progression from the initial musical uses in Une Femme Est Une Femme but, as a tie-in to Avant Garde ideals, Pierrot Le Fou’s use of musical interaction not only destabilise its perceived reality, it also makes it unashamedly an extension of Avant Garde cinema.


French New Wave film has many more Avant Garde tendencies in its uses of music.  Godard is only one director to question as others have different and just as effective ways of distorting reality in a way that Hollywood films would rarely dare to try.  In François Truffaut’s Shoot The Pianist, as a character sings a song in a bar, the lyrics miraculously appear on screen for the viewer to follow.  In Agnes Varda’s Cleo From 5 to 7, the narrative of a pop singer’s fear of a medical test result allows all sorts of musical exploration in similar fashions to Godard’s.

The previously discussed notion of Karina’s characters having powers outside of the narrative seems to be something that fits comfortably within the Avant Garde framework.  Similar to Cocteau’s habit of putting the young men he loved in leading roles in his films, Godard’s desire for Karina’s characters to musically escape the narrative gives rise to some of the most Avant Garde scenarios in 1960s cinema.  By seeming to let her destroy the illusion of realism, he shows honesty in his filmmaking practice; an aesthetic that sacrifices many aspects that Hollywood films prize above all i.e. realism. Whyte sums this relationship up nicely when talking about Une Femme Est Une Femme stating “Godard has removed all distinction between Angelo and the actress playing the role” (1975, p. 181).

Though there are many other instances of music being used in strange and Avant Garde ways within the French New Wave movement, none are as violent or disrupting as Godard’s.  With questioning the role of the medium itself, Godard destroys the illusion of realism in the most Avant Garde of ways.  However, in doing so, his destruction lead to creation; the creation of more techniques and questioning ideals than perhaps any other filmmaker in France.  His decisions are willfully complex, indicatively unnatural and will probably remain a permanent auidio-visual mystery for, as Williams suggests, “For a filmmaker so knowing and eloquent about his own method, Godard is singularly unenlightening about his use of music.  When not simply silent on the matter, he often adopts a cavalier public attitude to what is without doubt a major creative resource.” (2007, p. 288).


Barr, C., 1987. À Bout De Souffle (Breathless – Jean-Luc Godard, Director). New Brunswick and London (Rutgers University Press).

Cousins, M., 2004. The Story of Film. London (Pavilion Books).

Flinn, C., 1992. Strains Of Utopia: Gender, Nostalgia and Hollywood Film Music. New Jersey (Princeton University Press).

Gorbman, C., 1987. Unheard Melodies: Narrative Film Music. Indiana University Press, (London, BFI Publishing).

Hediger, V., 2007. A Cinema Of Memory In The Future Tense: Godard, Trailers and Godard Trailers (Forever Godard). London (Black Dog Publishing).

Kassabian, A., 2001. Hearing Film: Tracking Identifications in Contemporary Hollywood Film Music. New York and London (Routledge).

Martin, A., 2007. Recital: Three Lyrical Interludes In Godard (Forever Godard). London (Black Dog Publishing).

Moullet, L., 1987. Jean-Luc Godard (Breathless – Jean-Luc Godard, Director). New Brunswick and London (Rutgers University Press).

Mulvey, M., and MacCabe, C., 1980. Godard: Images, Sounds and Politics (Images of Woman, Images of Sexuality). London (The Macmillan Press Ltd).

Reader, K., 2007. Godard and Asynchrony (Forever Godard). London (Black Dog Publishing).

Whyte, A., 1975. Jean-Luc Godard: Three Film Scripts (A Woman Is A Woman, A Married Woman, Two Or Three Things I Know About Her). London (Lorrimer Publishing Limited).

Williams, J, S., 2007. Music, Love And The Cinematic Event (Forever Godard). London (Black Dog Publishing).

Adam Scovell

One thought on “Avant Godard – Part 3 (Pierrot Le Fou and Conclusion on Godard’s Music).

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s