Pierrot le fou

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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 bourgeois world behind. Yet this is no normal road trip: the tenth feature in six years by genius auteur Jean-Luc Godard is a stylish mash-up of anticonsumerist satire, au courant 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.

Picture 9/10

The Criterion Collection re-issues Jean-Luc Godard’s Pierrot le fou on Blu-ray, yet again presenting the film in its original aspect ratio of 2.35:1 on a dual-layer disc. It appears Criterion isn’t using the same master that was used for their previous edition and are instead using one created from a newer 2K film restoration, scanned from the original negative. It has been encoded here at 1080p/24hz.

The previous Blu-ray edition looked pretty good, though a recent revisit showed that my rosy memories of it (I had given the picture a perfect score) didn't hold true: it still looks sharp and colours look great, but it's obviously a dated master with grain that looks noiser than one would like. Digital anamolies are also obvious. Thankfully, this new presentation, despite looking very similar at first glance, does offer some notable improvements.

First off, film grain looks significantly better. As I stated it was a bit blocky and noisy on the old presentation, but it’s much finer and cleaner here, and the film ends up looking significantly more film-like because of it. The image is also missing those digital artifacts that could creep up in that old one, like the shimmering that appeared in Karina’s dress once in a while. All of the good aspects in that old presentation still hold true here, though: the image is still razor sharp and highly detailed throughout, and damage is not an issue at all.

Much to my surprise the colour grading is, for the most part, the same as the old Blu-ray. I was expecting a green tint to everything but thankfully that’s not the case. The film has a warmer look for sure, but it doesn’t lean too heavily on the yellow end of things, which allows all of those wonderful blues in the film to really pop. Comparing the two versions side by side I think they’re graded about the same (close, at least), which I was happy to see. The notes on the restoration point out that Criterion used a previous master approved by Raoul Coutard  (I assume the one used for their previous edition) as a colour reference.  Overall, the colours still look absolutely wonderful, with excellent reds and blues particularly. Black levels are good, though there are a couple of shots that look a bit murky or muddy. This does hold true to the old presentation as well so it could be a byproduct of lighting.

Now, after having said the presentations look the same in general look, there are some differences worth pointing out. Firstly, a scene in which director Samuel Fuller appears in is no longer tinted: it was tinted green in the old presentation but is not here. The colours end up being more “natural,” at least in relation to the rest of the film. Another shot in the same sequence, which was green in the old edition, is also “natural” here. It’s odd, as the entire sequence is composed of shots tinted in different colours (like red or blue or orange), and the green seemed like an intentional choice, but it’s completely missing here. Second, there is also a day-for-night sequence on the beach (where the two are talking about the moon) that's graded a little differently here, looking bluer. In turn, this actually makes the shot pass as a night shot, whereas it's clearly still daytime in the old presentation. As to which is the "right" look for either sequence I can't say, but I do, at the very least, find the day-for-night shot in this presentation better.

At any rate, it is a better looking and cleaner presentation overall, with more film-like texture in the end. Is the improvement big enough to pick up this edition if you already own the original one? Eh… admittedly, probably not.

Audio 6/10

The lossless PCM monaural presentation sounds the same as the old one, which is perfectly fine. The film’s music can come off pretty harsh, but dialogue sounds fine, if lacking fidelity. The track doesn’t show any severe signs of damage like pops or drops (music does drop, but it’s very much intentional), and background noise is minimal. It sounds good, though doesn’t sound any different compared to the old Blu-ray’s audio.

Extras 6/10

Criterion thankfully ports everything over from their previous Blu-ray and DVD editions for the film. I'll simply copy my comments from the review for the previous Blu-ray edition of the film:

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 [someone the interviewees'] 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 [years ago], though must admit I was a little disappointed in it [during that intial viewing]. 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.

Criterion does also carry over the booklet and all of its contents, including Richard Brody's excellent essay on the film, a reprint of Andrew Sarris' original review for the film, and a reprint of an interview between Gorard and Cahier du cinema. The booklet is still 43-pages long, though is laid out a bit differently (with different photos) since it drops the chapter menu that was found at the beginning of the old booklet. As far as I can tell the content is otherwise exactly the same. It's an excellent booklet.

My thoughts haven't changed much on the features, finding them, on the whole, a bit underwhelming, but I caught myself appreciating them a bit more this time around.


The new presentation does look better than what was found on Criterion's old edition, managing the film's grain better, but it's probably not significant enough to warrant an upgrade if you already own the old one.

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Directed by: Jean-Luc Godard
Year: 1965
Time: 110 min.
Series: The Criterion Collection
Edition #: 421
Licensor: Studio Canal
Release Date: October 06 2020
MSRP: $39.95
1 Disc | BD-50
2.35:1 ratio
French 1.0 PCM Mono
Subtitles: English
Region A
 Interview with actor Anna Karina from 2007   A “Pierrot” Primer, a video essay from 2007 written and narrated by filmmaker Jean-Pierre Gorin   Godard, l’amour, la poésie, a fifty-minute French documentary from 2007, directed by Luc Lagier, about director Jean-Luc Godard and his work and marriage with Karina   Excerpts of interviews from 1965 with Jean-Luc Godard, Anna Karina, and actor Jean-Paul Belmondo   Trailer   An essay by critic Richard Brody, along with a 1969 review by Andrew Sarris and a 1965 interview with Jean-Luc Godard