Blu-ray: Jean-Luc Godard’s ‘A Married Woman’

marriedwomanBDA Married Woman (Cohen, Blu-ray, DVD), subtitled “Fragments of a film shot in 1964,” is Jean-Luc Godard’s modern portrait of love and sex in the media-saturated sixties with Macha Méril in a role that was clearly meant for Godard’s wife and longtime muse Anna Karina (they were separated at the time) and it channels Godard’s feelings at the time. Like Karina, Méril’s Charlotte is beautiful young woman who is married to an older man and having an affair with an actor. The film opens on a montage where Charlotte is reduced to parts—legs, arms, back, lips, midrift, isolated glimpses of the naked female suggesting those erogenous zones that could not be photographed in a mainstream feature film—caressed by her unidentified lover. It’s shot in creamy cool black-and-white by longtime cinematographer Raoul Coutard and the strikingly handsome formality is both erotic and removed, suggesting a physical intimacy and an emotional disconnection even in even the most intimate scenes of lovemaking and pillow talk.

Charlotte has no close friends (at least that we see), lives in a sleek modern apartment devoid of lived-in warmth, and shrinks from the touch of her pilot husband Pierre (Philippe Leroy). He’s an intellectual with a condescending attitude and she’s more comfortable living in the moment than grappling with history and memory, which becomes all too apparent in their uncomfortable post-dinner dialogue. In between the lovemaking and the conversations, Charlotte discovers she is pregnant. She doesn’t know which man is the father

It is one of Godard’s most visually handsome films, even while it becomes a study in alienation and disconnection. Advertising images, logos, newspaper headlines, and scraps of text fill the film. Lingerie ads are found in every magazine she peruses and loom over her from massive billboards and the sides of buildings as she walks the streets, reducing women to their sexuality. She’s practically a commodity herself (the ideal of woman as seen in the ads) desired by her husband in a marriage disintegrating out of a lack of communication and her lover in an affair from which she is increasingly detached. She’s so alienated from her life that she does not seem to realize how unhappy she is.

A Married Woman has since been overshadowed by Godard’s more overtly political and confrontational films, such as Vivre sa vie and Weekend, and playful genre exercises like A bande a parte and Pierrot le fou, yet at the time it was a cause célèbre in France when the censorship board banned the film until Godard made minor changes and it became one of the most financially successful films of his career. Charlotte is a product of her environment, giving in to her consumerist impulses driven by the cacophony of advertising around her, but his feeling for Charlotte is genuine—few of his movies evince such emotional sympathy—and his criticism of consumer culture is part of her story.

Comes to Blu-ray and DVD in a new restoration from the original negative. It’s sharp and clean and beautiful black-and-white. The new release features a 30-minute interview with star Macha Méril and interviews with contemporary fashion designer and film producer Agnes B. and Godard scholar Antoine de Baecque, all recorded in 2010 for the British Masters of Cinema release, plus original rerelease trailers of the film. The film and the bonus interviews are in French with English subtitles and there is a bonus 8-page booklet with stills from the film.

A Married Woman [DVD]
A Married Woman [Blu-ray]

Also new and notable:ManhunterMann

Manhunter (Shout! Factory, Blu-ray), Michael Mann’s film of Thomas Harris’ novel, is doomed to live in the shadow of the Oscar winningSilence of the Lambs, its sequel in essence if not detail. An undeserved fate for such a sharp, coolly attenuated thriller. William Petersen is haunted but precise as the intent, troubled serial killer profiler whose methods literally lead to madness and is, frankly, a more insidiously scary Hannibal Lektor (as his name is spelled in his original cinematic incarnation) than Anthony Hopkin’s more theatrical take. Mann’s direction is a triumph of austerity and cinematic precision, and he shatters the carefully controlled mood in a blistering climax choreographed and cut to Iron Butterfly’s “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida.” The “Director’s Cut” features an additions 5 minutes of detail. It was remade under the novel’s title, Red Dragon, with Hopkins as Lector, but it doesn’t hold a candle to this. The two-disc set features the original theatrical cut in HD and the Director’s Cut with alternate footage in standard definition and a commentary track by Michael Mann from a previous release. It features a 40-minute interview with Brian Cox, newly-recorded interviews with actors William Petersen, Joan Allen, and Tom Noonan, director of photography Dante Spinotti, and composer Michel Rubin and soundtrack contributors Barry Andrews, Gary Putnam, Rick Shaffer, and Gene Stashuk, and archival interviews with actors William Petersen, Joan Allen, Brian Cox, and Tom Noonan and director of photography Dante Spinotti.

