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Studio: The Criterion Collection
Year: 1965
Cast: Jean-Paul Belmondo, Anna Karina, Sam Fuller
Director: Jean-Luc Godard
Release Date: September 22, 2009
Rating: Not Rated for
Run Time: 01h:50m:14s
Genre(s): foreign, french

"I don't know why, but I'm picking up the scent of death." - Ferdinand (Jean-Paul Belmondo)


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The strength of Criterion's previous release of Godard's pulp crime masterpiece makes the decision to upgrade to Blu-ray a tough one—until you see the image transfer, that is, and head to eBay to sell your old copy.

Movie Grade: A

DVD Grade: A

The film review and description of the extras are by Jon Danziger.

Godard's early films particularly can be almost blinding—you sense a supernova has burst, and that the director wants to burn through all his ideas and ambitions as quickly as possible. Breathless is as astonishing a debut picture as any ever made; Contempt and Band of Outsiders ratified all the promise of the opening stanza, and Pierrot le fou is another remarkable instance of the director's prodigious intelligence and voracious appetite for cinema allowing him to learn the lessons of those who have come before him, and to work respectfully in a genre while leaving his own imprint. It really is simply a delight to watch this movie—you can sort of knock it around for a certain amount of intellectual pretension, but what's so great is that at it's heart it's really a pulpy crime picture, with a ravishing pair of most persuasive lead performances.

Jean-Paul Belmondo, Godard's leading man of choice, stars as Ferdinand, who chafes at the suffocating constraints of bourgeois respectability—he's got a fine home, a lovely wife, two swell kids, but without question, he wants out. A lifeline comes in the irresistible personage of Anna Karina, who plays Marianne—the "niece" of a friend who materializes to babysit the kids, she is in fact an old flame of Ferdinand's, and together they're clearly combustible. So they go on the lam together, and neither they nor the film is much interested in the growing body count they leave in their wake. The camera sometimes lingers over the victims, painted up with nearly orange clownlike pancake makeup substituting for blood—it's murder as a merry little sport or a necessary inconvenience, while these two tortured souls try to commune with one another as they search for the secrets of the universe.

A little pretentious? Yeah, sure, no doubt, especially since Ferdinand sprinkles his conversation liberally with highbrow namedropping—Balzac and Baudelaire, Proust and Renoir are his gods. But Godard does plenty of deflating that sort of intellectual pretense as well, especially with a cameo from pulp master Samuel Fuller, who offers his philosophy to Belmondo: "A film is like a battleground. Love. Hate. Action. Violence. Death. In one word: emotion." And Godard makes good on Fuller's credo, especially in taking full advantage of the technical elements at his disposal—cinematographer Raoul Coutard turns in another startlingly fine job, unafraid to call attention to his own work with, for instance, crazily saturated filters. A scene will go from blue to green to purple without comment, and it's riotous. And the carnivalesque production design is in keeping with the fun, as are Belmondo and Karina, who just rip it up. She's a dangerously sexy femme fatale, and you can see why his character would throw it all over for her; his brooding charisma is hypnotic, and allows us to buy him leading his upper-class life of quiet desperation, his bold choice to throw it all to the winds, and his unslakable thirst for knowledge and more books, even when Karina has more intimate notions on how they might spend their alone time.

The movie is full of portents of death, so it's no great surprise when things spiral downward—Godard is true to its lunatic influences like Gun Crazy, while obviously blazing a trail for pictures on both sides of the pond, most notably Bonnie & Clyde. And Godard was never reluctant about being an explicitly political filmmaker—the war in Vietnam is very much on his mind here, along with the ongoing violence in the Middle East. But this is too anarchic and too much fun to view merely as a didactic political tract—it lives up to its muse, Samuel Fuller, and then some.

The DVD: Just when you thought Criterion's beautiful 2008 release was the definitive version, along comes this Blu-ray, offering up one of the finest vintage 2.35:1 transfers I've seen. Everything that was so stellar in the previous release—color, detail, clarity, and print quality—is boosted significantly in the HD version. So many of this movie's charms are visual, and all the more visceral on Blu-ray. Audio is offered in the same mono mix, sourced from a 35 mm print. It doesn't sound noticeably better than the DVD, but offers another serviceable presentation.

All the extras from the 2-disc DVD carry over, starting with a recent interview (14m:54s) with Karina, reflecting on the experience on both sides of the camera. She was Mrs. Godard at the time, and their marriage is the subject of a strangely obsessive documentary also on the set—Luc Lagier's Godard, L'amour, la poÈsie (52m:55s) is a look at the Godard/Karina courtship, marriage, and divorce as seen through their collaborations. It's a little bit creepy and unsettling, taking paparazzi stalking to a whole new level, though it's got more than its share of bon bons, especially Karina in a soap commercial, where Godard first caught sight of her.

A Pierrot Primer (35m:58s) is a truncated commentary track of sorts—sometime Godard collaborator Jean-Pierre Gorin offers reflections on scenes from the first portion of the movie, and discusses how the picture fits into the director's body of work. A couple of archival French television pieces are compelling as well—Belmondo on the Wind (9m:21s) is a look at the actor on the set, with his director, and just generally being rakishly charming, and interviews (3m:58s) with Godard and Karina from the Venice Film Festival concern the film's critical reception and its chief rival in the competition there, BuÒuel's Simon of the Desert. The accompanying 42-page booklet, resized for Blu-ray, features an interview with Godard and essays by Andrew Sarris and Richard Brody.

Posted by: Joel Cunningham - October 5, 2009, 8:30 pm - DVD Review
Keywords: french new wave

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