Thursday, March 10, 2011

Phil takes a double shot of Godard-March 10, 2011

Sometimes I find myself looking online to see what films are playing so I can write a review, and realize that there isn't anything playing that tickles my fancy. Luckily, there is a vast world of films on DVD and now on Blu-Ray that demands my attention more than ever. It is in this world that I decided to reacquaint myself with an old friend of mine. His name is Jean-Luc Godard, the father of the French New Wave movement from the 1960s'. Godard first started out as a film critic for the highly influential periodical Cahiers du cinema, then became one of the most important filmmakers of our time. Drawing from politics, film history, French intellectualism, existential and Marxist philosophy, Godard's radical films challenged the conventions of Hollywood cinema and influenced French cinema. For a number of years, the fine folks at The Criterion Collection have been beautifully restoring most of Godard's classic films. I was fortunate to purchase two of his best: his film debut BREATHLESS and the underrated VIRE SA VIE.

Director Jean-Luc Godard

If you have never seen, or heard of BREATHLESS, you are missing out on film history. Like the description says on the box, "There was before BREATHLESS, and there was after BREATHLESS." That pretty much says it all. With all the energy of a 1940s' American gangster B-movie, it tells the simple story of Michel (Jean-Paul Belmondo), a French petty street thief, who steals a car and kills a policeman, while at the same time pursuing a naive American girl Patricia (Jean Seberg). She is wary of Michel's intentions and questions his lack of ambition, but proving that nice girls have a thing for bad boys, Patricia spends time with him in Paris before turning him in to the police. Using ragged editing techniques, handheld cameras, and a musical soundtrack that seems out of sync with the action, Godard succeeds at constantly reminding his audience that his film is an artificial reality having little to do with actual reality, but at the same time, drawing the audience into this fast-paced, madcap world of love and crime.

Jean-Paul Belmondo & Jean Seberg in BREATHLESS (1960)

The new dual-disc Criterion upgraded edition of BREATHLESS includes a restored high-definition digital transfer (approved by director of photography Raoul Coutard), interviews with Godard, and actors Jean-Paul Belmondo, Jean Seberg, video essays: filmmaker and critic Mark Rappaport's "Jean Seberg" and critic Jonathan Rosenbaum's "Breathless as Film Criticism," an eighty-minute French documentary about the making of Breathless, with members of the cast and crew, the French theatrical trailer, and a booklet featuring writings from Godard, film historian Dudley Andrew, Francois Truffaut's original film treatment, and Godard's scenario.

The year was 1962 and Jean-Luc Godard and wife, Anna Karina have worked on two films together: "Le petit Soldat" (created in 1960 but released in 1963 due to the film being banned) and the 1961 film "Une femme est une femme" (A Woman is a Woman). By that time, both Godard and Karina's marriage life became a public spectacle, especially rumors that their marriage was on the rocks. However, Godard was determined to make Karina a serious actress, and in 1962, VIVRE SA VIE is released upon the world.

Actress Anna Karina in VIVRE SA VIE (1962)
VIVRE SA VIE (MY LIFE TO LIVE) tells the story of Nana, portrayed by Karina, who is an aspiring Parisian actress but ends up becoming a prostitute. The film is more of a documentary, chronicling the downward spiral of Nana. The film is based on the studies of prostitution from " en est la prostitution" by Marcel Sacotte. Godard's filmmaking style improves with this film, but it's still unpolished, in the sense that it doesn't have the typical Hollywood ending. With this in mind Godard's ending for the film is that much more shocking, but even from the first chapter, we see Karina's fate. PRETTY WOMAN it ain't, so don't be expecting a happy ending. Like in real life, it is what it is, and it ends like it should.

This Criterion upgraded edition includes a new, restored high-definition digital transfer, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack, audio commentary featuring film scholar Adrian Martin, video interview with film scholar Jean Narboni, conducted by historian Noël Simsolo, television interview from 1962 with actress Anna Karina, excerpts from a 1961 French television exposé on prostitution, Illustrated essay on La prostitution, the book that served as inspiration for the film, stills gallery, director Jean-Luc Godard’s original theatrical trailer, new and improved English subtitle translation, and a booklet featuring an essay by critic Michael Atkinson, interviews with Godard, a reprint by critic Jean Collet on the film’s soundtrack, and Godard’s original scenario.

Sometimes I'm amazed that most people have never heard of Godard, or any of his films. These played such an important role on influencing the next wave of film directors that would transform Hollywood films and make it art. Directors Robert Altman, Francis Ford Coppola, Brian DePalma and Martin Scorsese have all stated how important Godard was and how their lives were never the same after seeing his films. It is important to inform people that there are films out there that need to be rediscovered, that need to be shown, that need to be talked about, and that need to be remembered. If you are reading this and you're interested in seeing these films, than I have done my job. Just make sure you share these films with the people in your life. After all, movies bring people together.

To purchase Godard's films and other DVD's, Blu-Rays, etc, visit 

Thanks for reading, and enjoy the show!

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