Blu-Ray Review: Godard – The Essential Collection

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By Last Caress.

In the late 1950’s a collection of critics at the influential Cahiers du Cinéma magazine, tired of the stifling rules, traditions and long held conventions around which the moviemaking industry at large lay cowed and obedient, began putting their own radical theories about how to make films in a fresh, inventive and daring way into practice.

Guerilla-style filmmaking, unconventional camera angles, stuttering editing techniques and jump-cuts- all were generally frowned upon by established moviemaking institutions, and all were readily adopted by this upstart pack of critics-turned-creators, not least because these methods were often hugely cost-effective but mostly because they lent vibrancy and an urgency to the movies themselves.

Godard - The Essential Collection

Godard – The Essential Collection

One of the founders of this collective (dubbed the “Nouvelle Vague” or “New Wave”) was Jean-Luc Godard, whose body of work since has seen him considered among the best moviemakers who have ever lived and whose reach influences directors such as Quentin Tarantino, Martin Scorsese and Steven Soderbergh. This week sees StudioCanal pull together three of their previous blu-ray releases along with two blu-ray debutants into one terrific five-movie set: Godard – The Essential Collection.

The films, then:

Breathless (1959)

Breathless (1959)

Breathless (aka À Bout De Souffle) (1959)
Stylish and sexy, Breathless is the epitome of cinematic cool. A fast tale of a young man (played by the magnetic Jean-Paul Belmondo) and his lover (the beautiful yet tragic Jean Seberg) on the run in Paris, the movie shook cinema audiences upon release and has left a lasting impression on the face of cinema history.

Une Femme Est Une Femme (1961)
Angela (played by Jean-Luc Godard’s wife Anna Karina) is a stripper living in Paris with her husband Emile (Jean-Claude Brialy). She wants a child but he doesn’t, so Angela seeks to reignite Emile’s passion by using friend Alfred (Jean-Paul Belmondo again) to make Emile jealous but it’s a dangerous game: Alfred is in love with Angela.

Le Mépris (aka Contempt) (1963)
Paul Javal (Michel Piccoli) is hired by American movie producer Prokosch (Jack Palance) to punch up the script for an upcoming Fritz Lang movie. However, an encounter between Prokosch and Paul’s wife Camille (Brigitte Bardot) sets off an argument between the couple that belies deep problems within the marriage.

Pierrot Le Fou (1965)
In which a bored husband (it’s that man Belmondo again) runs away to the South of France with a beguiling but unpredictable young babysitter (Anna Karina again) after a corpse is found in her flat. After an idyllic time by the sea they hit the road and find themselves in the crossfire of two rival gunrunning gangs and a man who may or may not be the babysitter’s brother.

Alphaville (1965)
Alphaville is a futuristic tale concerning American private eye Lemmy Caution (Eddie Constantine), sent via a missing person case to a distant space city ruled by a malevolent scientist, Von Braun, who has outlawed human emotion in favour of logic, whereupon he enlists the help of the scientist’s daughter (Anna Karina once more) to bring down Von Braun and the computer Von Braun created to maintain his grip on Alphaville.

Alphaville (1965)

Alphaville (1965)

So, should a complete newcomer to the works of Jean-Luc Godard just pony up the readies for five slabs of avant-garde Euro-cinema (plus a booklet), confident that they’re going to love them all? Well, no, I wouldn’t advise it. I would definitely advise that anyone and everyone unfamiliar with Monsieur Godard seek out Breathless and Bande à Part (the former of which appears in this set, the latter of which does not). If you like those, you might like the rest of this set; it’s also an easy recommendation of course to fans of the director who simply haven’t got any or even most of these films on blu-ray yet. All five movies look terrific given their age and budgets. And the three previously-released discs are packed with extras. Of the seven featurettes on the Breathless disc for instance, one runs almost an hour, and one runs almost an hour-and-a-half. Similarly weighty docs abound on the Le Mépris and Pierrot Le Fou discs, too. The other two discs aren’t quite as laden with goodies (although they both feature new interviews with Anna Karina – as does the Pierrot Le Fou disc – among other gallery/trailer treats) but, as this is the first time on blu-ray in an English-Friendly package for both Une Femme Est Une Femme and Alphaville, the movies themselves should provide more than enough incentive for fans of the French New Wave. All five movies also contain introductions by Colin MacCabe, professor of film and Godard specialist. Yes, all of the extras save the new Anna Karina interviews have seen the light of day previously on other releases, but they’re all new and all fantastic if you’ve never seen them before, aren’t they?

So whilst I can’t quite recommend such a hefty set to absolute newcomers to the Nouvelle Vague, Godard – The Essential Collection is most certainly a must-have for a Godard enthusiast looking to scoop up a clutch of his earlier films on blu-ray. Even if you’ve already got one (or two) of the movies, this set is still well worth picking up. Be warned, though: If you crash through too many French New Wave pics too quickly, you’ll probably find yourself gasping for a box of Camels by the end. I haven’t touched a cigarette in ten years, but watching eight hours of continuous tobacco inhalation really brings the old cravings back to the fore. Mon Dieu!

Godard – The Essential Collection is released on February 1st, 2016.

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