DVD Review HTF REVIEW: A Woman Is A Woman - The Criterion Collection.

Discussion in 'DVD' started by Herb Kane, Jun 30, 2004.

  1. Herb Kane

    Herb Kane Screenwriter

    May 7, 2001
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    A Woman Is A Woman
    The Criterion Collection

    Studio: Criterion
    Year: 1961
    Rated: Not Rated
    Film Length: 84 Minutes
    Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1 Enhanced Widescreen
    Audio: DD Mono
    Color/B&W: Color
    Languages: French
    Subtitles: English
    MSRP: $29.95
    Package: Keep Case

    The Feature:
    During the month of June, Criterion released another group of diverse titles ranging from legendary Japanese director Akira Kurosawa to Pier Paolo Passolini. On June 8th, Criterion released Luchino Visconti's, The Leopard and on June 22nd, two versions of Lower Depths which include both, the Jean Renoir (1936) and Akira Kurosawa (1957) versions. On the same date they released Passolini's, Mamma Roma (1962) and finally the feature film, Jean-Luc Godard's, A Woman Is A Woman (1961).

    The fundamental storyline is quite simple and uncomplicated. Angéla (played by Anna Karina - Godard's eventual wife), is a cute yet somewhat flighty striptease artist in Paris who decides she finally wants to be a mother. She approaches her boyfriend, Émile Récamier (played by Jean-Claude Brialy), with this idea but he is less enthusiastic. A competing bicycle racer, he refuses claiming he is saving himself for the Sunday bicycle race like a champion. So she turns to another man, his best friend, Alfred Lubitsch (played by Jean-Paul Belmondo). In fact, it’s Emile's very own idea, as he does not feel Angéla will carry it out. Their relationship is unique in that they seem to love each other deeply, however they are miserably content.

    In a film that could be described as a light hearted parody of the musicals of the golden age, Jean-Luc Godard calls A Woman Is a Woman a neorealist musical considered early French New Wave, a film that is rather unconventional yet persuasive. There is some wonderful and imaginatively playful camera work and avant-garde use of music that adds to the playful feeling of the film (not to mention Criterions package and menu design). Beautifully vibrant colors are used to great effect to soften much of the gritty facade of the film and its interiors.

    Much of the film was produced without the aid of a written script and many of the street scenes were shot using hidden cameras to help capture the spontaneity and reactions of those involved as well as the French pedestrians. The film never seems to take itself too seriously as the characters occasionally wink at the audience and even address us several times, as though an attempt was made to keep the atmosphere on the lighter - perhaps even whimsical side.

    The Feature: 3.5/5

    Shown in its original AR of 2.35:1 (enhanced widescreen), this film oozes 1960’s. As evidenced by the eclectic furnishings and decorating of the period, colors are alive and vibrant, they were however, slightly bleeding and a tad over saturated. Black levels were acceptable and whites were cleanly rendered however were at times, a tad bloomy.

    The overall level of image definition was rather soft. There were occasional scenes that appeared to be somewhat sharp, but I was disappointed with the overall level of sharpness, or lack thereof. There was a minute level of fine film grain present throughout resulting in a decent film-like image.

    The print appeared to be very clean as dirt and dust could only be seen occasionally and from what I could tell was free of any scratches. There were occasional instances of light shimmer, but the overall image appeared to be solid. And thankfully, I was not able to detect any compression errors or any annoying edge enhancement.

    The film definitely looks soft – to a point of being almost annoying at times. While I’m unfamiliar with how the film should look, I would say it looks good but clearly falls short of remarkable.

    Video: 3.5/5

    Encoded in Dolby Digital mono, the track has a few deficiencies I feel are worthy of mentioning.

    First of all, hiss was present, albeit, infrequently. As I described in the narrative, Godard uses a somewhat unconventional technique that is used throughout the film, where all music and sounds are muted, then a few seconds later, everything kicks back in again. At first, it’s rather disorienting as all of the ambient noises cease. When it does, the hiss is apparent. Not overtly, but worthy of mentioning. When the music kicks back in, I could detect a slight (very slight) thumping or fluttering noise. In fact a couple of times, I muted the disc to see if it was coming elsewhere from my theater or my house – but it wasn’t. It was barely distinguishable but it was noticeable.

