Long before such megastar couples as Warren and Annette, and
Guy and Madonna, it was Jean-Luc and Anna who were the biggest
international movie stars around.
The infamous Jean-Luc Godard and his wife, Anna Karina, seemed to appear in nearly every French film of the 1960s. As BAMcinematek’s "JLG + AK = The Films of Jean-Luc Godard & Anna Karina" series demonstrates, the Godard-Karina pairing was a true rarity among movie couples.
Even though as director, Godard was not above showing his beloved wife off to her best onscreen advantage, it was tempered by his strict adherence to the most alienating aesthetic to ever grace the silver screen.
From his first feature, 1959’s "Breathless," Godard fought against linear narratives and melodrama with various visual and aural innovations: jump cuts, asynchronous sound, third-person narration, even whole sequences unrelated to what is going on, like a song-and-dance number out of left field. And even Karina’s sunny presence never derailed Godard from his experimentation.
Godard has remained amazingly prolific for more than 40 years, but his early work is his most revolutionary and lasting, for two obvious reasons. First, the 1960s were an era of great social and political upheaval, and Godard’s guerilla style of directing lent itself well to commenting on current events without becoming irrelevant; and secondly, at that time, Godard’s innovations were still new and novel, not old-hat and dated.
"JLG + AK" includes all of the films in which Godard directed Karina (seven features and one short), as well as another director’s feature in which the fun couple appeared. Even though they were only married from 1961 to 1964, their artistic relationship lasted until 1967. Their first film together, "The Little Soldier" (showing March 18-19), remains one of Godard’s most controversial: its unapologetic Algerian War stance caused it to be banned in France for years, and Karina’s appearance as a woman who causes an Algerian sympathizer to question his motives is one of her most unforgettable roles.
In contrast, "Made in USA" (March 21) is Godard at his most obvious: taking on the pervasive Americanization of French culture, Godard found he had an ambivalent relationship with the country that so dominates the world. Dedicated to Samuel Fuller and Nicholas Ray, "Made in USA" shows that Godard, against his better judgment, appreciates American movies to a fault. (Scheduled with "Made in USA" is the 1967 short "Anticipation or Love in the Year 2000," the couple’s last film together, wherein Godard directs Karina as a prostitute who "invent(s) the kiss" with an alien.)
"Pierrot le Fou" (1965), with then-superstar Jean-Paul Belmondo as a bored playboy who runs away with Karina, an innocent girl wanted by the mob (March 22-24), is as close as Godard got to straightforward drama, but it has a few Godardian twists. In 1964’s "Band of Outsiders" (March 25-26), Karina is the fresh-faced temptress coercing two gullible young men into a life of casual crime, but she’s one-upped by her husband, whose inventiveness has reached its considerable peak: the sprint through the Louvre and the out-of-the-blue dance number are still as fresh as ever, although the cutesy "minute of silence" now feels more like an hour.
Karina gives what may be her greatest performance in "My Life to Live" (March 28-29), the 1962 drama that watches its heroine careen from loving housewife to dead prostitute in 90 minutes. And 1965’s "Alphaville" closes the series on March 30-31 with a science-fiction tale, Godard-style, subtitled "The Strange Adventure of Lemmy Caution." It follows a futuristic detective (Eddie Constantine) whose planned hit is complicated when he falls for his would-be victim’s lovely daughter, played by Karina, of course.
"A Woman Is a Woman," Godard’s 1961 Technicolor valentine to musicals and to his wife, begins the series on March 14. Also released in 1961 was Agnes Varda’s "Cleo from 5 to 7" (March 27), a study of a singer (Corine Marchand) nervously awaiting the results of some medical tests. During her travels, she looks in on a movie, a silent film starring none other than Mr. and Mrs. Godard! Varda’s movie retains its uncomplicated urgency, nearly the equal of Godard at his best, of which most of the films in the BAMcinematek series are prime examples.
"JLG + AK = The Films of Jean-Luc Godard & Anna Karina" runs March 14 through March 31 at the BAMcinematek, 30 Lafayette Ave. at Ashland Place. Tickets are $9; discounts available for students, senior citizens, children under 12 and BAM Cinema Club members. For more information, call (718) 636-4100 or visit www.bam.org.