Jean Luc-Godard is perhaps one of the most important figures in French cinema. He, along with colleagues from Cahiers du Cinema, dramatically challenged and changed the accepted forms of cinema. Before film was coherent, a seductive fantasy that drew audiences into its perfectly constructed space. Godard and others broke that space into a million different pieces, shattering Hollywood continuity and introducing a style of shooting and editing that has remained relevant and innovative. However, what made Godard even more radical was his politics. Godard held passionate Marxist views that crept into his films and thus his films became even more subversive. In 1972 Godard, along with Jean-Pierre Gorin, made a film that more obviously combined the philosophies of Marxist ideology and the disruptive nature of the French New wave called Tout va bien and now Arrow Academy releases it on to Blu-ray. I give it a look to see whether the film has the same political punch that it had back in 1972 or whether the radical sentiment has diffused in the years since its release.
Set in a sausage factory after a highly important French strike in 1968, we see two people, him and her, a commercial director and radio journalist, explore and interact with the reasons why workers at the factory are on strike and why they locked the manager in his office. The plot summary of Tout va bien does not really explain what this film is at all. Like most Godard films there is something else going on that is expressed through the construction of the film and through its content. On the surface you have a sort of love story during a strike in a sausage factory, but underneath is a cutting satire of film, criticism of the current economic climate, and capitalism in general.
Godard is best known for challenging all those unwritten rules of filmmaking; crossing the 180-degree line, time skips, jump-cuts, dissecting the diegetic space and time into some sort of cubist approximation of all four dimensions. His style of filmmaking can come across as pretentious at first, however, on further reflection it can actually be used to create some quite interesting and humorous sequences. For instance at the start of the film, instead of placing the audience in the narrative, the film begins with two narrators talking about how their film got made, how stars are needed to make a successful movie, and how a story is needed to attract those stars. It gives a weird kind of self-reflexivity to the film, making the viewer aware of its artificiality, which of course is the point.
Godard lends his inventive interpretation of cinematic language to Tout va bien. The main set is almost theatrical in a series of offices where the camera can track back and forth between them. There are fourth wall addresses, jump-cuts and the space in which characters move and act is twisted just enough for audiences to think truly about the meaning of the events that they are presented with. All of this looks great in high definition presented in 1080p from a high definition transfer and shown in a 1.66:1 aspect ratio and Arrow has done a great job in preserving a master’s playful cinematic form.
I will say, however, I think that the film is hampered by a modern audiences lack of understanding and topicality of the ideas being addressed. I mean, Marxist ideas are universal so that is something that most people can still have a shallow understanding of. However, the film is set in a particular place and time showing the effect of another historical event that most may not know about. As such the core message of the film is lost in the annuls of time. Though this may also be a good thing as those with interest can research the events referred to and thus the film is extended beyond its original runtime as you can watch it again with the knowledge that original audiences may have had.
It is actually quite hard to review a Godard film as his films are driven, perhaps more than others, by a style of filmmaking that can be a turn-off. I think that Tout va bien is one of his more accessible films, it is also one of his most politically charged films with biting commentary on French business and the movie industry as a whole to create a radical film with a radical style. It might not be for everyone, but this is a film that will make you think about current political events if you persevere through it and I think that is very worth while.
Outside of the film, Arrow Academy do a great job in the way that they have put this disc together. It works well, and during playback there are no errors in both the visual or audio quality. The optional subtitles for the main film are also clear as is the menu layout. Finally the extras, and the sustainability of the disc. Well I have already mentioned the research that one can do outside the movie to extend its impact, Arrow has also included interviews, on-set footage of the making of the film as well as a 55-minute documentary exploring the iconic image of Tout va bien star Jane Fonda in Vietnam. These all serve as great companion pieces, exploring the minds behind the artists of this meaningful film.
This film is not going to be for everyone, Godard has a filmmaking style that makes him an acquired taste, and I personally have yet to fully acquire it. I can say that this is one of his films I most enjoyed, it cuts through so much to show the humorous, almost farcical, nature of business, both the sausage and movie variety. Arrow Academy do a good job in updating Godard’s signature radical style in a great high definition presentation, and with interesting extras to match this is a disc for those with an interest in political film, Godard, or anyone wanting to expand their cinematic horizons.
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