BusterKeatonCompleteBDBuster Keaton: The Shorts Collection 1917-1923 (Kino, Blu-ray, DVD) features the short films Keaton made with Fatty Arbuckle, the first director to direct Keaton, and all 19 short comedies made by Keaton between 1920 and 1923. Keaton always cited Arbuckle as his early mentor and you can find the seeds of Keaton’s style in Arbuckle’s assured, meticulously constructed final collaborations. The 19 shorts that Keaton made between 1920 and 1923 are, along with Charlie Chaplin’s Mutual comedies, the peak of creativity, ingenuity and comic grace in American silent comedy shorts. Though he did not take director credit for these films (or, for that matter, many of his feature), he was the creative artist behind every aspect of the production, including the direction. I haven’t seen this set but it features restorations by Lobster Films in Paris, an alternate version of “The Blacksmith” with new material, and alternate endings to two Arbuckle shorts.

More new releases on Blu-ray and DVD at Cinephiled

Blu-ray / DVD: Jacques Rivette’s ‘Paris Belongs to Us’

ParisBelongsParis Belongs to Us (Criterion, Blu-ray, DVD), Jacques Rivette’s 1961 debut feature, makes its U.S. home video debut in a Criterion edition, which is fitting for a founding brother of the French nouvelle vague and frankly about time for Criterion. It’s their first Rivette release and comes after Blu-ray releases of Le Pont du Nord (1981) and both versions of Out 1 (1971) from Kino Lorber. I call that a good start for the least appreciated filmmaker of that loose band of brothers (and one sister, Agnes Varda).

Familiar Rivette themes and fascinations are present from this very first feature. Anne (Betty Schneider), a small town girl in Paris for school, gets involved in a theater group led by the passionate but broke Gérard (Giani Esposito), whose rehearsals for “Pericles” have to keep finding new spaces as cast members drop out, and is introduced to vague, vast, international conspiracy by American-in-exile Philip (Daniel Crohem), a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist fleeing the blacklist and sliding into paranoia, alcoholism, and self-pity. He’s not just paranoid, he’s given up, content to lob cynical comments at pretentious parties with fellow writers and artists and then take refuge in his hovel of a room with the willing blonde Danish model next door. It’s as if he’s escaped McCarthyism convinced that it’s part of a global master plan. Anne’s older brother Pierre (François Maistre) has some connection to this group of artists, and perhaps the conspiracy itself, while Terry (Françoise Prévost), a glamorous American who lived with a Spanish composer and political activist named Juan who committed suicide before the film began, has since attached herself to Gérard and hovers around it all. The film hopscotches around Paris (some of the rehearsal spaces are marvelous little pockets hidden in the city) and the story kind of spirals in around itself.

There’s an intent seriousness to Paris Belongs to Us (and his sophomore feature, The Nun) that Rivette largely leaves behind with his subsequent features, which incorporate puzzles and a sense of play in his engagement with his conspiracies taht are less paranoid fears than literary themes escaped into the real world. Paris Belongs to Us, in contrast, is graver and a sense of despair takes over the artists and intellectuals who gather at parties to mourn the latest suicide of a colleague. The title itself is sourly ironic given the paranoia, the disappointment, the conspiracies, even the theatrical endeavor that, after struggling to find any stability, is smothered by its acceptance into the “legitimate” theater. Even the atmosphere (at least outside of the theater rehearsals, where a spirit of creativity remains) seems to breed disillusionment, with gray, overcast skies and chilly days. Paris does not belong to them at all. It belongs to the powerful, not the dreamers, and they powerful crush the spirits of the artists and idealists. Rivette’s attitudes evolved into something more hopeful even in the face of death in his later films.

