Jean-Luc Godard was arguably the greatest film director of the 1960s. He was also the driving force behind the French New Wave (La Nouvelle Vague) movement and one of the most influential film-makers of all time. Essential Godard brings five of his best films together, two available on Blu-ray for the first time. All made during his most fertile period between 1960 and 1965, three starring Jean-Paul Belmondo and three Anna Karina, the latter providing exclusive interviews for this release by StudioCanal.

The set contains:

Breathless
Une Femme et une Femme
Le Mépris
Alphaville
Pierrot le Fou

Breathless

Godard’s first and most well known film stars Jean-Paul Belmondo as a small-time thief Michel who ,after shooting a policeman in Marseilles, goes into hiding in Paris. Michel fancies himself as an American gangster, and whilst he’s unwittingly sheltered by American journalist student Patricia (Jean Seberg), he desperately attempts to call in a loan in order to flee France. Breathless is a classic by any measure and loses nothing with the passing of time.

Une Femme est une Femme

Godard is not a cheerful man, but he did make one truly happy film. In Une Femme et une Femme he puts his charismatic twist on musical comedy. Angela (Karina) wants a baby but her boyfriend Emile (Jean-Claude Brialy) is not willing to acquiesce. She feigns interest in Emile’s best friend (Jean-Paul Belmondo) to get what she wants. Une Femme est une Femme is pure fun which melds Godard’s love of traditional America comedies and musicals, allowing Karina to showcase her singing talents.

Le Mépris

Anna Karina doesn’t star in Le Mépris, despite Godard wanting to cast his wife, but Bridget Bardot does her best impression of her in a scene to illustrate his contempt. Contempt (the English title) is precisely what he had for the film industry at that point. His response to demands from producers to film extra nude scenes of Bardot is a hillarious opening sequence involving her bottom. The film tells the story of the breakdown of a relationship between Bardot and her writer husband (Michel Piccoli). He’s commissioned to re-write a script, written by the director Fritz Lang, by rich Hollywood producer (Jack Palance) for an adaptation of Homer’s Odyssey.

Alphaville

Lemmy Caution (Eddie Constantine) is a secret agent who arrives in Alphaville posing as a reporter from the Outer Colonies. Alphaville is hailed as the city of the future and it’s progressive mindset has outlawed free thought and individualistic concepts under a plan by its creator Professor von Braun (Howard Vernon). Lemmy’s mission is to capture of kill him but his plan is complicated when he falls in love his the professor’s daughter (Karina). Alphaville looks more beautiful than ever with Godard’s only foray into science fiction etched on screen by the modernist Paris backdrops.

Pierrot le Fou

Unhappily married and recently fired, Pierrot (Jean-Paul Belmondo) decides to run off with their babysitter Marianne (Anna Karina). He soon discovers that she’s on the run from far-right paramilitary thugs. The pair flee, driving from Paris to the Mediterranean, leaving a crime spree in their wake. Pierrot settles on the Riviera but Marianne soon starts to get itchy feet. Pierrot le Fou is Godard’s inimical take on Bonnie and Clyde, and it’s brilliant.

Essential Godard is released on Blu-ray today by StudioCanal. Unlike most ‘director’ collections it contains five of his best films and it’s an eclectic overview of his early work. It’s a great entry-point for the curious and two films on Blu-ray for the first time to tempt the collector.