Pierrot le fou (1965) | Jean-Luc Godard’s anarchic on-the-road crime thriller romance still fascinates
Tired of his bourgeois wife and materialistic lifestyle, restless TV executive Ferdinand (Jean-Paul Belmondo) escapes to the French Riveria with his former girlfriend-Marianne (Anna Karina), who is being hunted by some gun-running gangsters.
But their carefree new life is quickly interrupted by their pursuers, and a man called Fred (Dirk Sanders), who may or may not be Marianne’s brother…
Belmondo scored a BAFTA nod for his performance in Godard’s anarchic tale about a couple unable to escape fate no matter how far they flee. Made off the cuff, but with meticulous attention, this free-wheeling road movie certainly displays the director’s love for American pulp fiction and pop culture, while also delivering an allegorical view of the Vietnam war.
Godard regular Raoul Coutard provides the beautifully mounted visuals, that evoke pop art and comics, while a cameo from American cult director Samuel Fuller serves to reminds us that what we are experiencing is not a film as such but ‘an attempt at cinema’. His theory that ‘Film is like a battleground. Love. Hate. Action. Violence. Death. In one word… emotion!’ perfectly sums up Godard’s fascinating, and somewhat frustrating, revolutionary post-modern experiment.
Pierrot le fou (Cert 15, 113 mins) is available on StudioCanal’s Jean-Luc Godard The Essential Blu-ray Collection five-disc box set alongside featuring Alphaville, Le Mépris, Breathless, and Une Femme est Une Femme.
The special features include the following…
• Introduction by Colin McCabe
• Anna Karina interview
• Godard, Love and Poetry (53min)
• Film Analysis by Jean-Bernard Pouy
• Trailer (2min)
• German TV advert (4min)
Parisian striptease dancer Angela (Anna Karina) yearns to have a child, but her bookseller husband Emile (Jean-Claude Brialy) is only interested in cycling. Angela then turns her attentions to Emile’s best friend Alfred (Jean-Paul Belmondo) who ends up falling in love with her.
This delightful light comedy from 1961 was Jean-Luc Godard’s second feature, but his first to be shot in colour and in a studio. It also earned him and his then wife Anna Karina awards at the Berlin Film Festival.
Channelling the spirit of American screwball comedies and musicals of the 1930’s, with an affectionate nod to director Ernst Lubitsch (Belmondo’s character is named after the Hollywood legend), this off-centre tribute is dominated by an engaging Karina as the naïve dancer and Belmondo as the gauche, tongue-tied Alfred. A colourful confection indeed.
Une Femme Est Une Femme (Cert PG, 80min) is available on StudioCanal’s Jean-Luc Godard The Essential Blu-ray Collection five-disc box set alongside featuring Breathless, Le Mépris, Pierrot le fou and Alphaville.
The special features include and introduction by Colin McCabe, an interview with Anna Karina, and galleries of photos and posters.
Fusing George Orwell’s 1984, a plot from 1950s pulp fiction, references from 1930s serials, FW Murnau’s Nosferatu, Fritz Lang’s Dr Mabuse, and Jean Cocteau’s Orphee, the 1965 monochrome future noir Alphaville is one of Jean-Luc Godard’s most idiosyncratic and inventive films, yet also one of his more accessiable ones.
Having appeared as novelist Peter Cheyney’s private eye Lemmy Caution in a series of French films in the 1950s and 1960s, US actor Eddie Constantine reprises his screen persona in this futuristic homage, which has been released as part of StudioCanal’s Jean-Luc Godard The Essential Blu-ray Collection.
When fellow secret agent Henri Dixon (Akim Tamiroff) disappears, Lemmy Caution sets out to the über-modernist city of Alphaville. His mission: to locate his old pal; destroy the sentient Alpha 60 computer, which is holding the city under totalitarian control; and apprehend its creator, Professor von Braun (Howard Vernon). With the assistance of von Braun’s programmer daughter Natacha (Anna Karina), can Lemmy rage against the machine or will he be assimilated like the rest of Alphaville’s denizens?
Winner of the Golden Bear award at the Berlin Film Festival in 1965, Alphaville has become one of those modern film classics that’s on every world cinema fans hit list. While not a sci-fi in the strictest sense, it’s truly inspired, helped greatly by the dazzling stylistic images of 1960s Paris that evokes the future (mainly brutalist architecture of glass and steel decked out in modernist decor) and pays homage to film noir (with its starkly-lit shots of seedy hotels and Paris’ périphérique); while Godard’s underlying themes of conformity versus individualism continue to resonant. And bringing it all together is the thunderously dramatic score and the performances of the two leads. A deadpan Constantine makes for an ideal dour, grizzled detective that’s seen better days (and the fact he’s not a good actor just emphasises Godard’s playful approach), while Karina oozes a coldly ethereal charm as the programmer on the path to enlightenment.
Alphaville (Cert PG, 95min) is available on StudioCanal’s Jean-Luc Godard The Essential Blu-ray Collection five-disc box set alongside Breathless, Le Mépris, Pierrot Le Fou, and Une Femme est Une Femme.
The special features on this release include a candid interview with Anna Karina; an introduction by Colin McCabe; poster gallery and a trailer.
Jean-Luc Godard is also being honoured in a retrospective at the BFI Southbank in London until March 2016. Click here for details.
Le Mépris (1963) | Is Jean-Luc Godard’s New Wave sensation an arthouse triumph or just an aching bore?
One of the New Wave’s masterpieces and a landmark in world cinema, the lauded French drama is back in cinemas in the UK, and is the centrepiece of a major retrospective of the director’s 60-year career at the BFI Southbank in London. It is also one of the key highlights in StudioCanal’s five-disc Blu-ray collection being released on 1 February.