Perhaps that’s why Rivette changed the way he made films later in the decade. Paris Belongs to Us is tightly scripted and directed. Out 1 and Celine and Julie Go Boating also engage in theater, conspiracies, obsessions, and playing detective to unravel a mystery, but they were launched with outlines rather than scripts, written along the way with the actors shaping the characters and suggesting the direction of the story. Films are collaborative efforts under any circumstances but Rivette clearly found his inspiration in greater collaboration, and the creative abandon of his later films have a more playful spirit and optimistic approach.

Yet for all the disillusionment of Paris Belongs to Us, there is a spirit of creativity and an existential sense of mystery. Why are the cops chasing Philip? Why has the tape of Juan’s guitar music gone missing, and what’s on it? What is Pierre’s part in all this? What exactly is this vast conspiracy? Schneider brings a spirit of curiosity and innocence to this little society that, for all its intellectual and artistic bonafides, is stuck in self-observation, and her detective work gives the film momentum. It’s a shame she did not continue on as an actress.

It should have been one of the first feature from the group of critics-turned-filmmakers—it was shot in 1958—but wasn’t released until 1961 for various reasons. By then the nouvelle vague had become defined by the fresh, spirited lyrical realism of Truffaut and the genre-busting and narrative experimentation of Godard and Rivette’s film, in many ways a reflection on the end of the fifties, looked decidedly conventional. Which is most certainly is not. It’s an accomplished, engaging, fascinating portrait of Paris at the end of the 1950s as the arts seem mired in tradition and political and social energy is suppressed at all levels. It’s interesting to see Rivette at the beginning, of course, but it is also engaging to see a different kind of cinematic rebellion, one that indicts the culture itself for its conservatism and fear of new ideas and innovation, the very thing that the nouvelle vague brought with a vengeance. Rivette captures the culture that the nouvelle vague rebelled against.

It’s also fun to go cameo spotting. Among the guests in the opening party scene are Claude Chabrol and Rivette himself, Jean-Luc Godard is a man at a sidewalk café interviewed by Anne, and Jacques Demy is also supposed be in the film (though I did not spot him myself).

Betty Schneider and Jean-Luc Godard in 'Paris Belongs to Us'
Betty Schneider and Jean-Luc Godard in ‘Paris Belongs to Us’

Criterion presents the US home video debut of the film in a new 2K digital restoration mastered from the original camera negative. Presented in the old Academy ratio of 1.37:1, it’s like a throwback to classic movies with a modern sensibility. It looks lovely, capturing the often shadowy, overcast atmosphere of his Paris, but you may also notice grit and artifacts in some shots, elements that disappear at the next cut. Just as the new restoration of Rivette’s Out 1 (released stateside by Kino earlier this year), the folks behind this version remain true to the restorer’s job, which is to come as close to possible returning the film to the same state as its day one premiere. These imperfections reflect the realities of its production and whether or not Rivette would have removed them had he the technology at the time, it’s not up to the engineers and restoration producers to second guess him. Curiously, it’s the only part of the production that shows its low-budget, independent origins. The images are lovely, clearly carefully composed and beautifully shot by Charles L. Bitsch (who went on to become an assistant director for Claude Chabrol, Jean-Luc Godard, and Jean-Pierre Melville).

The Blu-ray and DVD feature Rivette’s 1956 short Le coup du berger, which stars Jean-Claude Brialy and features appearances by his fellow film critics (and future nouvelle vague filmmakers) Claude Chabrol, Jean-Luc Godard, and Francois Truffaut, and an interview with critic and historian Richard Neupert.

