Here are four films from renowned maverick Jean-Luc Godard. Insofar as these films have plots in the conventional sense of the word, Passion is about a filmmaker struggling to rediscover his love for his profession, First Name: Carmen plays with the tale of that same name to tell another story of filmmaking and bank robbery, Detective is an idiosyncratic tribute to films noirs, and Oh, Woe Is Me is about a man who may or may not be possessed by a god wanting to seduce his wife.
Samuel Johnson once remarked that anyone reading Samuel Richardson’s Clarissa for its plot would be moved to suicide, and that is certainly the case for anyone trying to watch Godard for story. That is not what he’s interested in. These films, all from his late period (ranging from 1982 to 1993), are postmodern, allegorico-politico-philosophical musings on the human condition. Narratives fragment; soundtracks are multi-layered, with dialogue that is dense, sometimes obscured, and often opaque; and there is plenty of provocation. These are films that are probably not terribly inviting for newcomers to Godard. If you already have the likes of Weekend under your belt, you’ll be fine. If this is your first time, your might well reject the filmmaker as a pretentious twit.
The discs indicate the soundtracks (all in the original French) as being mono, but, fortunately, this is not the case. What we actually have is a very lush 2.0, which shows off Godard’s sonic games to perfection. Layer upon layer of simultaneous sounds emerge first from one speaker, then another. The sound is very crisp. Is the dialogue clear? Frequently not, but that is very deliberate.
The aspect ratio is 4:3, which, as far as I can determine, is the original format of the films, so that’s fine. The colours are very rich, and the transfers serve the films well: these are lovely films, and they come across that way. There is some grain, but it is minimal. Blacks, contrasts and flesh tones are all very strong.
Only one feature, but it’s a good one. “Jean-Luc Godard: A Riddle Wrapped in an Enigma” is a half-hour profile of the filmmaker, his ideas and these four films specifically. It serves as a very valuable way in for new viewers. This is one of those instances where the extra should be viewed BEFORE the films themselves.
Demanding stuff, this collection. Godard gives his viewers no quarter. But the presentation should help audiences get access to his world.