Jean-Paul Belmondo as Ferdinand Griffon, runaway husband
French Riviera, Summer 1965
Film: Pierrot le Fou
Release Date: November 5, 1965
Director: Jean-Luc Godard
WARNING! Spoilers ahead!
He may spend most of Pierrot le Fou insisting his name is Ferdinand, but we all know he’s actually Jean-Paul Belmondo—also known as Bébel—the French star born 88 years ago today on April 9, 1933!
Pierrot le Fou was the third and final feature-length collaboration between Belmondo and Jean-Luc Godard, who had directed him to worldwide fame as the criminal protagonist in A bout de souffle (Breathless), considered a seminal work in establishing the French New Wave cinematic movement.
While both of these stylish films shared themes of criminality, philosophy, and doomed love, Pierrot le Fou pops from the screen with its colorful and surreal pop art-inspired presentation of the increasingly desperate Ferdinand Griffon abandoning his family life to join his dangerously free-spirited ex-girlfriend Marianne (Anna Karina) in a life of crime and seaside seclusion.
Ferdinand joins the larcenous Marianne to visit her gun-smuggling “brother”, in fact her boyfriend Fred (Dirk Sanders), who devises a scam for Ferdinand to help them get a briefcase full of money. Of course, it’s a double-cross as Ferdinand is left on the dock watching his lover depart with her man and the money. Following a conversation with a man driven crazy by lust and music, Ferdinand hops aboard a fishing boat in pursuit of the couple, ultimately shooting them both with the revolver Fred gave him. After Marianne dies, asking for his forgiveness, our mad clown paints his face blue and concocts a plan to end his own life by tying yellow and red sticks of dynamite around his head… an act he regrets just a moment too late:
What an idiot! Shit! A glorious death—
What’d He Wear?
An oft-discussed aspect of Pierrot le Fou is the use of primary colors—red, yellow, and blue, for those of you who slept through elementary school—as well as the blue, white, and red found in the French flag.
For the film’s final act, our Pierrot—er, sorry, Ferdinand—builds up to fulfill wearing the hat trick of primary colors to an explosive effect. He begins with a startling red shirt that pops from the rest of his relatively subdued outfit. The lightweight, prone-to-wrinkling cloth suggests linen or a linen blend, ideal for his seaside escapades on the Mediterranean coast. The long-sleeved shirt has squared cuffs with red plastic buttons matching those up the plain “French placket” front, which he wears unbuttoned at the neck. The shirt also has a breast pocket with a non-buttoning flap, mitred at the corners.
Ferdinand’s single-breasted sports coat is woven in a black-and-white mini-herringbone wool that creates a lighter gray overall effect when seen from more of a distance. The three-button, double-vented jacket is shaped with front darts and has a shorter length in accordance with men’s tailoring trends toward the end of the ’60s. The shoulders are padded with roping at the sleeveheads, the ends of each sleeve finished with functioning two-button “surgeon’s cuffs”. The jacket has sporty patch pockets on the hips and a welted breast pocket where he tucks his pack of cigarettes.
Ferdinand wears solid gray wool straight-leg trousers with long darts in lieu of pleats to ease the front curve of the trousers over his hips. The trousers have slanted side pockets, plain-hemmed bottoms, and belt loops, though Ferdinand foregoes a belt.
Ferdinand’s worn-in split-toe loafers with a plain strap across each vamp are appropriate for the relaxed seaside atmosphere, the soft black leather rendered dusty by his most recent misadventures. He wears them with light blue socks that pale in comparison to Marianne’s rich sky-hued corduroy trousers.
Aside from the gold necklace worn under his shirt, Ferdinand’s sole accessory is a gold signet ring, worn on his right pinky finger and inscribed with a straight design running parallel to the direction of his fingers and thus likely not a monogram.
Ferdinand ends up with the large Enfield No. 2 Mk. I* revolver that had been carried by the dwarf gangster boss, handed to him by Fred before the dangerous double-cross but ultimately used by Ferdinand to gun down both Fred and Marianne.
The Enfield revolver was designed during the interwar period after the British government determined the need for a lighter-caliber service revolver as an alternative to the heavy and powerful .455 Webley that was an effective man-stopper but difficult for the average soldier to fire accurately. Military brass determined that the ideal caliber would be .38/200, a 200-grain variant of the .38 S&W “Short” round developed by Smith & Wesson in the late 1870s.
After Webley & Scott went back to the drawing boards to downsize its own venerable revolver to accommodate the .38/200 cartridge, the government-owned Royal Small Arms Factory (RSAF) in Enfield used Webley’s new design to deliver its own product, both firms maintaining the traditional top-break design that had been a mainstay of British-issued revolvers for nearly half a century. Enfield’s result followed a different internal operation from the Webley, but the cosmetic similarities were enough to provide cause for Webley & Scott to sue the government-run factory. In the messy litigation that followed, Webley’s claim was denied when Enfield protested that its design was actually drafted by Captain Henry C. Boys, though the Royal Commission on Awards to Inventors ultimately awarded £1,250 to Webley & Scott.
Production of both the Enfield No. 2 Mk. I and the Webley Mk IV began in 1932 though, ironically, RSAF Enfield was unable to produce the number of revolvers needed to meet military demands when England entered World War II so the Webley was issued as a supplemental sidearm to the British Army. By that time, Enfield had already introduced its double-action-only Mk. I* variant with a spurless hammer, though even the lighter trigger pull in the Mk. I* made it less popular among troops than the earlier Mk. I or competing revolvers by Colt, Smith & Wesson, and Webley.
In the hopes of reducing costs and increasing production, Enfield introduced the simplified Mk. I** in 1942, but safety concerns halted its production while the Mk. I and Mk. I* would continue to be manufactured after the war until the final Enfield revolver rolled out of the factory in 1957.
How to Get the Look
Ferdinand illustrates how to liven up a monochromatic outfit with a statement shirt in bold red linen, drawing the eye against his subdued palette of a black-and-white herringbone sports coat, gray trousers, and worn-in black slip-ons… though painting your face blue may be a little too much of a statement.
- Black-and-white mini-herringbone wool single-breasted 3-button sport jacket with notch lapels, welted breast pocket, patch hip pockets, functional 2-button cuffs, and double vents
- Red linen long-sleeved shirt with point collar, plain front, flapped breast pocket, and 1-button squared cuffs
- Gray wool darted-front trousers with belt loops, side pockets, and plain-hemmed bottoms
- Black leather split-toe vamp-strap loafers
- Pale blue socks
- Gold signet pinky ring
Do Yourself a Favor and…
Check out the movie, newly re-added to the Criterion Collection!
My name’s Ferdinand.