December 7, 2023

Revisit Jean-Luc Godard’s early films with the extras-laden Essential Blu-Ray Collection

The classic A Bout de Souffle starring Belmondo and Seberg brought free-running Sixties’ cool to the world a year before the decade itself kicked off. That’s over fifty years ago yet even today the free-wheeling, fast-paced story is a cracker of fast cut b&w shots and repeated musical riffs. It’s set in Paris, which never hurts, but it’s Godard’s hand-held camera shots and improvised dialogue that stick in the mind.

Now’s the time to revisit A Bout de Souffle along with some of Godard’s other films which have been collected on Jean-Luc Godard – The Essential Blu-Ray Collection. The Swiss-French director has made some shockers that I haven’t been able sit through to the end, but the films here are all early Nouvelle Vague classics – Breathless, Le Mepris, Pierrot Le Fou, Alphaville and Une Femme est une Femme.

With original release dates from 1959 to 1965 there’s a high chance that you’ve seen all these films before. Of course these are Blu-Ray transfers for the best visual experience yet. But it is the ongoing list of extras that makes the set unmissable for the Godard fan. These include useful and informative documentaries and interviews including those with Anna Karina that demonstrate the ravages of time that humans suffer. Jefferson Hack contributes a piece on Breathless, and the monocled Fritz Lang features on the extras of the Le Mepris disc.

The discs also include more fillery fare such as a German TV advert, posters and trailers. Of the five films Alphaville and Une Femme est une Femme have less extras, but in total there are over six hours of bonus material as well as a booklet featuring essays on each film from critics and directors.

One of the leaders of the French New Wave, a key influence on the American cinema of the 1970s and one of the few true auteurs in cinemas, at 85 Jean-Luc Godard is a little old to still be called an enfant terrible. Nevertheless his original Nouvelle Vague films retain a sense of novelty and experimentation right from the first credits.

If you want to find out more about the productions dive straight in to the extras, though if you haven’t seen the films or don’t remember the plots, don’t watch Colin McCabe’s introductions first. They are informative and interesting – but also unexpectedly spoiler-ridden.

Recommended for all Godardian scholars

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Which films are in the box?

À Bout De Souffle (1959)
Cert: 15 / 115 mins
Stylish and sexy, Breathless is a tale of a young man on the run in Paris at the end of the 50’s, Breathless shook up the film world upon its release and has made a lasting impression on cinema history. Starring Jean Paul Belmondo, the film was produced by Godard from an original treatment by François Truffaut in a production that united the four initiators of the ‘Nouvelle Vague’ – Claude Chabrol acted as artistic director while acclaimed director Jean Pierre Melville appeared in front of camera.

Cert: PG / 80 mins
Angela (Anna Karina) is a stripper living in Paris with her husband, Emile (Jean-Claude Brialy), who is a bookseller. She wants a child, he doesn’t. Emile’s obsession with cycling interferes with the love of his wife. Angela embarks on a dangerous game to try and reignite Emile’s passion for her, by involving Alfred (Jean-Paul Belmondo), a good friend of theirs, in her quest for a baby. Alfred is in love with Angela and, it seems, more than willing to be the third corner of his love triangle. Written and directed by Godard, the film was his second, winning both him and his wife Anna Karina awards at that year’s Berlin Film Festival

LE MÉPRIS Contempt (1963)
Cert: 15 / 99 mins
Paul Javal (Michel Piccoli) is hired by an American producer Prokosch (Jack Palance) to commercialize director Fritz Lang’s adaptation of The Odyssey, about to begin shooting in Rome. Whilst attempting the rewrite in Capri, Javal’s wife Camille (Bardot) spends an unexplained hour in the company of Prokosch, possibly at the behest of her husband, although this is never made clear. This sets off an argument between the couple that hints at deeper problems within the marriage and the contempt Camille feels for her husband.

Cert: 15 / 113 mins
Based on Lionel White’s novel Obsession, Pierrot Le Fou is the story of a bored husband who runs away from Paris to the South of France with an unpredictable but beguiling young babysitter (Anna Karina) after a corpse is found in her flat. After an idyllic time at the seaside they hit the road once more and get by from stealing, soon becoming embroiled in the machinations of two rival gun running gangs and a man who may or may not be the girl’s brother. Belmondo was nominated for a BAFTA for his perfomance in this tragic tale of a romantic couple who cannot escape fate no matter how far they flee.

Cert: PG, 95 mins
Written and directed by Godard, Alphaville is the strangely beautiful futuristic tale of Lemmy Caution, an American private eye sent to a planet ruled by Von Braun, a malevolent scientist who has outlawed human emotions in favour of logic. The film deals with the fight between individualism in face of inhumanity and blind conformity, and won the Golden Bear award of the Berlin Film Festival in 1965.

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