Arrow Video: Jean-Luc Godard & Jean-Pierre Gorin: Five Films, 1968-1971

After completing his masterwork Weekend in 1967, Godard embarked on the next phase of his cinematic career, accompanied by an outspoken critic Jean-Pierre Gorin.  Their partnership, the Dziga Vertov Groupe, resulted in the creation of several notorious and thought-provoking films, all of which were politically charged.  This week, Arrow Video is releasing a remarkable boxset that includes five of these joint ventures, chronicling a lost collaboration between two artists who sought to shake the foundations of the status quo. 

1. Un Film commes les autres

An anti-documentary, the first film in the set is a collection of discussions between students and workers about the incidents in May, 1968 involving labor issues in factories and police action.  The camera remains static for the bulk of the film, often focusing on hands and grass as its subject sit in vacant fields discussing political oppression, likening the viewer to a latent co-conspirator.  As an introduction to Godard's artistic evolution, this is an excellent starting place.    

2. British Sounds

Initially banned upon release before finding its way into theaters, British Sounds is an experimental documentary that was filmed for television.  The film is comprised of a handful of scenes, each of which features a visual tableau that is accompanied by narration that is often at odds with the subject matter.  The result is a one of kind hybrid that approaches its political manifesto with outrage and contempt. 

3. Vent d est

One of the more surreal entries in the set, this film involves two distinct narratives (including spaghetti western visuals and cinema related commentary) that often overlap in interesting ways, continuing Godard's exploration of the possibilities of the medium.  While the narrative continues the unorthodox style of the movement, its summation reveals more about Godard's process during the time period as well as exploring his beliefs in the confines of traditional cinematic expression. 

4. Lotte in Italia

An incredibly layered film, Lotte in Italia is by far the densest film in the set.  It continues the accusatory tone of the other films in the movement while also moving beyond the baseline.  Lotte plays more like a climax than a continuation, taking the viewer through a radical's maturation, with each section separated by black screens and voice overs.  Each loose chapter frames a different part of its subject's existence, beginning with the futility of everyday life and moving into revolutionary counterculture. 

5.  Vladimir et Rosa

While the low hanging fruit of rebellion is the exploration of a generation in distress, Godard's last film in the series focuses on a culture in discord.  Expanding on the previous themes explored in the box set, this is the crown jewel, a scathing dissent against classism that obliterates any sense of comfort. This is the final film of the movement and a crowning achievement.  Using the real-life trial of the Chicago Eight as a springboard, Godard and Gorin embody the central characters, often switching roles and interrogating one another, purposefully revealing their outrage at the constraints of polite society.  

Special Features

The set contains several special features: A booklet, a video interview with Godard, a commercial directed by Godard, and a series of video essays by cinema professor Michael Witt which delves into the Dziga Vertov Groupe; its influences and its impact on both political culture and cinema.  The features continue Arrow's upstanding tradition of high quality, hard to find content.  While these particular extras are aimed towards the most extreme Godard fans, their importance and the care with which they were assembled is undeniable. 

Ultimately, this is a niche set for cinema lovers who are interested in exploring one of the most prolific film makers during one of the most active...and unsure times of his life.  Godard's disenfranchisement with politics, Hollywood, and tradition permeates each entry in this collection with stinging humor and roiling malcontent.  Presented in crisp 1080p and featuring some esoteric extras, this is an essential addition to any film connoisseur’s collection. 

--Kyle Jonathan