DVD Review HTF DVD REVIEW: Pierrot le Fou

Discussion in 'DVD' started by Matt Hough, Feb 13, 2008.

  1. Matt Hough

    Matt Hough Executive Producer

    Apr 24, 2006
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    Charlotte, NC
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    Matt Hough
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    Pierrot le Fou
    Directed by Jean-Luc Godard

    Studio: Criterion
    Year: 1965
    Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1 anamorphic
    Running Time: 110 minutes
    Rating: NR
    Audio: Dolby Digital 1.0 mono French
    Subtitles: English
    MSRP: $ 39.95

    Release Date: February 19, 2008
    Review Date: February 13, 2008

    The Film


    What do you do when you’re a well known director who’s uttered his disdain time and time again of traditional cinema? In the case of Jean-Luc Godard, you produce Pierrot le Fou. A simple story surrounded by a hodgepodge of cinematic techniques, motifs, and styles, Pierrot le Fou is certainly unique but also infuriatingly experimental for the sake of being untraditional. The story and its characters are interesting enough to have supported a more standard approach (with perhaps a few flourishes of the avant garde), but leave it to Godard to turn the film inside out to satisfy his desire for his own brand of cinema of the absurd.

    Jean-Paul Belmondo stars as writer Ferdinand Griffon, a discontented husband and father of two who suddenly decides to ditch his Parisian existence and run off with babysitter Marianne (Anna Karina). They become a kind of mod French Bonnie and Clyde, stealing and killing to have money and means of travel so they can get to the southern coast of France. They have no actual future plans once they get there; the journey is everything, and they live for the adventure. Once on their way, however, it becomes painfully obvious that the two are as different as two people can be: he’s a complicated man of abstract ideas and sensibilities; she has simple wants and needs. Obviously, it’s going to end badly. But before it does, we’re treated to a trippy excursion over the French countryside with Marianne finding ways to counteract her boredom, and Ferdinand (whom she calls “Pierrot“ throughout the movie perhaps suggesting that his persona is a comic mask to hide his own need of earthly comforts) making philosophical entries in his travel diary about their journey.

    Where to begin to describe how Godard infuses this story with every manner of cinematic contrivance? The film is in color, but early on, he cloaks party scenes in red, blue, or green filters (this is dropped after Ferdinand leaves Paris). Some of the color is desaturated while other scenes are rich with deeply saturated hues. He arbitrarily cuts in shots of artwork from the surreal to the baroque, particularly works of Velàzquez. He enjoys playing with continuity, showing us results of scenes before the scenes actually happen in real time with body doubles for actors about to enter the scene. He drops in musical numbers out of nowhere (Karina has a small, sweet voice, and she sings live to off-screen piano accompaniment, most effectively in “My Mate Line”; Belmondo can’t carry a tune, so he talks his lyrics). Background score cues begin only to be chopped off in mid phrase. There are off-screen narrators (sometimes not the two stars) who occasionally narrate what we’re seeing, and at one astonishingly memorable moment, the two stars acknowledge the audience watching what they’re doing.

    It’s maddeningly calculated to be different, but there’s no denying that Godard’s camera eye is still working at maximum capacity. The two lovers emerge from being totally buried under the sand (we never see how that happens), and a later moment finds the two coiled around one another on a quiet shore in an eye-popping example of frame composition. Bold splashes of red are used both symbolically and realistically (there are several murders in the film; Marianne is mixed up with some shady characters), and the blues skies and blue seas suggest a calm that’s almost never present in the lives of the protagonists as they venture ever-closer to their ends.

    Video Quality


    The film’s original Techniscope aspect ratio of 2.35:1 is captured here in a very attractive anamorphic transfer. Apart from one hair and a lack of contrast early in the film (which may have been deliberate), the film looks very nice indeed with stable color, more than adequate sharpness, and adequate fine object detail. The film has been divided into 22 chapters.

    Audio Quality


    The Dolby Digital 1.0 mono sound lacks fidelity with a basically flat sound throughout, but there’s no hiss. At one point when Godard is experimenting with his soundtrack, the audio goes too loud and becomes distorted, but again, that may have been a deliberate act of a director always experimenting with every aspect of picture making.

    Special Features


    The bonus features are all contained on Disc 2.

    Actress Anna Karina has a 14-minute interview in which she praises her ex-husband Godard as a great director and discusses his working techniques through the series of movies they made together in the early to mid-60s. It’s in anamorphic widescreen.

    Professor and critic Jean-Pierre Gorin offers an orgiastic video introduction of the movie which he celebrates as one of the greatest ever made by Godard. The anamorphic film plays in the background as his voiceover mentions specific aspects of the film which he considers masterful, pausing often and replaying moments which he deems genius. It runs 35½ minutes.

    “Belmondo in the Wind” is a vintage 1965 interview with the star of the film on the set during pauses in filming. Both Godard and Karina offer their own opinions as to the star’s talents in this 9 ¼-minute 4:3 television interview.

    “Venice Film Festival 1965” is another vintage 1965 short filmed at the famous film festival where Pierrot le Fou was considered a favorite for the Golden Lion (it didn’t win). Both Godard and Karina speak to interviewers about the movie in this 4-minute piece filmed for French television.

    Godard, l’amour, la poésie is the set’s most substantial item, a 53-minute documentary directed by Luc Lagier on the personal and professional partnership of Jean-Luc Godard and Anna Karina. Presented in anamorphic widescreen, the feature contains a generous sampling of clips from their films together along with inside information about their personal lives.

    The film’s theatrical trailer is presented in anamorphic widescreen and runs for 2 minutes.

    The two disc set also contains a 45-page booklet with a rich selection of stills from the movie along with a think piece on the film from writer Richard Brody, Andrew Sarris’ original Village Voice review of the movie, and excerpts from an interview Godard had with the magazine he once wrote for, Cahiers du cinéma.

    In Conclusion

    3.5/5 (not an average)

    Though I didn’t find Pierrot le Fou among the top flight of Godard movies, no film of his produced during this period should be unseen if one has an interest in the French New Wave movement. This film pushes the boundaries of the tenants of that movement ever farther from traditional cinema and makes a great case for a justified rental.

    Matt Hough
    Charlotte, NC

  2. Will*B

    Will*B Supporting Actor

    Aug 12, 2003
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    Great review Matt; thanks very much.

    I was wondering if anyone knows about the massive difference in the party scene between the Criterion and the older R2 Studio Canal. The Criterion version of the shot with Sam Fuller is bathed in a green filter, wheras in the R2, there is no filter resulting in a very stark white light.

    I'm guessing that, as Coutard supervised the Criterion transfer, the green version is correct, but I was hoping someone could clarify?

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