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Sept. 13, 2022, 10:25 a.m. EDT

Iconic French New Wave director Jean-Luc Godard dead at 91

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By Associated Press

Jean-Luc Godard, the iconic “enfant terrible” of the French New Wave who revolutionized popular cinema in 1960 with his first feature, “Breathless,” and stood for years among world cinema’s most vital directors, has died. He was 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 added: “We have lost a national treasure, the eye of a genius.”

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

He worked with some of the best-known actors in French cinema, such as Jean-Paul Belmondo, who was propelled to stardom through Godard films, and Brigitte Bardot, who starred in his acclaimed 1963 work “Contempt.”

Referencing Godard’s breakout first feature, Bardot, 87, paid homage to his genius on Twitter: “And it was breathless that he joined the firmament of the last great star creators.”

He profiled the early Rolling Stones, gave a voice to Marxist, leftist and 1960s-era Black Power politics, and his controversial modern nativity play “Hail Mary” grabbed headlines when Pope John Paul II denounced it in 1985.

While many of his works were lauded, Godard also made a string of films that were politically charged and experimental, and pleased few outside a small circle of fans, while frustrating many critics who saw them as filled with overblown intellectualism.

Cannes Film Festival Director Thierry Fremaux told The Associated Press on Tuesday that he was “sad, sad. Immensely so” at the news of Godard’s death.

Born into a wealthy French-Swiss family on Dec. 3, 1930 in Paris, Godard grew up in Nyon, Switzerland and studied 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 World War II.

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. By 1952 he had begun writing for the prestigious movie magazine Cahiers du Cinema.

After working on two films by Rivette and Rohmer in 1951, Godard tried to direct his first movie while traveling through North and South America with his father, but never finished it.

Back in Europe, he took a job in Switzerland as a construction worker on a dam project. He used the pay to finance his first complete film, the 1954 “Operation Concrete,” a 20-minute documentary about the building of the dam.

Returning to Paris, Godard worked as spokesman for an artists’ agency and made his first feature in 1957 — “All Boys Are Called Patrick,” released in 1959 — and continued to hone his writing.

He also began work on “Breathless,” based on a story by Truffaut. It was to be Godard’s first big success when it was released in March 1960.

The movie stars Belmondo as a penniless young thief who models himself on Hollywood movie gangsters and who, after he shoots a police officer, goes on the run to Italy with his American girlfriend, played by Jean Seberg.

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