Jean-Luc Godard (born December 3, 1930) is an important French filmmaker of the 20th and 21st centuries. Although to some Godard has seemed to epitomize the inaccessible filmmaker, his films have a range and variety that belies the caricature.
Godard began his career in the 1950s by writing-- first for a journal he founded (the Gazette du cinéma) and eventually in the influential film magazine Cahiers du cinéma. Godard, as well as many of the other writers affiliated with the Cahiers (many of which also became prominent filmmakers), wrote film theory and reviewed current movies, as well as engaging in a long and intense evaluation of the output of earlier filmmakers at the Cinémathèque française.
In 1960, Godard vaulted onto the international scene with Breathless, a movie about a loser (Jean-Paul Belmondo) who gets into trouble. The film received attention for its novel use of "jump cuts"-- the removal of the middle part of a continuous shot.
Breathless merits attention as the first of Godard's feature-length films, but it also merits attention because it establishes a pattern he maintains until he moves away from conventional narrative film in the late 1960s. Breathless is about everyday life and follows a romantic relationship-- though one without a traditional romantic plot arc. Like many Nouvelle vague films of the same era, Breathless is a movie about middle class people and petty crime. Godard even indulges his fondness for female leads with foreign accents.
In the course of the 1960s, Godard continued to work within with the structures of traditional filmmaking. The concern for politics and social justice which would push him to break with conventional filmmaking is evident in many of his early films. Le Petit Soldat was originally banned in France for its sharply critical picture of the torture employed in Algeria. Les Carabiniers also deals with war and the military, though the tone is more comical than anguished. Vivre sa vie is a strongly Brechtian depiction of the life of a woman who resorts to prostitution to make ends meet.
Godard also developed the techniques and stylistic attributes which he uses throughout his career.
As the 1960s continued, Godard's concern with politics came to assume center stage in his films, and by May 1968, Godard broke decisively with traditional filmmaking. With Jean-Pierre Gorin, he formed the Dziga-Vertov Group a socialist film collective named after Soviet filmmaker Dziga Vertov, and declined to claim any authorship in their output.
By 1980, and the release of Sauve qui peut (la vie), Godard had more or less returned to conventional filmmaking, although he seems be even less interested in conventional narrative and accessibility than he had been in the 1960s. His most recent feature-length work is 2004's Notre Musique, which deals with the Arab-Palestinian conflict, colonialism and the justification of violence, and is divided into three parts on the model of Dante's Divine Comedy. An important, unconventional work of this period is Godard's Histoire(s) du cinéma (1988-98). It is an essay-like film in four chapters (about 4.5 hours in all) where Godard critically evaluates the history of film, and illustrates many of his points with excerpts from other films.