Videophiled Classic: ‘The Killing Fields’ and two by Godard on Blu-ray

KillingFields
The Killing Fields (Warner, Blu-ray), the first major western film to confront the atrocities of the Khmer Rouge and the Cambodian genocide, stars survivor Dr. Haing S. Ngor as Cambodian national Dith Pran, translator and journalistic partner of New York Times reporter Sydney Schanberg (Sam Waterston) who was left behind when the Americans fled the country and was plunged into the terror of Pol Pot’s oppressive and brutal prison camps.

It’s the first feature directed by Roland Joffe, who came from TV and stage, and he shoots the drama with an unforced realism, lent a terrible grace by the handsome images and smooth, unobtrusive long takes of cinematographer Chris Menges, who keeps the camera panning and tracking the characters through almost every scene. It’s a remarkably effective stylistic choice, keeping the camera centered on Dith and Schanberg and the other journalists (played by John Malkovich and Julian Sands) while embracing the vivid reality of their surroundings, be it the bloody aftermath of a guerilla bombing in a busy city street, the rubble and human suffering in a village destroyed by bombs or the nervous tension and desperation of western journalists holed up in a nearly-gutted, overcrowded embassy as young, undisciplined rebel soldiers surround the gated grounds. Joffe keeps them firmly in the reality of their environments and the long takes makes the terrible consequences feel more immediate, the narrative more out of control. I think it’s still Joffe’s best film.

It earned seven Academy Award nominations and won three, for Ngor’s performance (though he is surely a leading actor in the film, he won in the “Best Supporting Actor” category), Chris Menges’ cinematography and Jim Clark’s film editing.

The Blu-ray debut is presented in a 36-page Blu-ray book with photos and production notes and features commentary by director Roland Joffe carried over from the earlier DVD release.

HailMary
Two films from the second half of Jean-Luc Godard’s career debut on Blu-ray and new DVD editions. He aroused the ire of people who wouldn’t otherwise even take notice of his films in 1985 with Hail Mary (Cohen, Blu-ray, DVD), his modern retelling the nativity. Mary (Myriem Roussel) is a basketball-playing student in Switzerland working at her father’s gas station and Joseph (Thierry Rode) a taxi-driver, and they both try to get their heads around the Virgin Mary’s pregnancy. The controversy, accompanied by the spectacle of picketers outside of small theaters screening the film, brought this small, quiet, rather spiritual little picture far more attention than anything Godard had made since Weekend. Juliette Binoche co-stars ina small role. The feature is paired with Anne-Mary Mieville’s delicate short film The Book of Mary, the tender drama of a failing marriage as seen through the eyes of a child which played with Godard’s film on its original theatrical release. French with English subtitles, with commentary by director Hal Hartley and Museum of the Moving Image Chief Curator David Schwartz, Godard’s video notebook, three additional featurettes, and a booklet with essays by critic David Sterritt and Boston University lecturer Charles Warren.

More releases, including For Ever Mozart and new Criterion discs, at Cinephiled

Cinema Landmark: Spending a ‘Weekend’ with Jean-Luc Godard and friends

Jean-Luc Godard’s “Weekend” (Criterion) is more than a movie.

This landmark of sixties cinema is a blast across the bow of a consumer culture eating itself alive. Mireille Darc and Jean Yanne play a horrifically greedy and venal bourgeois couple whose weekend in the country is stopped short by an epic traffic jam that devolves into a veritable war zone of burning cars and mangled bodies — a perfect backdrop for their feral ways. Their travels take them through a surreal assortment of artists and lost souls (including Jean-Pierre Léaud as both Saint-Just and a man in a phone booth singing his apologies to a lover) until they are taken by a band of cannibal revolutionaries.

Godard’s apocalyptic send-off to consumer society is a scathing satire where everyone and everything is fair game and the black humor has the bitter taste in bile. “End of movie. End of cinema.”

