reviewed by Donald Melanson
Studio: Fox Lorber
Although Francois Truffaut's The 400 Blows is generally
considered the first of the French New Wave films, it was Breathless
by Jean-Luc Godard that got people really excited. Like Birth
of a Nation and Citizen Kane, it can be difficult for
an average film viewer today to see just what was so revolutionary
about it. But a quick study of films before and after the French
New Wave reveals just how important the movement was, and Breathless
On the surface, the plot of Breathless is as conventional
as any classic Hollywood film. A man is on the run in Paris after
killing a cop, finds and old girlfriend to hide out with, and must
find enough money for a trip to Italy before the police close in
on him. But it's not the story that makes Breathless such
a vital film, it's the way it's told.
In Breathless, we see all the hallmarks of the new wave
- long uninterrupted shots, jump cuts, and loads of cinematic references.
The latter evidenced in one of the film's most famous scenes, where
Jean-Paul Belmondo's character studies a photograph of Humphry Bogart,
then imitates the expression - an expression later repeated throughout
All of this is explained far better than I am able to do by
film critic David Sterrit in a wonderful commentary track on the
DVD. Like Roger Ebert's on the Citizen Kane disc, Sterrit crams
so much information into the film's running time that it almost
takes a second listen to absorb it all.
Unfortunately there's no other special features besides the
commentary, but the picture quality is great and the sound is presented
in its original monaural state. Any film lover needs this disc in
Director: Alexander Sokurov
Russian Ark is a bold filmmaking experiment. The idea is
a daunting one for any filmmaker - film a feature-length movie in
one take, in one continuous shot - something never done before.
But this is not a small, no-frills, proof-of-concept film. It is
as big and extravagant a production as one can imagine being possible
given the restrains.
Filmed in the expansive Hermitage museum in St. Petersburg, with
a cast of 3,000 and three live orchestras, Russian Ark is
a meandering journey through 300 years of Russian history. We see
the film through the eyes of an unidentified narrator, who floats
through the museum accompanied for much of the film by a companion,
identified only as a French Marquis.
Even without the gimmick of one continuous shot, Russian
Ark would still be a striking and visually impressive film,
but the fluidity of the camera greatly adds to its dreamlike pace.
Needless to say, this is not a film for everyone. It is art
for art's sake. If you appreciated films like Mike Figgis' Timecode,
you'll no doubt be in awe of Russian Ark. But if plot is
your primary concern, it may well put you to sleep.
Wellspring's Masterworks Edition DVD of Russian Ark
is a fine presentation of the film, with superb picture and sound
and a good assortment of special features. Of particular note is
the forty-minute documentary on the making of the film, appropriately
titled "In One Breath".
The political thriller is a genre with relatively few great films.
Costa-Gavras' 1969 film Z is one of the best. Based in part
on the 1963 assassination of Greek doctor and politician Gregorios
Lambrakis, Z is not just a political thriller, but a political
film. It takes a side and wants to convince the viewer that
it is the right one.
Gavras is completely up front about his position, opening the
film with a title that states that any similarity to actual events,
or persons living or dead is not by chance - it is deliberate.
It is not surprising the film became such a favorite among left-wing
groups. Gavras' depiction of the right-wing government and corrupt
police force is biting. Yet one does not need to be familiar with
the historical context of the film to appreciate it. The film never
directly identifies where it is set (only somewhere in the Mediterranean)
and most of the characters aren't even given names. Those familiar
with the actual events will immediately pick up on them, but the
characters created are fully-realized enough that the film stands
on its own as a dramatic work.
The film looks incredibly good on DVD, with a sharp picture and
vivid colours, doing full justice to Raoul Coutard's cinematography.
Also on the disc is a commentary by Costa-Gavras (in French with
English subtitles), an interview with Gavras and a demonstration
of the restoration done to the film.
Melanson is the founder and editor-in-chief of Mindjack. He
also writes about movies on his film