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A Godard Riff That Adapts Rousseau’s Treatise on Education

A Godard Riff That Adapts Rousseau’s Treatise on Education
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Juliet Berto and Jean-Pierre Léaud in Jean-Luc Godard’s “Le Gai Savoir.”

Kino Lorber

For many, Jean-Luc Godard’s great period began with “Breathless” in 1960 and culminated less than a decade later with “Weekend,” a movie that has a final title declaring the end of cinema. But there was also a nearly forgotten feature that extended this glorious run.

“Le Gai Savoir,” Mr. Godard’s sequel to “La Chinoise,” his portrait of student radicals, opens on Friday at the Quad Cinema for a weeklong run in a new digital restoration.

Although Mr. Godard told associates that there would be no movies by him after “Weekend,” he agreed to adapt Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s novelistic treatise on education, “Émile,” published in 1762, for television.

“Le Gai Savoir,” which can be translated as “Joy of Learning,” is that adaptation, although the word implies something more conventional than Mr. Godard’s feature-length riff. Finished after the student revolt of May 1968, it was rejected by TV but released to theaters in 1969 (around the time Mr. Godard took up a more polemical, less popular sort of cinema).

Simply described, “Le Gai Savoir” is a series of conversations between two young militants, Émile Rousseau and Patricia Lumumba, played by Jean-Pierre Léaud and Juliet Berto, both veterans of “La Chinoise.” Their dialogues — held in a pool of light on a darkened soundstage — are annotated by rapid-fire montages of news photos, comic strips, print ads and Paris streets, along with Mr. Godard’s urgent whispers.

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