While some, if not the majority of, filmmakers seem resigned to the idea that their pieces can only speak to a singular idea, be it a current affair or a sociological issue found within history, there are the few directors whose films speak to everything. The present or the past, political or cultural, directors like Jean Luc-Godard transcend film as an art form, turning it into something even grander.
As put perfectly by filmmaker and critic Kent Jones, in his visual essay on the recently released Criterion Collection Blu-ray of Godard’s masterpiece, Weekend, Godard’s films were truly ‘about’ everything. Every sociological and cultural idea, and while they are truly the definition of Brechtian detachment, Godard’s films, Weekend in particularly, is one of the greatest cinematic experiments in not only artistry, but intellectual expression.
Best described as the blackest of pitch black comedies, Weekend tells the tale of a bourgeois married duo, who are not only cheating on one another, but are hell bent on ending the other’s life. When the pair go off for the wife’s, Corinne’s, parent’s house in order to gain inheritance money from her father, things slowly go awry, making for one of Godard’s most scathing meditations on a society that he feels has not only failed itself, but is in dire need of a complete reboot. With the evidence of violence painting the countryside during this couple’s voyage into hell, Weekend is as bleak as bleak can possibly get, but may very well be the most distilled proof of a filmmaker unlike any before.
From Marxism to cannibalism, the hippie revolution to scenes of violent upheaval seemingly ripped right out of newscasts coming out of Godard’s native France during a time of sociological psychosis, a filmmaker known for his distaste for the bourgeois upper crust like Godard found a perfect vehicle with this project. Shot by frequent collaborator Raoul Coutard, the film not only name drops the work of Lewis Carrol, but looks like a candy colored, perverted Alice In Wonderland-esque fairy tale. Best known for a bravura tracking shot involving the infamous traffic jam, Weekend is easily Godard’s strongest visual feast, if only in contention with a film like A Woman Is A Woman.
Led by a cast of actors ranging from intellectuals to painters, students to revolutionaries, the performances held within Godard’s opus are enthralling. Nearing the conclusion of his most prolific (and some would argue his most vital and important) era, this is our first real glimpse into the aesthetic of who director Jean Luc Godard truly is. A man incapable of subtlety, Godard’s performances feel admittedly stilted. Often giving his cast nothing more than collective monologues, musing about political, intellectual or in the case of the film’s most memorable sequences, sexual, topics, his films have a definitively Brechtian sense of isolation, never allowing the viewer to get inside its thespian’s minds and their character’s hearts. However, these turns are no less compelling. The previously mentioned sequence of a woman, reminiscent of Nicole Kidman’s famous dream in Eyes Wide Shut, discussing the events of a torrid and utterly steamy sexual event, that is beyond compelling. Jean Yanne and Mireille Darc star here as the married couple, and give truly superb performances that blend the film’s inherent comedy with its equally inherent anger and provocation. Rough around every single edge, the film doesn’t relish in subtlety, simplicity or drama. Instead, Godard and his team of artists instead opt for brutality, histrionics and some of the most breathtaking bits of visual art you will ever see.
And the aforementioned Criterion Blu-ray is definitive. With one of their best restorations in years, Criterion has crafted an audio and visual masterpiece that gives the right amount of reverence to one of the most esoteric and singular bits of visual art ever crafted. Peppered with car fires and blood, the film’s transfer is stellar, making Coutard’s photography as vital and forceful as ever. Kent Jones’ visual essay is one of the best single supplements Criterion has added to a disc this entire calendar year, and the interviews included within this release are eye opening. However, you’ll buy the damn thing for the transfer, and you’ll be hard pressed to find a good enough reason to ever take the damn thing out of your player.
Overall, I’ve gone to the mat saying that Jean-Luc Godard is truly the greatest filmmaker to ever grace this planet. However, I don’t think that’s truly all that fitting, and I think he’d agree. Never one to make films, instead, when one sits down in front of a screen ready to view a new film from the French madman, you may watch a narrative, but instead you are partaking in the viewing of a man’s psyche. Often angry and antagonizing, Godard’s films, Weekend in particular, are essays attempting to clean out the intellectual closet of a man seen more as a cinematic revolutionary than a simple filmmaker.