‘Pierrot le Fou’ : fatal adventure and chaos in la Mer Méditerranée

6 min readSep 24, 2021

In 1978, 13 years after releasing “Pierrot le Fou”, Jean-Luc Godard, one of the most powerful figures of post-war French cinema, a puissant French-Swiss filmmaker and pioneer of Nouvelle Vague ( French New Wave), while discussing the comparisons between his recent films during one of his lectures on the history of cinema, brought up the following thought:

‘’Once Griffith said: “What is cinema? A girl and a gun”. I believed in that.’’

Guns and girls had long become Godard’s system in use. The aspect of gun in “Pierrot le Fou” is clear: it appeared in several death scenes, creating an image of crime and mafia, premonition of danger, and a solid sentiment of escapism. Taking into account the previously mentioned description of the gun’s role in Godard’s masterpiece, it can be smoothly stated, that, the girl, Marianne ( brilliantly played by remarkable Danish-French actress and Godard’s ex-wife Anna Karina), also had the features of the gun, warning us about the danger and the irreparable consequences.

The complex story, full of captivating actions already starts with notes of escapism. In the beginning, we see 32 years old outstanding Jean-Paul Belmondo, in the role of ex-TV broadcaster, named Ferdinand, married to an Italian rich woman( Graziella Galvani). Ferdinand, displayed reading to their little daughter a book about Spanish Baroque painter Diego Velázquez, while having a bath, points out “degenerate king, sickly infants, idiots, dwarfs, cripples, clownish freaks dressed as princes whose job it was to laugh at themselves”, and then, gets interrupted and judged by his wife. Presumably, Godard added that exact composition to the film as a hint: Ferdinand detests the bourgeois lifestyle. The humdrum marriage, the recent dismissal of job, differences in interests and moral values, are, apparently, the main factors of Ferdinand’s quarter-life crisis. Attending a fancy party, where women discuss lingerie and perfume, Ferdinand starts complaining: “After Athens, after the Renaissance, we are now entering the civilization of the rump..” Right after the wave of disappointment and anger, he “almost-finds” his companion, the American filmmaker Samuel Fuller, who, sadly, doesn’t speak French. Regardless of the language barrier, thanks to an English speaking French girl, Ferdinand manages to receive an answer to his question about film definition, from Fuller:

A film is like a battleground. There’s love, hate, action, violence, death…in one word: emotions.

All the elements suggested by Fuller, turned into a slight spoiler to the actions displayed in ‘Pierrot le Fou’’. They all start functioning, as soon as Marianne enters Ferdinand’s life: we see her as a new babysitter to Ferdinand’s child. Turns out Ferdinand and Marianne are ex-lovers. Both are escapists: Ferdinand aims to escape from dull bourgeois life, because he is already fed up; while Marianne wants to find her brother and is running away from her big problems with OAS gangsters. Marianne is a breath of fresh air: her values are completely different, compared to the ones carried by boring women of the high-class society, surrounding Ferdinand. They are running away by car. Marianne sorrowfully comments on the radio news about the deaths of guerillas:

“They say 115 guerrillas, and it means nothing to us. But each one is a man, and we don’t even know who he is, if he loves a woman, if he has kids, if he prefers movies or plays. We know nothing about them. All they say is ’15 killed.’ It’s like photographs. They’ve always fascinated me. You see this frozen image of a guy with a caption underneath. Maybe he was a coward. Maybe he was a nice guy. But at the moment it was taken no one can really say who he was, what he was thinking about. His wife? His mistress? The past? The future? Basketball? No one will ever know. That’s what makes me sad: Life is so different from books. I wish it were the same: clear, logical, organized. Only it isn’t.”

“Only it isn’t”. Escaping to freedom was a wrong decision. The couple kills different people during their rash adventures, steals cars, burns money, escapes, escapes, and escapes again. Marianne is emphasizing the importance of a human’s life, by bringing up the example of guerillas, and then commits murders: is that irony or self-contradiction? Godard filled the dramatic movie with flashing colors of the French flag, but, most likely, the main color of “Pierrot le Fou” becomes red: the color of fast life, love, anger, danger, alarm, crime, blood, murder, jealousy, and passion.

Marianne and Ferdinand plan to travel to Nice, and, maybe, afterward, to Italy. Their relationship gets worse as they travel further: Marianne wants to return, while Ferdinand sinks in books and his journal(his sort of escapism from reality), that she can not bear.

Godard’s interest in Vietnam war touched “Pierrot le Fou” as well. As American sailors appear during the couple’s adventure, Ferdinand and Marianne, aiming to earn some money, decide to play a little scene with caricatures of the Vietnamese, in which Marianne dresses up in a national suit, coloring her face yellow; and the Americans, when Ferdinand fakes the American accent.

Another sort of spoiler catches attention when Ferdinand tells a story about William Willson, who, once met his doppelganger and afterward was searching for him everywhere, in order to kill. As soon as Willson managed to do so, he realized he killed himself, but the doppelganger remained. Is Marianne Ferdinand’s a doppelganger? What if they both are the same person, having an inner conflict? Who is more truthful?

Ferdinand starts focusing on nature. He thinks that being brave means being alone with nature, which doesn’t care about human misfortune. Ferdinand is closer to freedom: he is true to himself, he knows very well the consequences of all their crimes, but still asks Marianne why the police haven’t caught them yet. Marianne answers that police are stronger than them, as it lets people deal with self-destruction. Seems that Marianne knows more about self-destruction than Ferdinand, as she doesn’t know anymore what to do.

Ferdinand valiantly proves his love towards Marianne, by stealing and killing for her. Turns out, that Ferdinand was just a puppet in Marianne’s criminal and chaotic adventure. She betrays him and escapes with all the money.

Stories like theirs usually have fatal endings. Ferdinand kills both Marianne and her new lover. The last scene brings up such vivid emotions as anger and regret, lot’s of regret: he decides to kill himself as well. Godard, now, used other colors for death: blue and yellow. Ferdinand, in a state of total shock, mental burnout, and anger, colors his face blue, ties up his head with yellow dynamite and explodes himself. Only a few seconds before the explosion he realizes that he regrets his choice:

“What an idiot! Shit! A glorious death…”

Ferdinand’s death became a message and answer to every issue raised in the film. The blue-colored face stands for carelessness, negligence, comfort zone, and comfort bourgeois life. He wants to get rid of it. The color of dynamite is yellow, symbolizing ambiguity and hesitation.

Ferdinand’s hatred towards the bourgeois and love towards Marianne, made him tangle with different crimes, and subsequently, affecting his mental state, turned him into a “fou”(“crazy”, translated from French).

This is how the eccentric combination of two fatal freedoms ended by the Mediterranean sea.