From the vault: 1965

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 13 April, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 13 April, 2008, 12:00am

Pierrot le fou

Starring: Jean-Paul Belmondo, Anna Karina, Graziella Galvani

Director: Jean-Luc Godard

The film: Jean-Luc Godard had originally wanted Richard Burton to play the male lead in this, his tenth, and some say best - or at least most watchable - feature film. But the Welshman was unavailable and so Godard hired Jean-Paul Belmondo, who had just returned to France from Hong Kong after shooting the adventure-comedy Les Tribulations d'un Chinois en Chine. Opposite Belmondo he cast his by-then estranged wife, Anna Karina, and set them off on what is essentially an intellectual road movie tinged with political satire, artistic references, broken filmmaking rules, nods to Hollywood, radical editing and all the other hallmarks of Godard's work up to this point. Unlike his earlier films, however, it seldom dips into tiresome self-indulgence (which marked his later, more heavily political films) and taken at face value is an entertaining, colourful and often very amusing excursion from Paris to the sparkling shores of the Mediterranean.

Belmondo (right) is Pierrot, a bored husband who deserts his wife and children to run off with the babysitter. They drive away in a stolen car, and a series of episodes ensues that sometimes advances the narrative and sometimes does not - at least not on first viewing. To say this is one of Godard's more easily watched films is cold comfort to those with short attention spans. But thanks to Raoul Coutard's brilliant colour cinematography and Godard's dynamic use of bold, primary colours and the resulting creation of an almost palpable atmosphere, this a film that can get away with being experienced on its own highly inventive terms rather than fully understood and analysed.

Anyone new to Godard might do better with a film like Breathless as a first step on what can often be an exasperating road of discovery. Viewers familiar with his work, but not with Pierrot le fou, might find that this is the big pay-off for all those hours spent grappling with a body of work all too often dressed up in the emperor's new clothes.

The extras: the features on this new double-disc edition from Criterion open with a new 15-minute video interview with Anna Karina (Band of Outsiders, My Life to Live), almost unrecognisable 40 years on, but with plenty of anecdotes to offer. There is also a selection of archival interviews featuring Karina, Godard and Belmondo. Best of the extras is a 50-minute documentary on Godard's life and films with Karina, while the worst is a tiresome 35-minute video essay by former Godard collaborator Jean-Pierre Gorin that takes overanalysis to excruciating new depths. Inside the case is a very nice, heavily illustrated, 44-page booklet containing a new essay, a 1969 review by Andrew Sarris and a 1965 interview with Godard.

The new widescreen-enhanced 2.35:1 transfer, approved by cinematographer Coutard, looks terrific.