Watch: Jean-Luc Godard's Long Lost Short, One of the World's Rarest Films, Has Just Surfaced
Une Femme Coquette, Godard's first short film, was previously rumored to exist as a single print in the hands of a private collector.
Five years before he stormed the gates of cinema history with his debut feature Breathless (À bout de souffle), a 25-year-old Jean-Luc Godard made his first foray into narrative filmmaking with the 9-minute short Une Femme Coquette. According to the AV Club, the never-distributed film had only a half-dozen screenings, and "has often been listed as lost by biographies and film history books."
An adaptation of The Signal, a short story by 19th-century French writer Guy de Maupassant, the film was shot in Geneva, Switzerland, with Godard as the sole crew member, using equipment borrowed from Actua-Films, the company that distributed Godard's first short, Opération Béton. Coquette stars Roland Tolmatchoff, a long-time associate of associate of Godard's, as well as a woman who has been credited over the years as either Marie or Maria Lysandre, though almost nothing is known of her aside from this film. Godard himself makes a cameo about two minutes in. He would later reuse the Maupassant story for the parodic film-within-a-film in his 1966 feature Masculin Féminin (which, fittingly, played with Coquette on a double bill at one of the short's few screenings).
Opération Béton was an industrial documentary short about the Grande Dixence dam in Switzerland, where Godard had been employed—first as a laborer, then as a telephone switch operator. But while the documentary has long been available, the discovery of Une Femme Coquette, previously rumored to exist as a single print in the hands of a private collector, is a real coup for film fans, and especially devotees of Godard. It's an invaluable glimpse at the start of an iconoclastic career that's still going, seven decades later: in his time behind the camera, the now 86-year-old Godard has directed 43 feature films, as well as countless shorts and other projects. His last feature, Goodbye to Language, won the Jury Prize at Cannes in 2014.