Pierrot le Fou

Pierrot le Fou (pronounced [pjɛʁo lə fu], French for "Pierrot the madman") is a 1965 French New Wave 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 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.[2] 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.[3]

Pierrot le Fou
2009 theatrical re-release poster.
Directed byJean-Luc Godard
Produced byGeorges de Beauregard
Screenplay byJean-Luc Godard
Based onObsession
by Lionel White
StarringJean-Paul Belmondo
Anna Karina
Music byAntoine Duhamel
CinematographyRaoul Coutard
Edited byFrançoise Collin
Films Georges de Beauregard
Distributed bySociété Nouvelle de Cinématographie (SNC)
Release date
  • 5 November 1965 (1965-11-05)
Running time
110 minutes
Budget$300,000 (est.)
Box office1,310,579 admissions (France)[1]


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 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. When they settle down in the French Riviera after burning the dead man's car (full of money) and sinking a second car into the Mediterranean Sea, their relationship becomes strained. Pierrot ends up reading books, philosophizing, and writing in his diary. Marianne becomes bored by their living situation and insists they return to town, where they meet one of their pursuers in a nightclub. The gangsters waterboard Pierrot and depart. In the confusion, Marianne and Pierrot are separated. He settles in Toulon while she searches for him.

After their eventual reunion, Marianne uses Pierrot to get a suitcase full of money before running away with her real boyfriend Fred (Dirk Sanders), to whom she had previously referred as her brother. Pierrot shoots Marianne and Fred, then paints his face blue and decides to blow himself up by tying sticks of red and yellow dynamite to his head. He regrets this at the last second and tries to extinguish the fuse, but he fails and is blown up.


Themes and style

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,[4] 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.[5][6] Godard considered Richard Burton to play the role of Ferdinand but gave up the idea.[6]

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).[6] 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.[7] 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.[8]


Critical response

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."[9]

Critiques of racism

In one scene, Marianne and Ferdinand are reenacting the Vietnam War in a theatrical and playful manner complete with costumes and makeup worn by Marianne intended to make her look Vietnamese. Modern audiences have criticized this choice, deeming it a display of yellowface.[10]

See also


  1. Box office information for film at Box office Story
  2. "Pierrot le fou (1965)- JPBox-Office". jpbox-office.com. Retrieved 14 March 2016.
  3. Margaret Herrick Library, Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences
  4. "The Art and Politics of Film". google.com. Retrieved 14 March 2016.
  5. Interview with Sylvie Vartan (in French)
  6. Jean-Luc Godard's Pierrot le fou ed. David Wills, Cambridge University Press, 2000 (first 20 pages)
  7. "Criterion September BDs: Pierrot le Fou, Monterey". Blu-ray.com. Retrieved 14 March 2016.
  8. p.651 Brody, Richard Everything Is Cinema: The Working Life of Jean-Luc Godard Henry Holt and Company, 13 May 2008
  9. "Pierrot Le Fou". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 9 April 2017.
  10. "Pop Cinema: Jean-Luc Godard's Pierrot le fou". www.nga.gov. Retrieved 2019-11-24.
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