It’s been on DVD before from New Yorker, but Criterion masters their new Blu-ray and DVD editions from a 2k digital scan of the original camera negative. The supplements are anchored by “Revolutions Per Second” is a superb 24-minute video essay by Kent Jones that places “Weekend” in its cultural time and place as well as Godard’s career. Also includes archival interviews with actors Mireille Darc and Jean Yanne, cinematographer Raoul Coutard, and assistant director Claude Miller, and an excerpt from a 1967 episode of the French TV documentary program “Seize millions de jeunes” with footage from Godard on the set of “Weekend,” plus a booklet with a new essay by critic and novelist Gary Indiana and archival notes and interviews on the film.

More classics at Videodrone

DVD: Jean-Luc Godard’s ‘Histoire(s) du Cinema’

Early in the career of Jean-Luc Godard career, when he still the firebrand film critic aspiring to make features, Godard contemplated the “Mystery and fascination of this American cinema” and found himself bedeviled by an unshakable realization: “How can I hate John Wayne upholding Goldwater and yet love him tenderly when abruptly he takes Natalie Wood into his arms in the last reel of The Searchers?”

Forty years later, he’s still pondering the question in Histoire(s) du cinema, his epic rumination on cinema as industry and art. In eight episodes and four-and-a-half hours, Godard struggles between his conflicting perspectives on cinema: on the one hand an industrialized business that cranks out products designed to sell images, consumer goods and an entire ideology, and on the other, a history of images, stories and experiences that haunt the soul and stand with the great works of art.
Histoire(s) du cinema is not, strictly speaking, a history of cinema, at least not in a traditional documentary sense. The title provides the first hint. In French, “histoire” means both “history” and “story” and the (s) suggests the multiple histories and stories involved in any understanding of cinema, not the least of which is Godard’s complicated personal connection to film history. From passionate young critic staking out his position in the fifties to maverick director who shook up the staid French industry with provocative films to political commentator and social critic exploring the frontiers of expression and representation, he has been nothing if not provocative. The personal and political are constantly in flux in this collection of eight video essays, begun in 1988 and concluded in 1998, where the Nouvelle Vague legend considers the history of the movies with a typically idiosyncratic style and non-linear train of thought.

Continue reading on Turner Classic Movies

Released by Olive Video. Available on DVD from Amazon.

Two in the Wave on TCM

In 1959, critic-turned-filmmaker Francois Truffaut and 14-year-old actor Jean-Pierre Leaud became the toast of Cannes with Truffaut’s debut feature, The 400 Blows. In the next year, Truffaut and Claude Chabrol signed a guarantee for their colleague, Jean-Luc Godard, to direct his debut feature. Breathless broke the rules, won the Silver Bear at Berlin and the Prix Jean Vigo and, along with The 400 Blows, launches the Nouvelle Vague (better known to Americans as the French New Wave). Coming from radically different childhoods and backgrounds (Truffaut came from an unhappy working class home and stints in juvenile detention, Godard from an affluent, educated, supportive family), the directors were close friends and colleagues, sharing many of the same cinematic fathers (Rossellini, Bergman, Renoir), celebrating neglected directors of the past (Truffaut interviewed Hitchcock in a celebrated book, Godard interviewed Fritz Lang in a documentary and cast him in Contempt) and preaching the gospel of a cinema dedicated to presenting the real, the honest and the authentic, first in the pages of film magazines and then on the screen.

