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Jane B. Par Agnes V. / Kung-Fu Master!
Cinelicious brings Jane B. Par Agnès V. / Kung-Fu Master! (a.k.a. Le Petit Amour) to Blu-ray in a new two-disc set that serves as a nice sort of celebration of the life and work of actress, singer, model and Serge Gainsbourg muse Jane Birkin. Both films are directed by Agnès Varda.
Jane B. Par Agnès V. (1986):
The first film is an odd documentary of sorts in which Birkin is presented as Jane B. and Varda as Agnes V. We learn through this piece about Birkin's work in cinema, her appearance in Blow-Up, her life in London as an actress and a model. We also learn about Varda's work as a filmmaker, her importance to new wave cinema and from there, how she and Birkin came to know one another.
As the picture progresses, Varda paints odd little portraits of her subject, while Birkin plays with and to the camera at different times and in different ways. There's a self-awareness here that makes this as much a personality piece then a traditional documentary but Birkin's a charming subject, most won't mind this at all. As we trip through Birkin's world as it existed in 1986, her fortieth birthday just around the corner and clearly causing her some anxiety, we learn about her work, her beliefs and her world view.
Given that this comes to us from Varda's camera, a device that Birkin describes early in the film as ‘maybe a trap' there are some feminist leanings here and there (Varda was important to the feminist movement of her day) but there's more to this than that. It's really little more than snippets of Birkin being Birkin. Quirky, intelligent, adorable and more than a little weird. But it's fascinating. It moves quickly, it's shot in a strange but captivating way and it's got some great music in it (Gainsbourg makes an appearance in this regard!). Varda appears on camera herself sometimes but even when she's not in the frame, we often hear her directing from behind the camera, so she too lets her personality shine through here.
Kung-Fu Master! (1987):
In the second film Birkin plays Mary Jane, a woman who lives with her two daughters, Lucy and Lou (played by her real life daughters Charlotte Gainsbourg and Lou Doillon). Their life is simple enough until Mary Jane falls in love with one of her daughter's classmates, a fourteen year old boy named Julien (played by Varda's son Mathieu Demy). He is the Kung-Fu Master of the title, so-called not because he has any martial arts prowess at all but because he's fairly obsessed with a video game of the same name.
Mary Jane's obsession with the boy doesn't seem to be entirely sexual in nature, rather it seems that he reminds her of her younger, more carefree days. She takes things to reasonably creepy extremes at times, skulking about the local video arcades looking for him and willingly picking up her daughters from school in hopes of running into Julien and making it look like a coincidence. It isn't long before Julien seems to reciprocate her feelings for him but things get predictably complicated when he winds up going on vacation to England with Mary Jane and her two daughters.
Clearly the subject matter here will ruffle some feathers and despite the fact that it always plays things in good taste, there's definitely some palpable tension between Mary Jane and Julien that says more than their physical actions do. That said, the emphasis here isn't on their attraction so much as it is why that attraction exists: she helps him build self-confidence and he makes her feel younger than she really is. The film winds up being part character study of a woman approaching middle age and part bizarre romance but it's well acted, nicely shot and solid in its pacing.The Blu-ray:
Each film is presented on its own disc framed at 1.66.1 widescreen in some really nice looking AVC encoded 1080p high definition transfers taken from recent 2k restorations of the original 35mm negatives. Supervised by Agnès Varda, it's hard to imagine things looking much better than they do here. The occasional white speck shows up now and then but outside of that there's really no serious print damage at all. The films are given a healthy bit rate and so there are no compression issues, neither are there any problems with edge enhancement or noise reduction. Some shots look a little flat and some shots show less detail than others but this appears to be how the movies were shot and not an issue with the technical side of this release. Detail is typically quite strong, grain is present but never overpowering or distracting. Colors are reproduced nicely and naturally while depth and texture are solid throughout. All in all, these are nice film-like presentations.Sound:
Audio chores for each film are handled by a pair of French language DTS-HD tracks in 1.0 or 2.0 with optional subtitles provided in English only. These are fairly basic mixes but they work just fine and the use of music in the first picture definitely benefits from the lossless treatment. Dialogue is clear and audible, levels are nicely balanced and there aren't any problems to report with any hiss or distortion. Simple though these mixes may be, they suit the content of the features just fine.Extras:
The main supplement on this release is a selection of interviews with director Agnès Varda, one on each disc. On disc one we get a twenty-two minute piece in which she talks about working with Birkin, coming up with the story, some of the themes and ideas seen in the movie and more. On the second disc we get a slightly longer twenty-six minute segment where she covers similar ground as it relates to the later film. It would have been interesting to get some input from Birkin herself on these odd little movies but for whatever reason that didn't happen. Regardless, Varda's well spoken, articulate and an interesting interview subject.
Additionally we get trailers for each of the two features, menus and chapter selection. Inside the keepcsase, along with the two Blu-ray discs, is a color insert booklet of liner notes written by Sandy Flitterman-Lewis and a separate interview with Agnès Varda conducted Miranda July.Final Thoughts:
The Cinelicious Blu-ray release of Jane B. Par Agnès V. / Kung-Fu Master! (a.k.a. Le Petit Amour) brings two fairly obscure but entirely worthwhile cinematic oddities to high definition home video in style. How much you get out of these will probably depend on how much stock you put in Birkin's not inconsiderable charm, but each picture entertains, amuses and provokes thought in its own way. The presentation is strong and the extras are interesting. Recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.