The Films (Un Film 2.5, British, Vent, Lotte, and Vladimir 3/5)
When it comes to all of the filmmakers from the Nouvelle Vague (French New Wave), Jean-Luc Godard is the most challenging to pin down and figure out. Godard proved to be the most experimental in terms of style and pushed all the boundaries. For better or worse. He also never stopped using his critical eye to unpack everything around him.
With the rising tensions of the late 60's and politics getting messier, it soon became clear that Godard was going to put all his energy in something to react. In 1967 he released the controversial and shocking WEEKEND. This film marked the end of his "traditional" style of filmmaking. What would come next served as some of his messiest and wild films. All pushing the limits of narrative, documentary, and essay films.
Together with journalist and activist, Jean-Pierre Gorin, Godard would make The Dziga Vertov Group. Named after director Dziga Vertov, who made MAN WITH A MOVIE CAMERA (1929). The Group would stand for a new standard in activist filmmaking. Many of the films would work as reactions to current events, and even pushed Maoism that Godard was interested in. Out of all the films they finished, Arrow Academy is releasing five them.
Nothing really could've prepared me for the onslaught of ideas and bizarre style that would explode from Godard's mind. These five films make even some of his 1959 to 1967 output look tame, and "normal". So, let's move on to the films.
First up is UN FILM COMME LES AU TRES (AKA: A FILM LIKE ANY OTHER, 1968), which tells the story of a group of students out in a field reflecting on the events of May 1968. The film is broken up into two parts, with the footage of the people in the field being repeated with different narration. Now talk about assault on the senses. UN FILM pushes out every thought and detail in rapid fire speed. The first 11 minutes alone are a mind-numbing mess of thoughts, quotes, phrases, and over lapping dialogue.
BRITISH SOUNDS (Aka: SEE YOU AT MAO, 1969) is a shorter and rougher film. Taking place mostly in a montage of city footage and a TV studio, SOUNDS is filmed in English and looks at communist ideas that could fall into place. A huge element of the film is a black and white program with a British announcer who rants about various groups of people in the style of a news cast. Godard's fascination with Maoism.
VENT D EST (aka: WIND FROM THE EAST, 1970) started life as a leftist spaghetti western, even starring Gian Maria Volonte, but soon devolved into a film about forming groups of activists. The movie pushed the idea of Meta humor, and broke itself up into two parts to show the yin and yan of filmmaking. Despite the non-stop absurdist narration and off-putting direction, VENT is still entertaining. Volonte is always fun to watch. The perverse thrill of seeing the villain from two of Sergio Leone's classics yelling Godardian lines and slumming around is a surreal joy.
LOTTE IN ITALIA (aka: STRUGGLES IN ITALY, 1971), is another 50-minute essay film about political troubles in Italy. Any story that can be formed is too free formed. In LOTTE, the editing style is pushed into over drive. Godard's use of editing gets into flash territory with sudden cuts to red or black. After 5 minutes It starts to wear you down. Not a bad film but underwhelming for sure.
The final film in the set is VLADMIR ET ROSA (1971), which discusses a fictional case about the Chicago Eight. Unlike VENT or LOTTE, this movie is more playful with its characters and pacing. Godard and Gorin play two filmmakers in the film who walk around with microphones and a boom mike recording material on the case. The rest of the movie plays along with the zany structure. The comedy court scenes, flash cuts to police brutality, and France doubling for the US, make it a surreal treat. Luckily its one of the more ground films in the set.
Godard would eventually return to more "narrative" filmmaking with 1980's EVERYMAN FOR HIMSELF. While these films may be challenging and hard to watch, they offer a high point in creativity and activism from Godard. And while you need to be in the right mood to watch them, I'm glad there around.
All five films have a well-mixed Soundtrack, despite the various sources of audio. All five of the movies come with a 1.0 Channel French LPCM audio. The scores or just samples of music are clear. There is no hiss or pops. The switches in narration and documentary audio, are noticeable, but are still clear. English subtitles are included.
The 1080p HD picture is the real breakthrough on this disc. These are some of Godard's roughest films, yet the footage is clear as day. There is some minor natural film grain. The black levels are balanced, and the focus is sharp. Even the black and white stock footage in UN FILM COMME LES AU TRES is clear and gorgeous.
The main extra on the first disc, is a two-hour interview with Jean-Luc Godard entitled "Conversation with JLG". Godard is lively as usual, and this discussion covers his whole filmography. Some of the footage gets blurry, but Godard keeps our attention. While I personally may not be the biggest fan of this creative output, I found this interview to be worth the price of the boxset.
On Disc 3 comes an ad Godard directed called, "Schick After Shave". The ad is about 45 seconds long, but it's classic Godard. On Disc 5 With get a set of interview segments/ introductions to the movies by film historian Michael Witt. Witt covers the whole history of The Group Dziga Vertov films, and events that led to each of the film's creations. Listening to the origins of these films, is a more entertaining watch.
Godard's Dziga Verov Group films are a tough sell. Unlike most of his 1959 to 67 period, these films push the average viewer's patience to new levels. An interesting experiment I respect more than love. But on the other hand, the two-hour interview with Godard is one of my favorite extra features on a Blu-ray. So, it's a mixed bag. But if you're already a Godard fan, this is essential. Recommended.