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Lola (1961) Review


Extraordinary
In an time when gunmen walk on ceilings, when men morph into monsters before our eyes, when future governors of California are shorn of their human skin to expose the glistening steel and circuitry underneath, Jacques Demy's classic 1961 Lola is a breathtaking reminder of what magic in the movies used to mean. Lola is a work of romance, and the magic on view is all of the fairy tale variety. What's transformed in Lola isn't a cyborg or a lycanthrope, but rather life itself.

Or maybe I should say "lives." Set in the dreary French port of Nantes, Lola tells the story of the title character, a cabaret dancer and paid companion to the American sailors who prowl the streets and bars of the city on leave. She's a single mother, the child's father having abandoned her during pregnancy seven years before. What sustains her is the hopelessly naive belief that this man will return to her - return to her rich, no less - and that her drab, hardscrabble life will become the vision of happiness she never stops imagining.

Continue reading: Lola (1961) Review

Breathless Review


Excellent
It's fun on the run in this film, which most say launched the French New Wave with its spontaneous, rollercoaster ride across France. Jean-Paul Belmondo and Jean Seberg are boyfriend/girlfriend... and after he kills a policeman, it's obvious they're doomed. But how will it all come down? Jean-Luc Godard's panicked style here continues to inspire filmmakers today, and even if some of Breathless remains inaccessibly arty and obtuse, it's nonetheless a film of watershed importance.

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A Woman Is A Woman Review


Excellent
Jean-Luc Godard calls A Woman Is a Woman "a neorealist musical -- that is, a contradiction in terms." He couldn't be more on the money. Woman is disorienting and unfamiliar, and altogether compelling.

Anna Karina owns the film wholly: She's a stripper in Paris who decides she wants a baby. She approaches her boyfriend (Jean-Claude Brialy), but he refuses. So she turns to another guy: his best friend.

Continue reading: A Woman Is A Woman Review

Le Petit Soldat Review


OK
French Bruno is assigned to assassinate an Algerian sympathizer, but darn it, the hot hot hot Anna Karina gets in the way. Turns out she's a sympathizer too. Nothing much happens in this heralded thriller/romance from Jean-Luc Godard, as the film sidetracks into long idylls in hotel rooms and on the streets of France before our hero finally gets to his opponent. When he does, it's shocking, as he doesn't just shoot him in the head, he's tortured to such a degree that the film was banned in France. Interesting historically, much less so artistically.