Emmanuel Laurent’s documentary Two in the Wave is an unconventional documentary using conventional techniques–stills and film clips, montages of newspaper clippings and magazine articles, archival interview clips with Truffaut, Godard and their shared cinematic son Leaud, and other newsreel and TV footage, all pulled together by writer/narrator Antoine de Baecque chronicling the history and spinning the stories of their lives and careers–and frames the sequences with actress Isild Le Besco (as close as you’ll find to a 21st century New Wave actress, thanks to her roles in some of the most adventurous French films of the past decade and her own directorial efforts) wordlessly sorting through the evidence and wandering through locations of some of their film. There are no new interviews here–no critics putting the filmmakers in context or explaining their influence, no collaborators reflecting on their work together–and in the spirit of his subjects, he doesn’t tell a linear story. He opens the film with Truffaut and Godard taking the world of cinema by storm with their respective feature debuts, then fills in their stories in successive steps back: their first short films, their work as fellow writers and film critics for “Cahiers du Cinema,” and finally all the way back to meeting in the front row of Eric Rohmer’s cinema club in 1949: the birth of a beautiful friendship based on a mutual love of cinema. For all the celebration of their art, this portrait of the filmmakers and their era is centered on their friendship, which in many ways was the foundation of the Nouvelle Vague.

Continue reading on Turner Classic Movies

Jean-Luc Godard, Anna Karina and “Vivre sa vie”

Vivre Sa Vie (Criterion)

Jean-Luc Godard’s fourth film marked a significant new direction for young turk director, away from the impassioned sketchiness of his furiously directed first films and into the realm of carefully composed scenes and formal visual strategies. Developed to showcase his wife and muse Anna Karina (they were on the verge of breaking up), the film follows the journey of shop girl Nana (both a reference to the Zola novel and an anagram for Anna) from frustrated aspiring actress surviving on the generosity of her dates to professional prostitute. Karina isn’t given a glamorous treatment here, not like in the playful musical A Woman is a Woman, but the camera adores her in her simple shop girl clothes and Louise Brooks “Lulu” bob and Godard directs her to the performance of her career, giving a humanity to this shallow girl. It’s not just the famous close-up of Karina, with tears streaming down her cheeks, intercut with Falconetti in Dreyer’s Joan of Arc, but her distinctive body language, her distracted behavior around her “dates” and furtive response to a police interview.

Anna Karina as Nana, looking for something more meaningful

Godard makes it a mix of character study, social commentary and street tragedy broken into twelve distinct tableaux (the full French title is Vivre sa vie: Film en douze tableaux), many of them composed of carefully arranged long takes by Raoul Coutard. On the one hand it’s a provocative portrait of social and sexual politics (at one point the soundtrack reverts to a recitation of laws on the business of prostitution) directed with Godard’s distinctive gift for counterpoint and dramatic disassociation, on the other a moralistic tale of a shallow, emotionally reckless young woman ultimately punished for her ambitions and infidelities.

Continue reading “Jean-Luc Godard, Anna Karina and “Vivre sa vie””

Blu-rays for the Week: Lionsgate’s StudioCanal Collection and GoodFellas repackaged

Lionsgate releases the inaugural Blu-ray releases of international classics in its “StudioCanal Collection” and it goes for the gold standard with definitive editions of Ran, Contempt and the original The Ladykillers.

The pageant of Ran
The pageantry of Ran

I’m no expert in the technical details of converting European digital masters to American standards, but it appears than many of the problems that crop up in adapting PAL masters to NTSC DVDs are not an issue for Blu-ray. The frame rate is different but the lines of resolution are standard for high-definition across borders and, thanks to the technological advances in high-def TVs and Blu-ray players, region-free discs from Europe will play on American machines, which have the ability to adjust for frame rate. That’s prologue to acknowledging that these Lionsgate discs are in fact struck from StudioCanal’s digital masters (the folks at DVD Beaver, who are relentless about these things, have compared the Lionsgate Blu-ray editions to the European pressings and found them to be, with one exception, exactly the same) and StudioCanal has made an effort to create definitive editions for these films. Which means, not only are they freshly, beautifully remastered for Blu-ray with great care, but they are filled with substantial supplements worthy of the films. StudioCanal seem to be emulating Criterion’s commitment to fidelity and respectful tribute to their cinema classics and even the engineering of simple, uncluttered, quickly-loading menus. They don’t bother with flashy graphics on the screen. It’s all about the movies, and they are great.

