Pierrot le fou
Dissatisfied in marriage and life, Ferdinand (Jean-Paul Belmondo) takes to the road with the babysitter, his ex-lover Marianne Renoir (Anna Karina), and leaves the bourgeoisie behind. Yet this is no normal road trip: genius auteur Jean-Luc Godard’s tenth feature in six years is a stylish mash-up of consumerist satire, politics, and comic-book aesthetics, as well as a violent, zigzag tale of, as Godard called them, “the last romantic couple.” With blissful color imagery by cinematographer Raoul Coutard and Belmondo and Karina at their most animated, Pierrot le fou is one of the high points of the French New Wave, and was Godard’s last frolic before he moved ever further into radical cinema.
The Criterion Collection ports their DVD edition of Jean-Luc Godard’s Pierrot le fou over to Blu-ray, again presenting the film in its original aspect ratio of 2.35:1 on this dual-layer Blu-ray disc. The image is presented in a resolution of 1080p.
UPDATE (October 4th, 2020): I had previously graded this release a perfect score, 10/10, though upon revisting it after watching Criterion's 2020 edition for the film (and 11 years more worth of experience with the format) it's easier to see the weaknesses. Though I still think the presentation is sharp, highly detailed, and colourful, it does look like an older master, grain looking a bit noisier than I recall, and there is some shimmering present in tighter patterns, like Karina's dress in a few shots. The new 2020 edition does have a cleaner, more natural look in comparison. Black levels can also come off a bit murky, like in a scene that takes place in a cinema, but they're otherwise good.
I'm leaving my original comments on this release up, but please keep in my mind my updated comments above.
Original article: I can’t complain at all about the DVD transfer, which was one of Criterion’s best, but this Blu-ray is nothing short of amazing and is leaps and bounds better than the DVD. This is easily the most impressed I’ve been with a Blu-ray transfer since seeing BFI’s Comrades disc. The picture quality on here is perfect. It’s a very colourful film, filled primarily with bright blues and they look absolutely wonderful, beautifully saturated and perfect. Reds look just as wonderful and flesh tones look spot on. Blacks are also perfect, deep, and bold. There are no digital artifacts to speak of and the image is sharp and crisp throughout, with a tremendous amount of detail.
Criterion has kept grain present thankfully and it’s not at all heavy. I actually can’t say I noticed any print flaws while watching other than an occasional hair that shows up at the edge of the frame. This looks as though it could have been filmed yesterday.
It’s an absolutely wonderful looking image, Criterion’s best high-def transfer to date. I can’t pinpoint a single complaint against it.
The lossless mono track is sharp and clean with some excellent range to it, a little better than the DVD’s Dolby Digital mono track. There are a few moments where music can get a little harsh but dialogue sounds clean and fairly natural. A decent mono track but nothing great.
Criterion has ported all of the supplements from their two-disc DVD edition over to this single-disc Blu-ray edition. All supplements are found under the “Supplements” section on the pop-out menu.
First up is a 15-minute interview with Anna Karina. In English she talks quickly about her various roles in Godard’s films and then concentrates specifically on Pierrot le fou, her character Marianne, her working relationship with Godard on the film, and then anecdotes from the set, one of which involves Godard frustrated at the fact she couldn’t knock the pins down in the bowling scene close to the end of the film. She then gets a little into the film’s reception. I like her interviews and this is another excellent one. I guess I’m always a little thrown that she speaks so fondly of Godard in her interviews since every other interview I’ve heard that mention the man present a man the individuals respect but who is, well, difficult, to put it nicely. But then I’m sure she knew him better than everyone else.
A Pierrot Primer is a sort of audio commentary/video essay featuring future Godard collaborator Jean-Pierre Gorin, who talks about the film and how it fits into Godard’s body of work. It runs almost 36-minutes but only covers the first 14-15 minutes of the film as the feature constantly pauses the film or repeats certain sections. Covering the narrative set-up, various quotes, and even breaking down the opening credits it’s an interesting feature though I think I would have appreciated a full commentary more. Plus I must admit that personally I’ve always had trouble with Gorin’s English and subtitles would have been of help.
”Belmondo in the Wind” is a short 9-minute interview piece with Belmondo primarily, taken while Pierrot le fou was being filmed, getting the first interview with the man after he’s just dodged a train. He talks primarily of his acting technique, not buying into the art of “method” acting, and he even talks about his wife and the jealousy that can occur when he has to share certain scenes with lovely actresses. Godard and Karina also pop up to talk about him, Karina giving an “uh… thanks?” sort of compliment to Belmondo by saying he “isn’t gorgeous, but not bad.” Short but worth the viewing, if also for some of the behind-the-scenes material present.
More interview footage is found under Venice Film Festival, 1965, running about 4-minutes. Here you’ll find brief material with Godard and Karina, recorded separately. It’s actually fairly fluffy and not all that insightful with the two just talking briefly about the material presented in the film.
The big feature on here is the 53-minute documentary Godard, l’amour, la poésie which covers the working relationship between Godard and Karina. I was actually looking forward to this documentary when I finally got around to the DVD not long ago, though must admit I was a little disappointed in it. The film quickly covers Godard’s early career and then moves on to his film work starting with Breathless. The documentary then steps through the films he did with Karina, touching on where their relationship was with each film, including Contempt, in which Karina does not appear. It then concludes with Pierrot le fou, though doesn’t touch on Made in U.S.A.. It’s an okay documentary but it didn’t really offer anything new. People completely unfamiliar with Godard and Karina’s working relationship would probably get more out of it. The only thing I really found nice about the documentary were archival audio interviews with Karina who talks about her relationship with Godard.
The supplements then conclude with a theatrical trailer.
The best part about this release (and the DVD) has been completely carried over and that is the booklet, which contains an excellent analytical essay on the film by Richard Brody, Andrew Sarris’ original 1969 review for the film, which is an excellent read, and a reprinting of a great interview with Godard, that takes up most of the 43-page booklet. Easily the best part of this release.
They’re a decent batch of supplements but not great in terms of quality. The booklet was easily my favourite aspect of the release, followed probably by the Karina and Belmondo interviews.
Supplements aside, which are a little disappointing as a whole (less than 2-hours I’m still sort of surprised the original DVD required two dual-layer discs,) this Blu-ray release of Pierrot le fou is stellar, with one of the most impressive high-definition transfers I’ve seen yet for the format. It comes with a high recommendation, even if you already own the previous Criterion DVD (and certainly the awful Fox Lorber DVD.)