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R.I.P. Jean-Luc Godard, Groundbreaking New Wave Director Dead of Assisted Suicide at 91

"He wasn't sick, he was just exhausted," his wife Anne-Marie Miéville said

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Jean-Luc Godard, photo by Gary Stevens

    Fin de cinema: Jean-Luc Godard, the influential New Wave director whose 60+ films expanded the vocabulary of cinema, has died at the age of 91. Libération reports that he chose assisted suicide in Switzerland, where the practice is authorized.

    “He wasn’t sick, he was just exhausted,” his wife Anne-Marie Miéville confirmed in a statement. “It was his decision and it was important for him that it be known.”

    Godard had been publicly reflecting on assisted suicide since at least 2014. “I’m not anxious to continue with any force. If I’m too sick, I don’t want to be dragged in a wheelbarrow,” he said, adding that “for now” making the choice for assisted suicide “is still very difficult.”

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    He hinted that he saw his life’s work as nearly completed last year. “I’m finishing my movie life — yes, my moviemaker’s life — by doing two scripts,” he told The Film Stage. “After, I will say, ‘Goodbye, cinema.’”

    Born in Paris, France in 1930, Godard started out as a critic at the influential magazine Cahiers du Cinéma, where he argued that French filmmaking had grown formulaic and stale. He put his ideas into motion in 1960 with Breathless (À bout de souffle), which drew on American film noir traditions while also pioneering the stylish, unconventional approach that came to be described as French New Wave.

    He is often credited with popularizing the jump cut, in which a sequential shot is broken into two parts, and which before Breathless had a reputation as an amateur’s mistake. But Godard unlocked the abrupt edit’s storytelling potential, using it to reveal a subjective experience and to force the audience to reflect on the passage of time.

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    Godard continued to experiment in the New Wave style through the end of the 1960s, in the process creating now-classic film such as Bande à part (1964), which inspired the name of Quentin Tarantino’s production company, A Band Apart; Pierrot le Fou (1965); and Week-end (1967), which included a revolutionary eight-minute shot of a couple stuck in traffic, and which ended with the words “FIN DE CINEMA,” a playful phrasing that simultaneously expressed the end of the movie while suggesting the obliteration of all of cinema.

    He followed his New Wave period with more than a decade of revolutionary filmmaking, exploring the Vietnam War, colonialism, and his Marxist beliefs. In the 1970s he moved to Switzerland, and beginning in the 1980s, Godard turned to more autobiographical themes while maintaining a prolific work pace. His final feature film, the cinematic essay The Image Book, came out in 2018.

    His passing was mourned on social media. “RIP Jean-Luc Godard, one of the most influential, iconoclastic film-makers of them all,” Edgar Wright wrote in a statement. “It was ironic that he himself revered the Hollywood studio film-making system, as perhaps no other director inspired as many people to just pick up a camera and start shooting…

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    “Thank you monsieur Godard for expanding the boundaries of the cinema,” Antonio Banderas wrote on Twitter. Check out more tributes below.

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