Saturday, September 17, 2022

Jean-Luc Godard - Alphaville

The final movie in that Godard bluray set I reviewed way back in 2016 for the old Geekologists blog was Alphaville. For the last few days I've been republishing the reviews after the legendary director died earlier in the week. If you've never watched any of Godard's work, I've heartily suggest Breathless or Alphaville as your starting points...

(Originally published February 2016)

Today, the 1st February 2016, STUDIOCANAL is releasing a boxed set of films by the legendary director Jean-Luc Godard on blu-ray. Over the last few weeks I’ve been reviewing the disks one at a time, and this week I turn my attentions to the final movie in the set, 1965’s “Alphaville”.

After the bright colours of the previous movies, Godard returns to black and white again with this film-noir set in a strange and distant city across the galaxies called Alphaville. Eddie Constantine plays Lemmy Caution, an American private-eye that originated in a series of books from the 30’s and 40’s, sent to Alphaville with a number of missions. He arrives under the alias of Ivan Johnson, a journalist for Figaro-Pravda, and quickly discovers that the city is under the control of a massive computer - Alpha 60, created by Professor von Braun.

The computer has outlawed emotion and love, in favour of logic and control. Those who show emotion are executed. Bibles in the hotel rooms are replaced with dictionaries, constantly updated as words are outlawed and replaced with authorised ones. 

Lemmy Caution meets Natacha von Braun (the wonderful Anna Karina again), daughter of the man who created the computer, hoping to gain access to the Professor in order to either capture or kill the Professor and destroy the Alpha 60 computer. However, he falls for Natacha, and she starts to show feelings for him - a criminal offence that could lead to her execution.

Alphaville is a stunningly clever bit of science fiction, carefully presented as a classy film noir. Godard uses his experimental eye again with the use of negative film, and some amazing tracking shots, following the actors into elevators and filming from another elevator through the glass as they travel. Fantastic cinematography, especially for 1965. 

The city of Alphaville was filmed in Paris, focusing on the new architecture and building that is a long cry from the loving portrayal of the city in Breathless, and in black and white it really can feel like an alien city at times. But it is the portrayals of Caution and Natacha that once again make this film. Constantine looks like he’s been pulled straight from the novels that inspired his character, and Karina once again brings sensitivity and emotion to a place and movie that is otherwise devoid of these things.

It is a slow and brooding piece of cinema that is not for everyone, but is hauntingly mesmerising and presented in a restored blu-ray that maintains the the gorgeous black and whites, and keeps the cool grain of its source. The only let down is the lack of extras on this disc compared to the massive amount on the other discs in the set. We have the introduction by Colin McCabe, a trailer, some poster images, and a new interview with Anna Karina (under 5mins). 

However, with the other four movies in the set that I’ve reviewed over the last five weeks (Breathless, Une femme est une femme, Le Mépris, and Pierrot le Fou), the Essential Godard collection blu-ray is exactly that, essential. A perfect way to add some class, some beauty and a whole lot of cool to your blu-ray collection. 

Friday, September 16, 2022

Jean-Luc Godard - Pierrot le Fou

This week I've been reprinting the reviews I wrote back in 2016 of the bluray boxed set of movies by the late, great, and legendary director, Jean-Luc Godard. The fourth film in the set, and the fourth movie in my reviews, is for 1965's 'Pierrot le Fou'.

(review originally published in January 2016)

On the 1st February 2016, STUDIOCANAL is releasing a new boxed set of films of the legendary director Jean-Luc Godard on blu-ray. Over the last few weeks I’ve reviewed the first three discs in the set - now it’s time to look at 1965’s “Pierrot le Fou”.

After the attempt at a big budget “Hollywood” movie with “Contempt”, Godard returns to his simpler roots with a familiar tale of a criminal couple on the run, discussing the meaning of life and art, while on an unstoppable course for self-destruction.

Jean-Paul Belmondo, one of Godard’s regulars, plays Ferdinand Griffon, a former TV writer whose marriage to a wealthy Italian wife bores him. At a party designed to introduce him to a potential employer, he realises he is surrounded by idiots. The party-goers dialogue sounds like fake television commercials and everyone is so dull, compared to Ferdinand who spends his time reading, looking at art, and thinking about life.