Continue reading “Blu-rays for the Week: Lionsgate’s StudioCanal Collection and GoodFellas repackaged”

DVDs for 7/21/09 – more Watchmen, 300 plus, a pair of Godards

Rorschach - a Batman over the edge
Rorschach - a Batman over the edge
I had my issues with Zack Snyder’s adaptation of Watchmen (see my review here), but those issues aside, this is a superhero film like nothing you’ve ever seen on the screen before. The idea of costumed superheroes into the real world of global politics wasn’t necessarily new when it was written in the early and is certainly not now, but the execution of the graphic novel pushes every element of the conception to mythic and apocalyptic dimensions while acknowledging the psychosis driving so many of the characters. Watching the film again, this time less wedded to the original graphic novel and more open to the temporal storytelling of the film, I found it a more satisfying experience. And part of that satisfaction comes from the expanded canvas of Zach Snyder’s “Director’s Cut,” which runs 24 minutes longer with added footage that serves character and story rather than spectacle.

The most obvious additions are the death scene of Hollis, the original Nite Owl (it’s a beautifully executed scene that perfectly translates the scene from the novel), and scenes of Nixon and his cabinet contemplating a first strike as the cold war moves closer to going nuclear. (No, the pirate comic is not added back in – and if you saw the abomination that came out as an animated version of “Tales of the Black Freighter” then you’ll be glad its not here – but you do see a few glimpses of the pages of the comic book and the characters around the news stand). But just as enriching are the little character bits laced through the film (especially Rorschach, perfectly embodied by Jackie Earl Haley right down to his throaty, phlegmy “hrrrmmm”), and the added length provides more time to reflect on the characters, their motivation and their fractured psyches: not just the schizoid conviction and moralistic hysteria of Old Testament avenger Rorschach and the sadistic psychosis of The Comedian, a brutal Fascist beating and murdering whoever he can under the facade of patriotism, but the growing disconnection of Dr. Manhattan and quantum logic that makes him both everywhere at once and tied to the moment of human experience, and the God complex and false piety of Ozymandias, who manages to profit from his plan to save mankind while putting on a show of complete altruism and pious regret for the people whose “sacrifices” made his plan possible (aka justification for killing anyone and everyone his plan calls for). It’s more compelling than exciting, a thoughtful film swirling with metaphysics and meta-storytelling, and I find that those dimensions come through even better on home video, which is well suited to slower narratives filled with novelistic detail. The longer cut delivers just that.

Continue reading “DVDs for 7/21/09 – more Watchmen, 300 plus, a pair of Godards”

Une Femme Mariee on TCM

My feature review of the DVD release of Jean-Luc Godard’s Une Femme Mariee is now running on Turner Classic Movies online.

Une Femme Mariee
Une Femme Mariee

Subtitled “Fragments of a film shot in 1964,” Une Femme Mariee, Jean-Luc Godard’s modern portrait of love and sex in the media-saturated sixties, is a collage of a life of a young wife having an affair. It would seem a perfect role for Godard’s wife and muse, Anna Karina, who had been the star of four earlier films, including Vivre sa vie and Band a parte, but they had recently separated after she had an affair with the co-star of another film. In her place he cast Macha Méril as Charlotte, the married woman of the title, and it’s no coincidence the brunette beauty resembles Karina, down to her stylish bangs. Charlotee, like Karina, she is a beautiful young woman married to an older man and having an affair with a actor. Godard had come up with the script idea earlier but it turned partially autobiographical by the time he started scripting, becoming his portrait of a world where, in the words of one critic, “Karina could leave him.”

While Godard continues to explore cinema language, trying to communicate life in a media saturated consumerist society, Une Femme Marie is also an intimate portrait of young woman so alienated from her life that she does not seem to realize how unhappy she is. Charlotte is a product of her environment, giving in to her consumerist impulses driven by the cacophony of advertising around her and practically a commodity herself (the ideal of woman as seen in the ads) desired by her husband and her lover. She’s in a marriage disintegrating out of a lack of communication and an affair from which she is increasingly detached. Godard has a sympathy for her as a victim of her culture, and traces her path to self-awareness and seriousness as she ponders her pregnancy and weighs her affair against her marriage. It is also Godard’s most visually handsome film to date, shot in creamy cool black and white by longtime cinematographer Raoul Coutard, who helps Godard create a sense of emotional distance in even the most intimate scenes of lovemaking and pillow talk.

