Détective (1985) Directed by Jean-Luc Godard

There seems to be a theme with the last few movies featured on My Lawyer Will Call Your Lawyer. Yes another cops and robbers picture. Here is yet another film about detection and solving cases.  Or, if we take into account the amount of scenes in Détective where very young ladies lay around just wearing skimpy underpants, perhaps exposure is the most apt description.

Godard's Détective is possibly the last real conventional picture he made. I mean conventional in the sense that it has a relatively clear narrative and a plot. The plot is basic : two detectives try to find clues to an unsolved murder and stumble upon a boxing manager's attempt to pay off the mob and money he owes to an old lover and her husband. The many books that clutter the scenes inform a lot of the characters. This has a similar playfulness to Godard's early pictures and some great funny lines. That makes the film sound more straightforward than it really is. At some point, you do wonder what the hell is going on.

As with a lot of later Godard the actor credits and screen titles appear a good half an hour into the picture. Johnny Hallyday is great as the boxer's manager and Nathalie Baye delivers as the love interest who can't decide which man she really wants. The ridiculous shoot out at the end feels like a way of wrapping things up as Godard seems to grow bored of the whole thing.Visually the film offers very little, as if Godard is tired and just wants to let the talking heads deliver their lines.

This being Godard, on the plus side Détective still offers a weirder take on the noir genre. The negative is a feeling that Godard has fallen out of love with this type of film making, although Détective never feels like a piece of hack work. Godard dedicates the film to John Cassavetes, Edgar G. Ulmer and Clint Eastwood. This is some concession from Godard of what he was trying to achieve with Détective. By no means a great film, but still an interesting one.


  1. “Detective” by Jean-Luc Godard (1985) analyzes the changed role of humanistic (public) intellectuals in the Western societies (a trend that started around the last quarter of 20th century and, as we can see today, it intensifies in the new century), and how this change has influenced everybody’s behavior and world view. From around the 18th century Western intellectuals had a leading role in European historical/cultural development. They were people who tried to root spirituality in socio-political realities. They were carriers of democratic sensibility and tried to create a unity between culture and the masses of people, they risked their comforts and sometimes life for the sake of existential truth. According to “Detective”, it is not true anymore – intellectuals today are transformed into technical specialists hired by the social powers.
    Godard represents such intellectuals in the film. One of them – a private investigator with an air of a philosopher and a poet (Laurent Terzieff with his charm of other-worldliness), but his thinking about life is reduced and flattened. His nephew Isidore (Jean-Pierre Leaud in his top performance as a comic actor) is the personification of today’s liberal sensibility (gentle and conformist) and the main focus of Godard’s tragic vision of today’s advanced societies where intellectuals betray their traditional historic-moral mission.
    In “Detective” Godard offers his classification of human groups/clans today’s post-industrial societies consist of. One group filled by those who live by investing money – they are personified by an intelligent and educated married couple (Natalie Baye and Claude Brasseur – both are masters of gentle characterization, through the art of acting, of the states of the human soul). The other group is those who multiply money invested into their entrepreneurial adventures – they are personified by sports events businessman (Johnny Halliday who proved to be a very sophisticated actor).But the main clan Godard metaphorically names “mafia” – it is people who live and make their fortunes on extorting money (Godard’s Mafiosi take from people money with a matter-of-factness of tax collectors and righteousness of users of taxpayers’ funds for their personal self-enrichment through government contracts).
    The film is dedicated to the analysis of relationships between these clans and to the depiction of private love life of people belonging to them). The emotional and intellectual condition of the young people is characterized by Godard through several personages including “the wise young girl” (Julie Delpy‘s first irresistible performance) – this point of the film is especially important for American viewers today to contemplate on to be able to understand better the future of US and Europe.
    Please visit: www.actingoutpolitics.com to read the essays about “Detective” (with analysis of forty shots from the film) and other Godard’s films, and also essays dedicated to films by Bergman, Resnais, Bunuel, Bresson, Kurosawa, Pasolini, Antonioni, Cavani, Fassbinder, Bertolucci, Alain Tanner and Moshe Mizrahi.


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