'America as Seen by a Frenchman' [Blu-ray]
(Jean Cocteau, et al / Blu-ray / NR / (1960) 2020 / Arrow Films UK)
Overview: At the end of the 1950s, celebrated French documentarian François Reichenbach (F for Fake, Portrait: Orson Welles), whose lens captured the likes of Brigitte Bardot and Johnny Hallyday, spent eighteen months traveling the United States, documenting its diverse regions, their inhabitants and their pastimes.
The result, America As Seen by a Frenchman, is a wide-eyed perhaps even naïve journey through a multitude of different Americas, filtered through a French sensibility and serving as a fascinating exploration of a culture that is both immediately familiar and thoroughly alien.
Blu-ray Verdict: Titled 'L Amérique insolite' literally unusual America in its native tongue, 'America As Seen by a Frenchman' lovingly renders the various eccentricities of Americana circa the mid-twentieth century, and proves the old adage that reality really is stranger than fiction.
Simply put, 'America as Seen by a Frenchman' is a general, unquestioning travelogue of the United States through the eyes of French director and co-cameraman Francois Reichenbach, a director often fascinated with life in the home of the French-made Statue of Liberty.
From the attractions of the West Coast including Disneyland to the skyscrapers of New York, Reichenbach is curious about everything.
A prison rodeo (later to come under closer and more critical scrutiny in the ’90s), culturally and ethnically mixed neighborhoods, religions outside the mainstream, ghost towns, and the unique world of the American teen are all given a peek.
These views of the U.S. are informative though absent of critical analysis.
Featuring a prologue written by Jean Cocteau which essentially celebrates the oddities and differences that define humanity and the asymmetrical beauty it creates, what jumps out about this film is the exuberance and curiosity which the filmmakers have in exploring the United States.
Not only documenting different regions of the United States, but attempting to understand the culture from a transitional standpoint, examining the American Way of life from early adolescence through adulthood.
Woven together quite nicely, it's rather (and one would assume, intentionally) colorful, quirky and at times very disconcerting for the current era. Reichenbach clearly loves his subject and passes no judgement. Which in 2020 comes across as a bit of a flaw, of course. This is a Widescreen Presentation (2.35:1) enhanced for 16x9 TVs and comes with the Special Features of:
High Definition (1080p) Blu-ray presentation
Original uncompressed mono audio
Newly translated English subtitles
New video appreciation of the film by author and critic Philip Kemp
Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Ignatius Fitzpatrick
+ FIRST PRESSING ONLY: Illustrated collector's booklet featuring new writing on the film by Caspar Salmon