Jean-Luc Godard dies: French New Wave film pioneer Jean-Luc Godard dies aged 91

Director Jean-Luc Godard, a pioneer of French New Wave film who revolutionised popular 1960s cinema, has died at the age of 91.

Swiss news agency ATS quoted Godard’s partner Anne-Marie Mieville and her producers as saying he died peacefully and surrounded by his loved ones at his home in the Swiss town of Rolle, on Lake Geneva, on Tuesday.

French president Emmanuel Macron paid tribute to Godard as “the most iconoclastic of the New Wave directors” who “invented a resolutely modern, intensely free art form”.

He said: “We have lost a national treasure, the eye of a genius.”

Swiss-French director Jean-Luc Godard during the award ceremony of the 'Grand Prix Design', in Zurich, Switzerland, Nov. 30, 2010. Director Jean-Luc Godard, an icon of French New Wave film who revolutionized popular 1960s cinema, has died, according to French media. He was 91. (Gaetan Bally/Keystone via AP, file)

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Godard defied convention over a long career that began in the 1950s as a film critic. He rewrote rules for camera, sound and narrative.

He worked with some of the best-known names of French cinema like Brigitte Bardot and bad-boy Jean-Paul Belmondo, who was propelled to stardom through Godard’s films.

The director also profiled the early Rolling Stones, and gave a voice to Marxist, leftist and 1960s-era Black Power politics.

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Born into a wealthy French-Swiss family on December 3, 1930 in Paris, the ingenious “enfant terrible” stood for years as one of the world’s most vital and provocative directors in Europe and beyond — beginning in 1960 with his debut feature Breathless.

His films propelled Belmondo to stardom and his controversial modern nativity play Hail Mary grabbed headlines when Pope John Paul II denounced it in 1985.

But Godard also made a string of films, often politically charged and experimental, which pleased few outside a small circle of fans and frustrated many critics through their purported overblown intellectualism.

Cannes Film Festival director Thierry Fremaux said he was “sad, immensely so”, at the news of Godard’s death.

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Godard grew up in Nyon, Switzerland, studying ethnology at the Sorbonne in France’s capital, where he was increasingly drawn to the cultural scene that flourished in the Latin Quarter “cine-club” after the Second World War.

He became friends with future big-name directors Francois Truffaut, Jacques Rivette and Eric Rohmer and in 1950 founded the short-lived Gazette du Cinema.

Like Truffaut’s The 400 Blows, released in 1959, Godard’s film set the new tone for French movie aesthetics. Godard rejected conventional narrative style and instead used frequent jump-cuts that mingled philosophical discussions with action scenes.

He spiced it all up with references to Hollywood gangster movies, and nods to literature and visual art.

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In 1961, Godard married Danish-born model and actress Anna Karina, who appeared in a string of movies he made during the remainder of the 1960s, all of them seen as New Wave landmarks.

Notable among them were My Life To Live, Alphaville and Crazy Pete, which also starred Belmondo and was rumoured to have been shot without a script.

Godard harboured a life-long sympathy for various forms of socialism depicted in films ranging from the early 1970s to early 1990s. In December 2007, he was honoured by the European Film Academy with a lifetime achievement award.

Godard took pot-shots at Hollywood over the years.

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He remained at home in Switzerland rather than travel to Hollywood to receive an honorary Oscar at a private ceremony in November 2010 alongside film historian and preservationist Kevin Brownlow, director-producer Francis Ford Coppola and actor Eli Wallach.

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