• Jane B. Par Agnes V./Kung-Fu Master!

    Released by:
    Cinelicious Pics
    Released on: March 8th, 2016
    Director: Agnes Varda
    Cast: Jane Birkin, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Mathieu Demy, Lou Doillon, Serge Gainsbourg
    Year: 1988/1987
    Purchase from Amazon

    The Movies

    This Blu-Ray double feature from Cinelicious Pics celebrates a cinematic middle period for fashion icon and style muse Jane Birkin who, during the 1980s, as the former flame of Serge Gainsbourg, had already proven herself to be more than just a pretty face on the big screen.

    Indeed, Birkin's ability to emote and deliver in front of the camera made her one of those triple threats, in addition to her successful careers in the worlds of music and fashion. Although Birkin would kick start her movie career in sex pot and B-movie roles in such films as Blow Up, Catherine and Co. or the giallo Seven Deaths in the Cat's Eye, by the time the late eighties rolled around, Birkin's powerhouse reputation in the world of cinema was assured.

    The two films contained here showcase the ever-beautiful Birkin as she's approaching forty years of age, and were both directed by filmmaker Agnes Varda. The first , Jane B. Par Agnes V., is a bio-pic of sorts, melding together Birkin's firsthand accounts of her childhood, early career and personal life along with bizarre, non-sequitur fantasy sequences which run the gamut of Birkin's performance skills. These scenes are distracting and rarely successful, however, and detract from the far more interesting scenes where Birkin either directly addresses the camera or interacts with Varda on screen. Granted, Jane B. Par Agnes V. is attempting to be a surreal, post-modern take on the biography, and thus succeeds, but mileage may vary as to how much enjoyment Birkin fans will get out of this one.

    Much more successful is Kung-Fu Master!, released a year prior and dealing with a controversial story, very much indicative of its European origins. Birkin plays the part of Mary-Jane, a separated mother of two who embarks upon a shameful affair with her daughter's fourteen year old schoolmate, in a desperate attempt at staving off the inevitable aging process. As if this plot wasn't disturbing enough, the boy, Julien, is played by Varda's real life son Mathieu Demy, while Birkin's own daughters play the children from an earlier relationship. Yet, it's also how Varda's film frames Birkin and lets the story unfold which might leave some viewers scratching their heads, or shaking their fists.

    Varda never judges Mary-Jane for her actions, despite her character's downright predatory actions, such as intentionally setting up instances to meet up with the young boy, Julien, at school or at his home. Of course, it helps that Kung-Fu Master! is never salacious or exploitative when it comes to the actual romance between the two, it's difficult not to be angered by Mary-Jane's behavior, even if we can identify with her character's loneliness and desperation. The end results could perhaps be compared to some of the inappropriate teacher-student relationships which so often make the nightly news, albeit seen from the inside of how this sort of situation could take place.

    There is also quite a bit of commentary upon the A.I.D.S. crisis during the late eighties, a string of thought which gets mentioned throughout the film, whether as random dialogue from supporting characters, television programming or folks passing out panic pamphlets in the city of London. Varda also strangely connects the relationship between Mary-Jane and Julien together with the classic stand-up arcade game Kung Fu Master, known to Nintendo fans simply as Kung Fu when it was ported over to the NES. There are shots comparing Mary-Jane to the captured video game girlfriend Sylvia, as well as several scenes where Birkin and Demy try their hands at completing the game and reaching the final level.

    The acting is exceptional here from everyone involved, while Varda crafts a quickly moving film which never fails to capture our attention. The subject matter may be difficult, but the end results are worth it for those able make it through to the end.


    Cinelicious Pics presents both of Agnes Varda's films scanned in 2k from the original 35mm negatives in AVC encoded 1080p high definition. Flesh tones appear even and nicely rendered, with no signs of extensive damage, dirt or debris. Kung Fu Master! looks a bit soft, but nothing distracting at all, while there are also signs of DNR or intrusive artifacts to be seen.

    The audio tracks, French DTS-HD tracks in 1.0 or 2.0 with optional subtitles provided in English only, are also well balanced, with error-free subtitles from the French language dialogue.

    Extras include a print essay on Varda's work from Sandy Flitterman-Lewis, as well as on camera interviews with the director for both films, where Varda discusses working with Birkin, her inspiration for the films, as well as behind the scenes work and how each picture was conceived.

    The Final Word

    This writer wasn't familiar with the work of Agnes Varda prior to watching these films, but it's clear from this disc that the filmmaker clearly knows what she wants to do, and how she wants to achieve her goals. Mileage will vary as to how successful Varda is in those goals, but Kung-Fu Master! is, at the very least, a viable reason to check this double feature out.

    Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!

    Comments 2 Comments
    1. Mark C.'s Avatar
      Mark C. -
      Love Jane, will be grabbing this, Amazon link does not take me to listing though.
    1. Ian Jane's Avatar
      Ian Jane -
      Fixed the link, thanks!