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The Jean-Luc Godard film that was denounced by the Pope

Jean-Luc Godard – the enfant terrible of the French New Wave – has directed several films that have sparked controversy among various groups. While his political radicalism has certainly pissed off a lot of people over the years, the revolutionary auteur has also been accused of other serious prejudices such as anti-Semitism.

Starting from his directorial debut Breathless, Godard’s work provided the necessary momentum which launched the New Wave in French cinema and helped maintain the momentum. His oeuvre is extremely complex since it is divided into specific periods that exhibit completely different aesthetic and political sensibilities.

While most film fans consider Godard’s early work to be his best and most accessible, there are others who believe that Godard only got better with age as he managed to construct a cinematic framework where his political ideas could be perfectly embedded. Even his latest feature – The Image Book – proves that the experimental auteur has a lot more left to say.

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One of Godard’s later projects that sparked outrage was his 1985 erotic drama Hail Mary. Structured as a modern retelling of the Virgin birth, Hail Mary features Mary as a student and basketball enthusiast while her boyfriend Joseph is a college dropout who drives a cab. Their relationship is characterised by Mary’s chastity which becomes the central point of the film’s sexual politics.

The juxtaposition of the religious elements in the film with nudity offended a lot of Christians, including Pope John Paul II who denounced Godard’s work and claimed that it “deeply wounds the religious sentiments of believers”. Many protesters also voiced their anger at some of the screenings and the film was banned in Argentina as well as Brazil.

Godard faced a lot of criticism which made him claim that this film wasn’t about the virgin birth. In an interview, Godard tried to mitigate the damage by saying Hail Mary was about “a young woman named Mary who, at a certain moment in her life, finds herself part of an exceptional event that she would never have wished for herself.”

Famously, Noël Godin threw a cream pie at Godard’s face at Cannes because he was angered by the fact that Godard had made a religious film. Despite the initial backlash, critical re-evaluations have looked at Hail Mary much more favourably and it has been praised a lot for the sublime cinematography by Jacques Firmann and Jean-Bernard Menoud.

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