He leaves the party early, and runs off with his babysitter - a former lover, Marianne, played by another Godard favourite (and wife at the time), Anna Karina. At her apartment filled with guns and a dead man killed with a pair of scissors, he discovers she is gun running and being chased by gangsters involved in the Algerian war. They steal the dead man’s car and drive off to the country.

Marianne quickly gets bored of hiding in the idilic countryside, and the gangsters soon catch up with them, but it will eventually be their own self destruction that will end their relationship.

Pierrot le Fou is typical Godard. Beautifully filmed, with striking colours, with a feel of “make it up as we go along” that has become so synonymous with his movies. Sequences are shown out of chronological order, and characters break the fourth wall repeatedly - there is a great moment where the leads are driving, and Ferdinand turns to the camera to talk over his shoulder. Marianne asks who he’s talking to - “The audience!” is his reply. Obviously! 

Continuing the feel of Contempt, this one is not a cheery film. It has its moments of surreality and humour, and even a couple of almost musical numbers. But in the end, the feel is that of loss, betrayal and dislocation. Of wanting more from life, to truly experience one’s feelings, but finding a lack of sense. 

It also hammers home some political messages in a less than subtle way - not in the least when they put on a “play” to raise money from tourists that depicts the Vietnam war.

A moving and cerebral film that will stick with you long after the dramatic ending.

The blu-ray is suitably gorgeous, as you can imagine, bringing out all of Godard’s colour use beautifully. The audio is clean and cool as well. 

Extras include a 50+ minute documentary (Godard, Love and Poetry), and introduction by Colin McCabe, a subtitled “commentary” of the entire film by Jean-Bernard Pouy analysing the film, and an interview with Anna Karina.

Godard: The Essential Collection Blu Ray is released on the 1st February 2016, and I’ll be reviewing the final disc in the set, Alphaville, next week.

Thursday, September 15, 2022

Jean-Luc Godard - Contempt

Continuing my week of reposting the reviews I did of the late Jean-Luc Godard's movies for the old Geekologists blog, the third movie in the bluray boxed set I was sent to review thanks to the lovely folk at STUDIOCANAL is 'Contempt'.

(Originally published January 2016)

On the 1st February 2016, STUDIOCANAL is releasing a boxed set of films by the legendary director Jean-Luc Godard on blu-ray. Over the last few weeks I’ve been reviewing the disks one at a time, and this week I turn my attentions to the third movie in the set, 1963’s “Le Mépris”, aka “Contempt”.

The previous film, “A Woman is a Woman” was Godard embracing colour and cinemascope in a tale of woman wanting a child, and the conflict with her partner over that.

In stark contrast, “Contempt” tackles another couple falling out, but instead of the playful fun of the previous film, we’re presented with the harsh frustrations of a couple failing to communicate. Failed playwright Paul (Michel Piccoli) is hired to rewrite a movie of The Odyssey, currently being filmed by the one and only Fritz Lang (played by himself). Paul brings his wife, former typist Camille (the legendary Brigitte Bardot), who catches the eye of the film’s producer, Prokosch (Jack Palance). 

Prokosch wants to make the movie more of an action Hollywood movie, but Lang wants to make an art film. However, when Paul allows Prokosch to drive his wife home, Camille changes. Thinking Paul has offered her up as some form of payment to get his job on the film, she finds Paul utterly contemptible (hence the title of the film) and their relationship breaks down.

The whole film can be read on many levels. It could be that the lead characters are mirroring the Odyssey, with Paul and Prokosch as Odysseus and Poseidon, and it can also be taken as a mirror of real life (with Paul as Godard, Camille as Godard’s wife, Anna Karina). The parallels between the movie and the making of the movie is also seen in the way that the producers want a big budget Hollywood movie, demanding more action and nudity, when Godard wanted to make art. The opening shot of Brigitte Bardot’s naked (but not explicit) body was not in the version Godard wanted to make, but the producers insisted, claiming he couldn’t make a film with Bardot without a nude scene.

