The Films (4/5, 3/5)
Agnes Varda is a director who before I saw this release was completely alien to me. I had seen parts of her film, Cleo from 5 to 7 (1961), because of the short skit involving Jean-Luc Godard and Anna Karina, but other than that nothing. Varda belonged to the second group of Nouvelle Vague (French New Wave) called the Left Bank and is a strong feminist who adds those messages to her films. With this in mind I expected feminist art films, and that was it. Boy was I in for a surprise.
Jane B. Par Agnes V. (1986) is an experimental “self-portrait” of model and actress Jane Birkin, who is scared of turning 40 in a few days. Birkin plays various roles and herself, as she shows off her modeling talents and she monologues from her heart. The plot is paper thin at best, so the experience of watching the film is a little harder to explain. All I can say is it’s definitely one of a kind.
Jane B. Par Agnes V. completely caught me off guard. Well on the surface it looks and sounds like a biopic, it’s also shot with documentary realism, the movie is a wonderful mixed bag. Usually experimental films run out of steam, or can alienate the audience, but this movie just mesmerized me. The movie flip flops from fictionalized accounts of history and Birkin’s actual life, to Agnes Varda sitting in front of the camera and talking about why she chose to film Birkin’s life. While this sounds confusing, the movie is quickly paced and filmed with energy, it never lacks or makes you double guess where everything is going. The creative juices are flowing from every scene. To compare this movie to a Jean-Luc Godard film for a moment, Godard uses a lot of these same tricks, but usually by the end of one of his films, I’m tired out and ready for it to end, like 1967’s Weekend. Jane B. on the other hand, flies by and doesn’t stop for anything.
The cast really shines from the complex and earthy Birkin to the calm and motherly Varda, who pops up many times and can be heard directing at time. The movie is also filled with cameos. Jean-Pierre Leaud pops up in a clever twist when Varda asks who else should star in the movie. Even though he is only in the one scene, his comic timing really adds to the film. The most surprising cameo in the movie is Italian actress and Mario Bava favorite Laura Betti (Bay of Blood and Hatchet for the Honeymoon) who plays Lardy in a Lardy and Hardy skit. Jane B. Par Agnes V is truly a once in a lifetime experience.
Kung Fu Master! Is a very misleading title and a misleading movie. I’ll go ahead and say this movie is not for everyone. Kung Fu Master! Tells the story of a depressed middle aged mother (Jane Birkin), who slowly falls in love with a friend of her daughters. The 14-year-old boy (Mathieu Demy) is a charming young man who is obsessed with a video game called Kung Fu Master, and he too starts falling for the mother. Things head toward a tragic ending when the boy joins the mom and her two daughters for an Easter vacation to England.
Kung Fu Master! (1987) was filmed back to back with Jane B. Par Agnes V. and in an odd way plays out like a spin-off of the last film. The story was dreamed up during Jane B. and you can even see an unedited clip of Kung Fu Master in Jane B. There’s no way around the taboo subject matter, so let’s get it out of the way. The material can be shocking at times but the movie handles it tastefully. There’s no actual sex in the movie but the sexual tension is there. The movie is more interested in bigger themes such as aging and the lack of romance in the newer generation. The love between the two characters is real but both know it’s forbidden and deal with the consequences by the end.
The movie also reflects the late 80’s AIDS scare, with plenty of references to it. Condoms are used as visual gags and there is plenty of close ups on posters showing the growing numbers of infected people. This also balances out the more romantic and old fashioned scenes at the beach house. Also the blooming video game culture is shown throughout the movie, as every kid talks about arcades and the newest games. The cast also gives great performances. Jane Birkin shines as the tragic mother and Demy gives a lot of depth to his part for a child actor.
Audio/ Video (4/5)
Both films are in stereo French with white easy to read English subtitles. The Subtitles for Jane B. have a few spelling errors, but nothing to worry about. The audio is clear with no hisses or pops. Both moves are 1080p with gorgeous transfers that show off the beautiful cinematography. Jane B has some heavy film grain in some of the brighter scenes, but over all is well balanced with some deep blacks for contrast. Kung Fu Master! Has almost zero grain.
The release comes with an 8-page book of liner notes with an essay on the films by Sandy Flitterman-Lewis and an interview by Agnes Varda. On the Discs themselves, we get a 21-minute interview with Varda on Jane B and a 25-minute interview for Kung Fu Master. Also included is the 2015 release trailers for both films. Both Interviews are very interesting and Varda comes off as a nice person. Definitely worth a watch.
Jane B. Par Agnes V. (1986) is one of the most enjoyable films I’ve seen in a long time. Kung Fu Master! Is defiantly not for everyone but may surprise viewers looking for an offbeat romance. Both of these films have opened up my eyes to Agnes Varda and I can’t wait to see more from her. To top all this off, we get a gorgeous release from Cineliciouspics. Highly Recommended for Jane B.