Pierrot le Fou (1965): Godard’s Tale of Amour Fou, Starring Jean-Paul Belmondo and Anna Karina

One of Godard’s most accessible and popular films, Pierrot le Fou (“Pierrot the madman”), starring Jean-Paul Belmondo and Anna Karina, is based on the 1962 novel Obsession by Lionel White.

Pierrot le Fou

French theatrical release poster

It was Godard’s tenth feature, released between two other masterpieces, Alphaville and Masculin, féminin.

The plot follows Ferdinand, an unhappily married man, as he escapes his boring society and travels from Paris to the Mediterranean Sea with Marianne, a girl chased by OAS hit-men from Algeria.

Ferdinand Griffon has been recently fired from his job at a TV broadcasting company. After attending a mindless party in Paris, he decides to run away with ex-girlfriend Marianne Renoir, leaving behind his wife, children and the bourgeois lifestyle.

Ferdinand soon discovers that Marianne is being chased by OAS gangsters. Marianne and Ferdinand, whom she calls Pierrot (meaning “sad clown”) go on a crime spree from Paris to the South. They lead an unorthodox life, always on the run, now pursued by the police and by the OAS gangsters.

When they settle down in the French Riviera after burning the dead man’s car (which had been full of money, unbeknownst to Marianne) and sinking a second car into the sea, their relationship becomes strained. Ferdinand reads books, philosophizes, and writes a diary.

A dwarf, one of the gangsters, kidnaps Marianne, but she kills him with scissors. Ferdinand is caught and bludgeoned by two of his accomplices, who waterboard him to make him reveal Marianne’s whereabouts.

Marianne escapes, and she and Ferdinand are separated. He settles in Toulon, while she searches for him. After their eventual reunion, Marianne uses Ferdinand to get a suitcase full of money before running away with her real boyfriend, Fred, to whom she had referred as her brother.

Ferdinand 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 changes his mind at the last second and tries to extinguish the fuse, but it’s too late–and he is blown up.

Pierrot le fou was the 15th highest-grossing film of the year, with a total of 1,310,580 admissions in France.

The film was selected as the French entry for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar, but it did not make the final cut of five nominees.

Like many of Godard’s films, Pierrot le fou features characters who look directly into the camera.

It also includes startling editing choices, as 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 makes disjunctive references to various elements of mass culture.

Inspired by the pop art era, the film uses visuals drawn from cartoons and employs garish visual aesthetic based on bright primary colors.


Directed by Jean-Luc Godard
Produced by Georges de Beauregard
Screenplay by Godard, based on Obsession by Lionel White
Music by Antoine Duhamel
Cinematography Raoul Coutard
Edited by Françoise Collin

Production company: Films Georges de Beauregard

Distributed by Société Nouvelle de Cinématographie (SNC)

Release date: November 5, 1965

Running time: 110 minutes