The film itself is gorgeous as you’d expect. Filled with colour, beauty and lush cinematography. In fact, the cinemascopic widescreen is utilised in true Godard fashion for a protracted argument scene. In “A Woman is a Woman”, and to some extent, “Breathless” before it, Godard had a lengthy apartment scene, letting the characters communicate their feelings, their motivations, and argue. In “A Woman is a Woman” this argument was fun, witty and clever, with a humorous take by using book titles to express their words when they were not talking to each other. In “Contempt” words are the characters downfall, and the widescreen pans slowly between the characters, often in different rooms, emphasising the distance growing between them. 

Like “A Woman is a Woman”, I’d not seen this one before, and it is heralded as a masterpiece of cinema. The film is gorgeous, looks fantastic, and is beautifully made. But the film isn’t a happy watch, filled with frustrations, lack of communications that ultimately ends in tragedy. Godard was making a big budget Hollywood-esque film, with most of the budget being spent on one of the biggest actresses at the time. Godard was intrigued about making a big budget movie, and this really wasn’t one he enjoyed. After this, he’d go back to the movies he enjoyed making.

The blu-ray is simply gorgeous, with a marvellous and pristine presentation, keeping the beautiful colour. Included on the disk is an introduction, as well as two hour long documentaries (“Once upon a time there was… Contempt” and “The dinosaurs and the baby” - a discussion between Godard and Fritz Lang) and a half hour making-off “Contempt-Tenderly”, as well as a conversation with Fritz Lang and a trailer (that blows the ending of the film, so don’t watch it first!)

Definitely worth watching, but not as much fun as “A Woman is a Woman”. 

Wednesday, September 14, 2022

Jean-Luc Godard - A Woman Is a Woman

Yesterday I posted a review of Breathless I wrote back when STUDIOCANAL released a five movie bluray set of Jean-Luc Godard's work, as the news had just hit of the legendary director's passing. 

Today, I'm continuing the reposting of those reviews from the long gone blog, this one of the movie "A Woman Is A Woman".

(Originally posted Jan 2016)

On the 1st February 2016, STUDIOCANAL is releasing a boxed set of films by the legendary director Jean-Luc Godard on blu-ray. Last week, I had a look at the first film in the box, the stunning and ultra-cool “Breathless” (À Bout De Souffle). This week, I turn my attentions to Godard’s first work in Cinemascope and colour, “A Woman is a Woman” (Une femme est une femme).

Still oozing in cool, Godard embraces colour and cinemascope and feels like it is paying tribute to the big budget, colour musicals of Hollywood. But it still retains its originality, its playfulness with the medium and film language, to make it unmistakably Godard’s, and genuinely wonderful.

I’d not seen the film before, but reading the synopsis it sounds horribly dark. Angela, an exotic dancer in a strip club is in a relationship with Émile. She wants to have a baby, but he doesn’t, fearing it’ll tie him down and stop his chauvinistic galavanting. She turns to his friend Alfred, who is in love with her, and threatens to sleep with him to get what she wants.

It could be seen as a dark, and slightly depressing story of a love that has gone cold. A relationship coming to an end, and Angela’s desperation to have a child. But it’s not. Far, far from it. 

Instead the film is bright, colourful, filled with humour and music that feels more like a modern independent romantic comedy, like “(500) Days of Summer”. It’s no surprise that “A Woman is a Woman” is one of Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s favourite films. 

Anna Karina plays Angela with such vibrancy and humour, she is absolutely mesmerising. You wonder why the cold Émile, played by Jean-Claude Brialy, isn’t worshipping the ground under her feet. They have a strange relationship, and most of the film they are arguing, but not in a horrible way. There have been films where couples argue or hate each other (“War of the Roses”, “The Breakup”) which I have absolutely hated, coming out of the film feeling depressed. This, the arguing is sweet and amusing. There are segments where they refuse to talk to each other, highlighting words from book covers to insult each other. But in between her arguing and telling Émile that she hates him, she looks to the camera, breaks the fourth wall, and tells the audience that she really loves him.