    The overall level of the volume was somewhat inconsistent. When I started the film, I had to dive across the room frantically looking for the remote to lower the volume during the intro credits, however, when the film started I found myself having to adjust the volume for the dialogue (something I rarely have to with my system) as it was mixed quite low. Dialogue was rather clear but was sometimes competing during the musical accompaniment. There are a few scenes of yelling and shouting where the dialogue sounds edgy and shrill like.

    There is quite a bit of music that accompanies the film and has a soundstage that could be described as better than average, certainly for a mono track. As for the overall range, the dynamics are rather thin but sufficient.

    Not a bad presentation but it has a few problems.

    Audio: 3.5/5

    Special Features:
    There are a few special features on the disc that can be accessed in the Lights, Camera Action menu on the disc, starting with:
    [*] Charlotte et Véronique which a short film by Godard from 1957, starring Jean-Claude Brialy, Anne Colette, and Nicole Berger, written by director Eric Rohmer and shot by Godard. The film chronicles a day in the life of two young French women who are roommates. Each of the girls meets an unrelenting but friendly man in the park named Patrick. However, only after they decide to reveal their stories and compare notes, do they realize their “Patricks”, are one and the same. The short is in B&W and is in pretty decent shape. Duration: 19:33 minutes.
    [*] The second set of features is a Behind The Scenes promotional gallery section with numerous still photographs and posters. The photo gallery which boasts dozens of stills which include many of the stars during the film’s production and also features a number of behind the scenes shots as well. There is a pretty comprehensive international poster gallery section which contains dozens of shots of posters and artwork from the 1960's.

    - Also featured is a promotional audio recording which is narrated by Godard. This audio recording was originally released on a pressing of 10" vinyl. The recording is somewhat of a more musical version of the song that Anna Karina sings in the film including other sound clips from the picture. Duration: 34:16 minutes.

    - Finally in this segment is the original Theatrical Trailer which is in pretty good shape. Duration: 2:32 minutes.
    [*] Next up is a short entitled Qui etes-vous Anna Karina? which offers interview excerpts from an April 23rd, 1966 television broadcast. Anna Karina is the predominant figure with these clips describing her initial arrival in Paris and modeling career as well as her start in pictures. Duration: 13:06 minutes.
    [*] Finally, there is a 24-page booklet included with this disc. It contains an essay by film critic J. Hoberman as well as a combined set of interviews with Godard from the French magazine, L’Express by Michele Manceaux published on January 12th and July 27th of 1961. The booklet also contains the listing of Chapter Stops, and Cast & Crew credits.

    Special Features: 4/5

    **Special Features rated for the quality of supplements, not the quantity**

    Final Thoughts:
    A Woman Is A Woman is sort of an homage to the old style musicals of the golden age, but not in any conventional way. The film is an almost whimsical like fantasy of the musical complete with its fair share of comedic infusion. Clearly stealing the show is Anna Karina who plays the adorable role of Angéla to perfection in this brief but entertaining Godard film.

    Never having seen the film before in any incarnation, it’s difficult to compare this disc to what the film should look like, however I was slightly disappointed with the results. Given their track record, I think it’s safe to say however, that we should be confident that Criterion did the best job they could with the elements that were provided.

    Overall Rating: 3.5/5 (not an average)

    Release Date: June 22nd, 2004
  2. Jon Martin

    Jon Martin Cinematographer

    Sep 19, 2002
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    I take it the reviewer didn't compare this release with the original, Fox Lorber release. I wonder how similar the transfers are, if the video isn't the greatest in this and the Fox Lorber disc wasn't that great either (I don't think it was 16x9 though).
  3. Will*B

    Will*B Supporting Actor

    Aug 12, 2003
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    London, England
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    The Fox Lorber release was absolutely horrible compared to this. The video on the Criterion is far, far better.

    Personally, I can't recommend this disc highly enough!
  4. TonyDale

    TonyDale Second Unit

    May 3, 2003
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    The concensus would seem to think that Criterion's transfer is rather on the soft side:

    another viewer finds it soft

    I'm still looking forward to seeing this quirky film musical again.

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