From the 1960 release of jazzy, jagged ''Breathless'' through the 1967 detonation of the car-crashing kiss-off ''Weekend,'' Jean-Luc Godard was the world's most important director. (Since then, he's been the only Maoist propagandist whose influence is felt in Hollywood's every jump cut.) This first major English-language biography works hardest at fleshing out his social and intellectual contexts, giving clear accounts of big events (the Reformation, WWII), big thinkers (Freud, Marx, Sartre), and the big screen (an invigorating refresher course on the French New Wave) to show how a scrawny Franco-Swiss math geek became a film god. We want more life in this life, more about the man with such presence that ''both Bernardo Bertolucci and Serge Daney had vomited on their first encounter with him.'' But until the definitive Godard bio comes along, MacCabe's is essential for anyone deep in movie-love.