Film Review: Jean-Luc Godard + Jean-Pierre Gorin: Five Films, 1968-1971 (Blu-ray reissue)

The formal elements and the socio-political backdrop of ‘Weekend‘ (1967), one of Godard’s most prolific works, establish a firm context and tone for the French new wave director. Here made commercially available for the first time and on a superb digital transfer, the Blu-ray box set contains five feature films raising similar ideas and explores further political discourse. It is, in turn, fascinating, experimental, and witty. There are several self-aware admissions, making it strikingly different from anything else in the same era.

First of all, there is ‘A Film Like Any Other‘ (1968). This is a discussion of the social upheaval of the time. It focusses most of its attention on students and young people as they are gathered outside tower-blocks – sat talking to each other in circles around the overgrown grassy banks. The camera never focusses on the face or the identity of the narrator. There are two audio tracks which play alongside each other. The first is subtitled whilst the discussion continues/overlaps in a lower volume second track, they then switch places after the topic of conversation has been exhausted.

This is an interesting technique. It highlights the volume of the voices in any discussion of a social nature. The topics being discussed (privilege, class, violent and non-violent forms of protest, et al) aren’t dissimilar to contemporary debates on social media, where voices are also overlapped and unforgiving. At one point the voiceover claims that “there is only one criterion that determines whether a youth is revolutionary: does he feel solidarity with the workers and farmers, and is he fighting for their causes?” I feel like this is still being talked about in recent years. Especially when there are protests in this country around austerity, education, and poverty. The privilege of any group or individual is part of their stake in the debate.

Though the camera breaks framing rules and the dialogue is overlapped, ‘A Film Like Any Other‘ is still relevant and accessible, especially when compared with the editing on later Godard works such as ‘Histoire(s) du Cinema‘ (1989), or the elliptical subtitling on Film socialisme‘ (2010).

All of the films in this boxset refer back to ‘Weekend’ in one regard or another. ‘British Sounds‘ (1970) tracks cars along their assembly line, in a style matching the highly praised traffic jam scene in the former film. The noise of the Ford Dagenham factory is excruciatingly loud in comparison to a film comprised of silence and interrupted the speech. The film was banned from broadcast by London Weekend TV as they deemed it too controversial. Later in ‘British Sounds‘, the workers talk about their employment and their employer. These sequences are interesting and worthwhile. On the other hand, the essayist commentaries in the rest of the film don’t add up to much.

There are playful elements in the next film in the set; ‘Wind From The East‘ (1970). It is established as a western but is realised on screen as a series of preparations or rehearsals of scenes. Godard labels this “an organization of shots”. The props, costume, and make-up work together to establish a film within a film. The characters can be understood as members of the bourgeoisie (albeit briefly), where the narration again describes problems with social democracy and capitalism. For me, the ending of the film dwells too much on intense outcomes. This is not dissimilar to the equally playful film ‘La Chinoise‘ (1967), which ends with a discussion of terrorism. Here the topic being explored is the manufacture of homemade weapons. In the current climate and with hindsight, this all seems a little ill-judged.

Moving on to ‘Struggles in Italy‘ (1971), political theory is again discussed with the focus being on monologue rather than dialogue. The film speaks of an essay without an author. This is represented initially in the first scene where we see shots of paper on a table, but not the faces of the person reading or writing. There are lots of broad statements via the narration, but they are often framed in every day and the domestic. We get an application of progressive politics and the breakdown of responsibility as shown through visuals displaying eating of soup, and working in a clothing shop; and discussion of academic reading/research, and paying of rent within a flatshare. ‘Struggles in Italy’ relates to modern society in a sense, as it also questions the political practice of labour, of love, of sexual relationships, and of family. Some of the dialogue in Italian isn’t translated fully as the audio clashes with other conversational utterances. This is an accessibility issue as previously mentioned.

Finally, there is ‘Vladimir and Rosa‘ (1971). This is a deeply satirical picture based on fake reportage about the trial of the Chicago Eight. As a slight departure from the other films discussed above, this is more theatrical and closer to Hollywood or broadcast news. At one point Jean-Luc Godard appears himself in a scene constructed as “every night after the trial”. It deals with the setting up of a camera and subjects. Godard moves from being a mischievous subject to a camera operator as several of the other camera ops are shot with fake guns. It is cartoonish, to say the least.

This box set is fantastic as it brings together films that haven’t been available for quite some time. They only really make sense though if you have seen other Godard films that either precede or succeed it. A lot of the content can be described as ‘Weekend’ but amped up to ludicrous extremes at times, yet there are many more interesting lines of inquiry in play. Essential for nouvelle vague fans.

Zach Roddis | [rating=4]

Arrow Academy |2018 | Blu-Ray | 26th February 2018 |Buy:Jean-Luc Godard + Jean-Pierre Gorin: Five Films, 1968-1971 [DVD] [Blu-ray]