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Godard won major acclaim during the Sixties as part of the French New Wave with Breathless, Alphaville and Pierrot le fou. While he’s produced movies over the last forty years, they rarely hit the major art house circuit in America. In 1985 Hail Mary became a slight sensation when American religious groups went after it. Nothing helps box office like a rabid opposition giving it free publicity. The four films on this collection were made around the time of Hail Mary, but weren’t sacrilegious enough to get the Holy Rollers to picket.
Passion (1982) has a bored director (Jerzy Radziwilowicz) of a TV project hooking up with two women. His first conquest is Hanna Schygulla. She owns the hotel that the film crew uses. But he’s not happy with a single location affair. He finds time to mess around with Isabella Huppert, an unemployed factory worker. Godard doesn’t let the film play out between the sheets. It’s quite talky and everyone wants to analyze their every motion. The movie within the movie looks like R.E.M.’s “Losing My Religion” video. But there’s plenty of nudity around the soundstage’s swimming pool.
Describing the plot of First Name: Carmen (1983) will barely help you understand what the hell is going on. Carmen (Maruschka Detmers) borrows a beach house from her institutionalized filmmaking uncle (Jean-Luc Godard). She and her friends supposedly want to make a small movie in the place. In reality she’s using it as a hideout after a bank robbery. The during the heist, she picks up a new henchman (Jacques Bonnaffe). They fall in lust. They borrow the Uncle’s apartment in Paris for a kidnapping plot. But it’s not that simple because this movie is so damn French. There’s a whole storyline about a string quartet rehearsing. It’s easy to think that the freakish crime story is the inner distraction causing the violist (Myriem Roussel) to screw up in her playing. But this film is not merely in her mind since all the characters meet for the big finale scene. Luckily Godard remembers that the best way to calm down a confused audience is to toss a little flesh onto the screen. The great cinematographer Raoul Coutard does an amazing job with the landscape that’s Detmers’ body. She spends quite a bit of time on screen exposed from the waist down. Wonder if this is where Robert Altman was inspired to have Julianne Moore duplicate this acting technique in Short Cuts?
Detective (1985) features the residents of Hotel Concorde St. Lazare in Paris. This is like an extremely French version of the old Hotel TV series. Several plots weave across the screen. There’s detectives trying to solve a murder. Two guys beg a fight promoter (Johnny Hallyday) to pay up. Turns out the promoter also owes fat dollars to mobsters. He fears his upcoming fight’s payday can’t be split between them. Somebody might be checking out inside his luggage. Hallyday is the Elvis Presley of France, but he doesn’t break into song. No matter how confusing Detective gets, Godard settles us down with Emmanuelle Seigner giving a nightie fashion show. She continual flashes the camera between silk tops.
Oh, Woe Is Me (1993) is supposed to be “a modern take on the Greek myth where Zeus descends to earth to seduce a woman by disguising himself as her husband.” That’s what the box says. This film is pure weirdness. There’s unexpected flashbacks and dialogue over blackness. There’s title cards don’t come close to making things simple. The characters talk as if they are giving monologues to perfume commercials. A publisher (Bernard Verley) arrives at a small town to explore the rumor of the Zeus seduction. The couple in question is Laurence Masliah and Gerard Depardieu. While the characters long for spiritual meaning from this visit from a god; a viewer will spend most of their time merely wondering what the hell is happening. Depardieu does know how to play a god in human skin. In the midst of the confusion, his expressions almost make things seem sane as if there’s a simple movie about to escape. But there really isn’t.
For the casual fan of foreign films, this quartet from Godard will be like your first shot of Pernod. The experience is either going to go down smooth or you’ll be rushing for the bathroom. For all the irritating qualities in these movies, there’s a strange charm to them. The images are as beautiful as the women Godard cast in the main roles. By the second film in this collection, you’ll be hankering for a crepe and demanding all cinema quit pandering to reality.
All four films are presented in 1.33:1. The transfers look amazing. The fleshtones are inspirational.
The French soundtrack is Dolby Digital Mono. The sound is crisp and clean. The subtitles are in English and Spanish. It’s a little confusing during moments where the subtitles are translating the dialogue and screen titles.
Jean-Luc Godard: A Riddle Wrapped in an Enigma (29:30) has a few film writers discuss the nature of Godard’s approach to filmmaking. “You don”t make a movie. The movie makes you,” Godard once said. The writers interviewed give the history of each of the four movies on the set. They also attempt to explain the movies with deconstruction techniques, but what’s the point of that exercise of madness?
These four Godard films rarely get shown in International Film Studies class. They aren’t the easiest of films to follow or explain. Amongst the confusion and weirdness, Godard keeps our attention by letting the actresses shine. These are French art films.
Lionsgate Entertainment presents Jean-Luc Godard 3-Disc Collector’s Edition. Directed by Jean-Luc Godard. Starring Gerard Depardieu, Johnny Hallyday & Maruschka Detmers. Running time: 354 minutes. Unrated. Released on DVD: February 5, 2008. Availalbe at Amazon.com.