But does it hold up 52 years on?
More Bold! More Brazen! And Much, Much More Bardot!
French screenwriter Paul Javal (Michel Piccoli) is offered a commission to rewrite a stylised adaptation of Homer’s Odyssey being directed by the legendary Fritz Lang (playing himself). But he’s soon at war with his beautiful wife, Camille (Brigitte Bardot), who mistakenly believes he is using her to get friendly with the film’s brash American Jeremy Prokosh (Jack Palance)…
Based on the novel A Ghost at Noon by Italian writer Alberto Moravia (The Conformist), Le Mépris was a huge success in France – and much of that was due to Bardot’s nude scenes which were added in at the behest of the film’s producers, Joseph Levine and Carlo Ponti. Godard had originally wanted Kim Novak and Frank Sinatra, but Ponti wanted his wife Sophia Loren and Marcello Mastroianni. In end, however, Godard got the right mix right with sex kitten Brigitte Bardot and French actor Michel Piccoli.
Making great use of the location settings (firstly Rome, then the island of Capri), Godard and cinematographer Raoul Coutard perfectly capture (in Scope) the primary colours of the Pop Art movement that was big in the day. With its radical improvised set-ups and repetitive use of Georges Delerue’s mournful soundtrack, this sumptuously dressed marriage-in-crisis melodrama certainly gave audiences something they had never seen before. But this monumental arthouse experiment is also an aching bore for those to don’t ‘get’ the caustic in-jokes and movie-making references.
A famous quote by film pioneer Louis Lumiere opens Godard’s artfest: ‘Cinema is an invention without future…’ And this is what drives most of th dialogue, which comes off like an internal rant by the director, who uses the film to expound his New Wave theories. While cinephiles may cream their pants over Le Mépris being a sleekly seductive film about film-making, newbies will be left wondering what the hell is going on as Piccoli and Bardot bicker for what seems like an eternity (actually 30-minutes) in a sparse modernist apartment in Rome.
The French film fans I watched the StudioCanal release with (which had issues with the subtitles at one point), laughingly described the film as ‘L’Avventura in colour’. Which it sort of is. But it also shares its arthouse DNA with Antonioni’s despairing romance, L’Eclisse, which came the year before. Only instead of static shots of the characters moving ever so slowly in a monochrome suburban Rome, we have Godard’s slow tracking shots as his characters spew dialogue like ‘When I hear the word culture I reach for my chequebook’. So, by the time the film finally moved to the blue-green waters of the Tyrrhenian Sea for the Capri scenes, my viewing companions were queuing up to drown themselves.
Thankfully the stunning scenery and architecture (notably the modernist Villa Malaparte on Punta Massullo), Palance’s red-hot Alpha Romeo 2600 and Bardot’s bare flesh do help to distract from the ‘non-existent’ story and wholly unlikeable characters: especially Bardot’s cold and contrary Camille, who not only tests the patience of Piccoli’s frustrated writer, but also ours…
Le Mépris (Cert: 15, 99min) features alongside Breathless, Pierrot Le Fou, Alphaville and Une Femme est Une Femme in StudioCanal’s Jean-Luc Godard The Essential Blu-ray Collection (available from 1 February) and is accompanied by the following extras:
• Introduction with Colin McCabe
• Once Upon A Time There Was… Contempt: An indepth 53-minute featurette in which Godard separates fact from myth over the making of the film.
• Contempt… Tenderly: A 32-minute ‘making-of’ that’s overshadowed by the previous one.
• The Dinosaur and the Baby: This terrific 61-minute TV special featuring Godard and Lang in conversation is a real treat.
• Conversation with Fritz Lang: The cinematic legend is interviewed in a series of on-set recordings (15min).
Simon Killer (2012) | Antonio Campos’ psychological thriller is as empty and soulless as the character being put under the lens
SO WHAT’S GOING ON?
Alone and adrift in Paris, American college graduate Simon (Brady Corbet) tries to get over his recent break-up with his girlfriend by taking solace in the company of prostitute, Victoria (Mati Diop). But after Simon finally wins her trust, it’s not long before he starts looking for a replacement in his affections.
AND IT BOILS DOWN TO THIS
One of the basic rules of filmmaking is that an audience must be able to sympathise with the characters – no matter how repellent they may be. But in this kitchen sink drama masquerading as psychological thriller, there is little to empathise in the character of Simon. Not that there is anything wrong with the acting, as Brady Corbet gives his all playing the sleazy little toe-rag who flits from one woman to another like a magpie in search of a new nest. What this film lacks is soul, and that’s down to the story, the direction and the camerawork.
With its cramped Parisian apartment setting and two central characters, director Antonio Campos’ Simon Killer is reminiscent of Bertolucci’s erotic dramas Last Tango in Paris and The Dreamers – but minus the kinky sex, big star names and colourful period settings. With his incredibly slow pans and headless framing, Campos strives to be arty in a Jean-Luc Godard/existential kind of way, but he fails to deliver. And as for the story, well there isn’t one and there’s no killer to speak of. For me, Campos’ psychological thriller is as empty and soulless as the character being put under the lens.
Eureka Entertainment’s The Masters of Cinema Series release includes a Blu-ray presentation (progressive presentation on the DVD); behind-the-scenes footage, interviews with Antonio Campos, producers Sean Durkin and Josh Mond, and Brady Corbet, trailer and booklet. Also included is Campos’ Palme d’Or nominated short film, The Last 15, which is actually way more interesting than the feature.
A Maybe Miss – because of all of the above.