Both Ingmar Bergman and Jean-Luc Godard belong to the elite stratum of filmmakers who facilitated the evolution of cinema. They have made some of the definitive cinematic masterpieces of the 20th century, including the likes of Persona and Pierrot le Fou. Inevitably, their works were always in discourse with each other due to their vastly different artistic sensibilities but the same final goal – elevating cinema to the highest of art forms.
In multiple interviews, Bergman often expressed praise for some of the all-time greats like Alfred Hitchcock, whom Bergman considered to be “a very good technician.” He was also full of praise for a select few of his contemporaries. Bergman enjoyed the films of Federico Fellini and his “scorching creativity” as well as François Truffaut’s “way of relating with an audience.” Above everyone else, he ranked Andrei Tarkovsky and declared him as “the greatest of them all”.
On the other end of the spectrum, there were other celebrated filmmakers who Bergman did not care for. He dismissed Michelangelo Antonioni as an “aesthete” and criticised the master of cinematic surrealism – Luis Buñuel for his self-indulgent artistic vision. However, there was one particular filmmaker whose works Bergman could not tolerate at all and that was one of the pioneers of the French New Wave – Jean-Luc Godard.
Starting his career with the revolutionary Breathless, Godard came to be known as the enfant terrible of French cinema. He developed quite the reputation as an experimental filmmaker who had no patience for cinematic conventions, choosing to use the cinematic medium to bring the audience’s attention to the illusory nature of a film’s spectacle instead of hiding it. It was Godard’s mission to make everyone understand that “every edit is a lie.”
Sadly, Bergman never understood Godard’s cinematic experiments and his postmodern self-reflexivity. He dismissed the French auteur’s works as “affected, intellectual [and] self-obsessed,” claiming that he had neither been able to appreciate nor fully comprehend Godard’s artistic intentions. In a set of scathing criticisms of Godard’s films and his general cinematic sensibilities, Bergman revealed: “I’ve never gotten anything out of his movies. They have felt constructed, faux intellectual and completely dead. Cinematographically uninteresting and infinitely boring. Godard is a fucking bore. He’s made his films for the critics. One of the movies, Masculin Féminin (1966), was shot here in Sweden. It was mind-numbingly boring.”
In a separate 1971 interview, Bergman explained the exact reasons for his inability to like Godard’s works: “In this profession, I always admire people who are going on, who have a sort of idea and, however crazy it is, are putting it through; they are putting people and things together, and they make something. I always admire this.”
He continued: “But I can’t see his pictures. I sit for perhaps twenty-five or thirty or fifty minutes and then I have to leave, because his pictures make me so nervous. I have the feeling the whole time that he wants to tell me things, but I don’t understand what it is, and sometimes I have the feeling that he’s bluffing, double-crossing me.”
Contrary to Bergman’s dislike for the French New Wave auteur’s celebrated masterpieces, Godard always cited Bergman as one of his primary influences. In an article dating back to 1958 when Godard was working as a film critic, he wrote: “Bergman, in effect, is the filmmaker of the instant. Each of his films is born of the hero’s reflection on the present moment, and deepens that reflection by a sort of dislocation of time–rather in the manner of Proust.”
“But more powerfully, as though Proust were multiplied by both Joyce and Rousseau–to become a vast, limitless meditation upon the instantaneous. An Ingmar Bergman film is, if you like, one twenty-fourth of a second metamorphosed and expanded over an hour and a half. It is the world between two blinks of the eyelids, the sadness between two heartbeats, the gaiety between two handclaps.”
Fortunately for Godard, he never required the validation of other pioneers to keep his revolutionary spirit alive and maintained his artistic force in later works such as Goodbye to Language and The Image Book. Godard famously said that “he who jumps into the void owes no explanation to those who stand and watch.” Looking back, this appears to be more applicable for him than anyone else.