Read the complete review at TCM here.

Macha Méril
Macha Méril - thank you DVD Beaver for this glorious frame capture

‘Six in Paris’ on TCM

My review of the 1965 New Wave omnibus film Six in Paris, recently released on DVD by New Yorker, is up at the Turner Classic Movies website.

The omnibus film – a feature made up of original short films by different directors, organized by a theme or a place – flowered in the sixties, especially in Europe, where directors of international repute were gathered to contribute short films on a variety of themes. Films from Boccaccio ’70 (1962) and RoGoPaG (1963) to The Witches (1967) and Spirits of the Dead (1968) brought together the cream of European directors, and even today the omnibus film occasionally resurfaces, as with Paris Je t’Aime, comprised of 18 shorts by 18 directors shooting stories in 18 separate neighborhoods (the “Arondissements”). You can trace the inspiration for that particular cinematic love letter to the city of lights directly back to Six in Paris, a film produced by Barbet Schroeder and directed by six of the most interesting and distinctive young filmmakers working in France in the 1960s. The French New Wave had exploded in the late fifties, when Francois Truffaut’s The 400 Blows, Jean-Luc Godard’s Breathless and Claude Chabrol’s Le Beau Serge brought a breath of cinematic freshness and stylistic excitement to the largely staid French film industry. Barbet Schroeder, who was born in Tehran to European parents, grew up in Central Africa and Colombia, and studied philosophy at the Sorbonne, had been an integral part of the movement. His ambition was ultimately to direct, but the filmmaker found his greatest contribution to the vibrant film scene as a producer of Eric Rohmer’s early films.

The inspiration for Six in Paris came from Schroeder, who hit upon the omnibus format as a way to work with most exciting young filmmakers in France and to explore the possibilities of shooting with new lightweight 16mm cameras. “It was the beginning of 16mm with direct sound,” he explains in a new interview on the DVD, and he hoped that the new technology would offer the young filmmakers the freedom of shooting quickly and spontaneously, on location and in the streets. Schroeder approached six directors he wanted to work with and offered them the challenge of making a short film in this new filmmaking paradigm. They had carte blanche to develop their own stories, so long as it all took place within a single neighborhood of Paris. It was something of a revolutionary idea, as even the low-budget productions of the French New Wave had all been shot on 35mm. The idea of mixing documentary and fiction techniques was primary in his Schroeder’s mind, and each director took up the challenge with essentially the tools but his own distinctive approach

Read the complete piece here.

Godard’s “Pierrot le Fou” – DVD review

Jean-Luc Godard, arguably the most important film director of the 1960s, began the decade with his feature debut Breathless, a scrappy, free-spirited, cinematically audacious take on the B-movie crime genre. By the end of the sixties, he had all but rejected commercial cinema for politically pointed commentaries and film essays like Sympathy For the Devil and Le Gai Savoir.

Smack in the middle of the genre goofing and cinematic game-playing of Godard’s earlier sixties film and the consumer satire and cultural deconstructions of his late sixties films lies Pierrot le Fou. Not that there was some sudden turn in direction; Godard embraced both sides throughout and they blur in so many films of this era. But Pierrot feels like a perfect midpoint (whether or not you could even objectively measure such a thing) in the way that it bounces between the flippant play of moviemaking fun and the social commentary on the modern world.

My extended review/overview of Godard’s Pierrot le Fou and Criterion’s new 2-disc edition is running on Turner Classic Movies online. Here is another excerpt: Continue reading “Godard’s “Pierrot le Fou” – DVD review”