French cinema: 7 Jean-Luc Godard films to watch

The iconic French film director, best known for his works of the Nouvelle Vague cinema, has died at the age of 91 - if you're not familiar with his work here are the 5 films to watch to appreciate Jean-Luc Godard.

French cinema: 7 Jean-Luc Godard films to watch
Swiss film director Jean-Luc Godard, pictured at a press conference in 1971. (Photo by AFP)

Godard never stopped experimenting, from early celebrations of Hollywood pizazz to 1970s political tracts before diving into digital and 3D.

Here is a selection of his best-known work;

A bout de souffle  (Breathless) 1960

Godard’s first film catapulted him to fame as one of the leading members of the French New Wave movement led by young critics-cum-directors seeking to break the cinematic mould.

In the doomed romance between petty criminal Jean-Paul Belmondo and young American Jean Seberg, he combined many of his, and the New Wave’s, first loves: Hollywood B-movies and film noir.

Le Mépris (Contempt) 1963

Set on the sun-drenched Italian island of Capri, Godard intersperses scenes from a film shoot of Homer’s “The Odyssey” into the contemporary tale of a beautiful young Brigitte Bardot who falls quietly out of love with her husband after what she perceives as an act of disloyalty.

Pierrot le Fou (1965) 

Seen as his most autobiographical film, it has Belmondo as an unhappily married man going on a madcap crime spree with his ex-girlfriend (played by Godard’s first wife Anna Karina, who he had just divorced). He ends up shooting her and then trying to blow himself up.

Alphaville, une étrange aventure de Lemmy Caution (1965)

Starring the B-movie cult hero Eddy Constantine and Karina, this futuristic dystopian tale is set in a city ruled by a tyrant demanding faithful adherence to the laws of science and logic.

It heralded the bleaker outlook Godard would explore in his later works.

Ici et ailleurs (1976) 

Made during his collective film-making period as part of the Dziga Vertov group, named after the Russian avant garde director, Godard intercut footage from his 1969 documentary of a Palestinian refugee camp with shots of people in the West watching the images on their television screens — the “here and elsewhere” of the title.

As well as offering a sharp critique of the media age, Godard questioned himself as he constructed — and manipulated — documentary footage.

Sauve qui peut (Every Man for Himself) 1980 

Winner of a Cesar, a French Oscar, this plunge into the power dynamics between men and women saw Godard return to more mainstream film-making, with big stars including Gerard Depardieu and Alain Delon.

Adieu au langage  (Goodbye to Language) 2014 

Working virtually alone in his home in Switzerland, the films from Godard’s late period still pushed narrative conventions and innovated with the latest technology.

Shot in 3D, “Goodbye to Language” partly followed the point of view of Godard’s dog Roxy, using the silent star to explore our failure to communicate with each other.

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French foie gras shortage forces farmers to take radical step: Using lady geese

Foie gras pate, the consummate delicacy of French holiday tables, might be harder to find this year and certainly pricier due to a bird flu outbreak that ravaged farms across the west and south last winter.

French foie gras shortage forces farmers to take radical step: Using lady geese

After millions of ducks and geese were culled to halt the epidemic, some farmers say they are having to take an unprecedented step — using females to produce the luxury treat.

The taste is the same, but female livers are much smaller and harder to work with, and the impact on a producer’s bottom line is inescapable.

“It was double or nothing, but either we just sat and waited — which is not in our nature — or we try to offer a product that respects our consumers,” said Benjamin Constant in Samatan, southwest France.

President of the foie gras marketing board for the Gers department, Constant warned that it was only a stop-gap measure, especially for higher-quality fresh foie gras.

Most livers have veins that must be removed, but those of female livers are much bigger and require more effort to extract, which puts off clients seeking the smooth texture of fresh foie gras that is either seared in a pan, or used to make pate.

“A significant amount cannot be sold fresh, which penalises the producers who sell at public markets,” Constant said.

Jacques Candelon, who has been raising ducks in the rolling plains of nearby Sarrant since 1998, said this is the first year the majority of his 26,000 birds are females, which are usually reserved to produce meat for export.

“80 percent are females — it was either that or nothing,” the 52-year-old told AFP at his farm, dressed head to toe in protective gear to prevent any contamination of his animals.

Bigger stretch

Animal rights activists have long denounced the force-feeding of ducks and geese to make foie gras, calling it an unnecessary cruelty despite producers’ claims of introducing measures to make the process more humane.

France remains the world’s largest producer and consumer, usually raising some 30 million ducks alone each year, even though some French cities have banned it from official functions.

But two brutal bird flu outbreaks in recent years decimated flocks as authorities imposed culls, with just 21 million ducks raised in 2021, a number expected to plunge to 15 million for 2022, according to the CIFOG producers’ association.

More problematic was the impact on breeding farms, which found themselves with only scant numbers of male chicks to offer producers this year.

Labeyrie, the brand that dominates sales among mass retailers, expects a shortage of 30 to 40 percent this holiday season, by far the most important time of the year for the sector.

Spiralling energy and feed prices, fallout from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, will also make foie gras more of a stretch for family budgets.

“There will be enough for the holidays but in limited quantities,” CIFOG director Marie-Pierre Pe told AFP in September. “We’re hoping that people are going to be reasonable and will share what little there is.” 

‘Big effort’

Old habits die hard, however, and at the bustling weekly duck market at Samatan, a foie gras bastion near Toulouse in the heart of Gers, much of the crowd wanted only the pale, plump male livers.

“Females are much, much smaller and after force-feeding, the livers are smaller and less attractive visually,” said Didier Villate, a veterinarian who has overseen the Samatan market for over 40 years.

Next to a tray of glistening male livers, many of the female livers had red blotches with thick dark veins, “which is unfortunately something we find quite often” even though it doesn’t change the taste or texture, Villate said.

“Clients are surprised, so we have to make a big effort to explain to consumers that there is no danger — It’s purely visual, you can buy and eat them just the same,” he said.

But male or female, prices have spiked to between €55 and €60 a kilogramme, or “€15 to €20 more than normal,” said Constant, calling 2022 “catastrophic for the sector.”

For Gilberte Bru, who like dozens of others rushed in at the market’s opening whistle to stock up for the holidays, the decision was easy — she picked the male livers.

“Yes, because they are bigger,” she said.