The other man in her life, Alfred, is played by Breathless superstar Jean-Paul Belmondo. Playing it cool and rogue-like again, but in a more subtle way that before, and showing a real affection for Angela. 

I won’t tell you how the film is resolved, it seriously should be seen. It has lovely quirks - like Angela going to answer a phonecall, throwing a frying egg up into the air, answering the call, coming back to catch the egg - and plays with Godard’s signature jump-cuts perfectly - one of Angela’s dancer friends changes clothes by simply walking behind a post. Add fourth wall breaking, cycling around an apartment, and captions on screen to add to the mix, and you’re presented with a wonderful treat that has already become a favourite in my books.

The blu-ray is suitably gorgeous, though the music track seemed a lot louder than the rest of the film (probably more a problem with my TV set up than the film). Extras on the disc include an introduction, and an interview with Anna Karina. 

Tuesday, September 13, 2022

Jean-Luc Godard - Breathless

Many moons ago I used to write movie reviews and go to press conferences and all those exciting things. I was in the room with 95% of the Avengers, the Guardians of the Galaxy, the cast of Antman, and more. When doing those movie reviews, I was given the opportunity to review a new BluRay set of Jean-Luc Godard movies that came out in 2016, and I leapt at the chance.

I have fond memories of my A-level Film Studies class, being told how Godard filmed almost ad-lib and composed the story in edits. How the iconic jump-cuts worked, and the super-hip style of the movies. I was mesmerised. It was like a whole new door of movies was opened to me, and I eagerly watched as many movies of his as I could. 

With his passing this week, I thought I'd republish the reviews of that boxed set as the site they were written for has long since gone, starting with the first Godard movie I saw - Breathless.

(Review from 2016)

On the 1st February 2016, STUDIOCANAL is releasing a new boxed set of films of the legendary director Jean-Luc Godard on blu-ray. When the lovely people at STUDIOCANAL offered to send an advanced review copy of the set, my thoughts flew back to my dim and distant youth - sat in my film studies class and being shown Breathless (À Bout De Souffle) for the first time, mesmerised by the freedom, the cool and the style.

The chance to see it again and review it? I couldn’t pass it up.

Breathless is simple, underground, and the very height of cool. Made in 1959, using new lightweight cameras, Godard went out into the streets of Paris to film without the baggage of a huge film crew, or even permission to film. Writing the script usually on the morning of each day’s filming, the movie is a true guerrilla film-maker’s dream. 

The story follows relative newcomer Jean Paul Belmondo as Michel Poiccard, a gangster and criminal who returns to Paris after shooting a cop. There he reunites with a beautiful young American, Patricia Franchini (played by the wonderful Jean Seberg), and he tries to convince her to run away with him to Italy. He just needs to get the money owed to him before the police track him down.

A simple plot that frames a love story that is so beautifully played with such natural ease, you cannot help but be mesmerised by the performances. 

Breathless is often heralded as the birth of the French New Wave, the “Nouvelle Vague” movement of the 60’s. Movies were created with little or no script, sometimes completely redubbed with new dialogue to make a plot in editing. The jump-cuts quickly feel natural and while an audience brought up with purely Hollywood movies will be shocked at the sudden cuts and odd continuity, the freedom this style brings infused cinema with a fresh breath of creativity and cool that remains just as smooth today.

The blu-ray has been lovingly restored, overseen by the film’s cinematographer, Raoul Coutard, and given a gorgeous enhancement that retains the grain of the original film. While it may not be the super-crisp picture you’re used to with modern movies, this looks just like the film was intended and how it would have looked when first shown. (Though there are some missing frames that could not be restored).

The disc also includes a host of extras, including an introduction to the film, a 50min documentary about Godard’s influence on American directors, an 80min documentary (Room 12: Hotel de suede) looking at the making of the film, as well as a feature on Godard and one on Jean Seberg. 

All I can say is it’s incredibly cool, and I’ve still got four discs to review! It may not be your average geekdom for this site, but it’s well worth checking out if you’re interested in film.