Contempt Review


Excellent
Contempt (or Le Mépris, for you purists out there), directed by Jean-Luc Godard in 1963, is a superlative film about many things, including the making of a film, the break-up of a married couple, and the parallels between the contemporary New Wave world (of 1963) and the classical (Old Wave) world of Homer. The basic story, based on novel by Alberto Moravia, is this: Director Fritz Lang (playing himself) is in the process of directing a film version of Homer's Odyssey. Lang has already shot some scenes, but his boorish film producer Jeremy Prokosch (Jack Palance) is upset with the results so he has fired most of the crew and hired a playwright named Paul (Michel Piccoli) to do some rewrites. Paul arrives in Rome with his beautiful wife Camille (Brigette Bardot) and over the course of a couple of days - in which they travel to Capri - everything goes wrong for Paul, who loses Camille to Prokosch and who decides that rewriting the Odyssey is too big a task considering that his own life has taken a heartbreaking turn. Contempt, however, is not a movie about making a movie as much as it is a movie about a disintegrating relationship. The center piece scene is a 30 minute passive/aggressive marital fight between Paul and Camille that takes place in a small apartment. The scene is a very economical piece of filmmaking that unfolds in real time. On first viewing this scene can be maddening because it doesn't seem to go anywhere, and it's difficult to figure out what Camille and Paul are fighting about. Their grief seems to come from someplace else. And maybe there is a past we don't understand, but what Godard is presenting us with is a failed relationship in the modern world: One where gallantry, romanticism and, more importantly, communication have failed. On the surface the film also shows how difficult it is for an art house director to get a film made with a Hollywood film producer: especially if the film is based on such a classic as Homer's Odyssey. Jack Palance gives a very funny performance as the egomaniacal film producer who can only see profit in the venture. He also gets a few humorous lines: When Lang comments on a Greek story, Palance reaches into his coat pocket and says, "When I hear the word culture I get out my checkbook." There is an irony also to Palance's character because it was well known at the time that Godard was having trouble with the film's real producers: Carlo Ponti and Joseph Levine. They insisted that Godard include a nude scene with Bardot so he went back and shot a scene with color filters in which she talks to her husband in the nude. It's a much more intellectual scene than a sexy one and, if anything, it clearly shows that Godard won the battle on that issue. Unlike almost all of Godard's film in the 1960s, Contempt is much more heartfelt than intellectually removed or self reflexive. No doubt, some of this can be attributed to Godard's split from his then wife Anna Karina, which had to have some kind of personal affect on him. But part of the reason too is because of Georges Delerue's distinctively melancholic score, which consists of two mood-setting pieces that are shuffled and repeated seemingly at will about 20 times throughout the film. Still the film does have some self reflexive moments. In many instances Godard comments upon many things in literature from Dante to romantic poetry and films that have influenced him like Roberto Rossellini's Voyage in Italy and Howard Hawks' Hatari!,as well as nods to his own films. Best of all is the gorgeous color Francscope (similar to CinemaScope) cinematography done in anamorphic 2.35:1 aspect ratio by the legendary D.P. Raoul Cotard and the slow burning pace, which is a desirable quality missing from cinema these days. The images are so seductive, in fact, that viewers may miss some of the complexity and issues about the classical versus the modern world. The Criterion Collection DVD is exemplary in all categories. There is an informative commentary track by film scholar Robert Stam and a second disc full of all kinds of goodies. The two best are a 53-minute conversation between Godard and Lang titled The Dinosaur and the Baby and a 10-minute interview with Godard in which he stands at a microphone with sunglasses on and tells an interviewer what he thinks of critics. There is also a short doc on the difficultly of dealing with Bardot's fame during the shoot, a short on Fritz Lang, and a recent interview with Raoul Coutard. There is also an enlightening five minute comparison between the inferior full-frame 1.33:1 transfer of the film (long available in video) versus the widescreen letterbox transfer, which mirror the director's true intentions. All in all this is a stunning DVD and is not-to-be-missed by any Godard fan; something we should all be by now.

Lola Review


Extraordinary
In an time when gunmen walk on ceilings, when men morph into monsters before our eyes, when future governors of California are shorn of their human skin to expose the glistening steel and circuitry underneath, Jacques Demy's classic 1961 Lola is a breathtaking reminder of what magic in the movies used to mean. Lola is a work of romance, and the magic on view is all of the fairy tale variety. What's transformed in Lola isn't a cyborg or a lycanthrope, but rather life itself.

Or maybe I should say "lives." Set in the dreary French port of Nantes, Lola tells the story of the title character, a cabaret dancer and paid companion to the American sailors who prowl the streets and bars of the city on leave. She's a single mother, the child's father having abandoned her during pregnancy seven years before. What sustains her is the hopelessly naive belief that this man will return to her - return to her rich, no less - and that her drab, hardscrabble life will become the vision of happiness she never stops imagining.

Continue reading: Lola Review

Cleo From 5 To 7 Review


Excellent
It's almost a film about nothing, with French chanteuse Cléo (Corinne Marchand) spending 90 minutes (not quite the 2 hours in the title) wandering around Paris before she gets the results of a medical test which will confirm whether or not she has cancer. Cléo spends the time exactly how we'd expect from a diva: going to a fortuneteller, running an errand with a friend, playing her latest song on a cafe jukebox and hoping someone will recognize her. She gets no pity from her friends -- only a stranger in the park seems to offer much consolation. And in the end, Cléo has figured out how to face an uncertain future.

Told in real time, Agnès Varda's film has tons of heart and brains to match. You can watch it as a tourist, just bouncing along with Cléo on her ride... or you can watch it as Cléo, and live in her shoes for awhile.

Continue reading: Cleo From 5 To 7 Review

Pierrot le fou Review


OK
Perhaps the greatest entry into the theater of the absurd, Godard's Pierrot le fou starts out as ridiculous and gets progressively sillier. Jean-Paul Belmondo stars as a family man named Ferdinand, who up and quits his family man life to jet through France with a mobstress (Anna Karina), who inexplicably calls him Pierrot. Their adventure through strangely tinted sets and with occasional dialogue drawn from TV commercials. Totally bizarre and ultimately without much point -- Godard's message about commercialism is drowned in a sea of oddity.
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