Jean-Luc Godard + Jean-Pierre Gorin: Five Films (1968-1971) BLU-RAY REVIEW
Arrow Video has just released a definitive box set of a brilliant collaboration.
The meeting of iconoclastic filmmaker Jean-Luc Godard and Maoist student/journalist Jean-Pierre Gorrin could not have come at a better time for either man. Flawlessly presented and analyzed (thanks to a plethora of extras) through this new Arrow Video limited edition boxset, we can appreciate everything they achieved together over a period of roughly three years. In different ways, both men were deeply engaged by the radical politics that were hoping to define the era in the best way possible. What is interesting about this collection, which covers five films, is the fact that Godard and Gorin each brought unique talents and perspectives to the proceedings.
At the same time, both men’s sensibilities and passions, unique as they might be to each respective artist, proved to mesh unbelievably well. Their rage, dark bemusement, and perhaps deranged optimism created five challenging films that continue to have relevancy in this day and age. That is perhaps the most compelling element to these movies, created under a group known as Groupe Dziga Vertov, which was established by Godard and Gorrin.
Beginning with their first film Un Film Comme les Autres, the pair set about crafting a series of films that were very much a summation, as well as a call to action for the future, of that very specific time and place in which they worked. However, we can watch these movies in the present, and understand, without having to try very hard, why Godard and Gorrin felt compelled to make these movies in the first place. Some of the urgencies discussed, deconstructed, and assaulted with great ferocity, are urgencies that are every bit as intensive and necessary in the present. Also, these films are not afraid to draw from history to tell stories in the present, creating potent parallels between the past and present. In a lot of ways, those parallels will make a lot of sense to those who weren’t even alive when these films were made.
Today, the names are different, and we have a lot of technology, but ask anyone over the age of 80 or 90 if things are really all that different. Obviously, in a lot of ways, they are. At the same time, some of the same wars are being waged against the same types of maddening, eventually numbing injustices. There is more than enough to support an argument that we need the works of Jean-Luc Godard and Jean-Pierre Gorrin more than ever.
I suppose the big question, as far as a boxset like this is concerned, is where you should start. If you want to be chronological about it, then you can start at the beginning, and work your way through their films from there. After Un Film Comme les Autres, the two released British Sounds (also known as See You at Mao), Vent d’est, Lotte in Italia / Luttes en Italie, and Vladimir et Rosa. To be honest, it isn’t significantly important to see these movies in chronological order. While they share certain understandable similarities, they are all ultimately entities unto themselves. For example, Un film comme les autres is the story of the aftermath of the student/worker protests that were occurring around 1968. It is essentially two short films that discuss the same things, but in profoundly different ways, before smashing into each other to create a bold, arresting tribute to chaos.
On the other hand, while there are some similarities between that film, and let’s say, Lotte in Italia, we are still talking about two completely different movies. Lotte in Italia depicts the moment in which theory meets the desperation for movement, or for at least something that will shake and shatter the stasis choking not only the world at large, but the protagonist whose journey makes up most of the story. One of these films may sound more interesting to you than the other. To that end, I would suggest going about these movies in an order that makes sense to you. Just make it a point to see all of them, if only once. If you choose to watch them again, and these movies do have some extraordinary re-watch value, go for chronological. It is fascinating to watch Gorrin and Godard evolve as fearless collaborators, over a frenzied three-year period that gave us five very, very good films.
Before Arrow came along, the condition of these films was depressing, to say the least. These films often utilize powerful, complex visual tricks to accompany the intent and actual words. To have all of those elements presented in a flawless 1080p presentation is to enjoy arthouse cinema in the most appealing, engaging way possible. Yet again, Arrow Video has answered the need for films such as these to be protected and optimized for future generations. There is no question that future generations should watch and engage these films. The brilliant Blu-ray presentation here further emphasizes the value these films still carry, 50 years later. While these are complex, challenging works, Arrow gives you more than enough extras to appreciate the historical and artistic impulses that brought these movies to frantic life. Godard in particular has always been a filmmaker who invites a good deal of discussion and debate to his projects. That is never been clearer than with this boxset. If you are new to the films of Jean-Luc Godard, this can be a weird place to start.
But if you want to start somewhere, regardless of whether you begin here, or with a classic like Breathless or Alphaville, then start somewhere. These are some of the most unique movies you are likely to come across, if you have never seen a Jean Luc-Godard movie before. While these movies are not as accessible as some of his other movies, which is certainly saying something, they have an energy that is likely to draw you in. While I don’t recommend watching all of these in a row, because just writing that sentence makes me emotionally exhausted, I do believe this is worth a blind buy. As surreal and brutal as these movies can be, each one has the potential to leave you eager to see absolutely everything Godard has created during his long, frustratingly elaborate filmmaking career.
Un film comme les autres [A Film Like Any Other]: 8/10
British Sounds, aka: See You at Mao: 10/10
Vent d’est [Wind from the East]: 7/10
Lotte in Italia / Luttes en Italie [Struggles in Italy]: 9/10
Vladimir et Rosa [Vladimir and Rosa]: 10/10