Friday, February 15, 2008

Uncle Jean makes the scene

I bow to no one in my slavish ardor for the man who gives us God-art, the one and only JLG. A new box set of four of his “late period” works has been released by Lionsgate (“late” only in that they were made after his “comeback” to fiction film in the 1980s). The box has a few small drawbacks: the two best films in the set were put on the same disc; the cover has an anachronistic 1960s pic of Uncle Jean; and the video-essay he made about Passion is not included in the package (that is the perfect supplement for the film; no trailers are included either). What is there to celebrate about the set? Well, it does present gorgeously restored copies of two of his post-comeback masterpieces, films that are as tightly structured and, yes, accessible as the work he did in his “golden period” in the Sixties, Passion (1982) and First Name Carmen (1983). The other two features in the set, Detective (1985) and Helas Pour Moi (the English translation title, Oh, Woe is Me is rather stilted), contain some of the biggest stars in French cinema (Johnny Hallyday, Nathalie Baye, Jean-Pierre Leaud, Emmanuelle Seigner, and Julie Delpy in the first; Gerard Depardieu in the second), but they are films that, while entertaining (some scenes in Detective are wonderfully funny), do seem like they were produced in an improvisatory fashion that favored dialogue over character and plot. Passion and Carmen, on the other hand, are underrated gems that deserve multiple viewings. In celebration of the set, I offer a glimpse at Godard playing his cinematic alter-ego, crazy “Uncle Jean,” a role he debuted in Carmen and then reprised in a few of his 1980s and ’90s features. The character was clearly based on what the public perception of JLG was: a slightly batty older man who spoke in epigrams and wasn’t quite conscious of the world around him.

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