“The imposing filmography of Jean-Luc Godard is dotted with many remarkable anomalies and one-offs, including television commercials and music videos. “The Rise and Fall of a Small Film Company,” a shot-on-video picture made in 1986 and having its official New York premiere in a new restoration, is one of the most diverting and substantial of these.
Commissioned by, yes, a small film company to produce an installment of a French TV channel’s series of crime novel adaptations, Mr. Godard instead created something almost wholly other. This one was to be based on “The Soft Centre,” a book by James Hadley Chase (who wrote the lurid and scandalous “No Orchids for Miss Blandish” in 1939, as well as “Eva,” which was made into a notable film by Joseph Losey in 1962). Drawing on his own frustrations in a new era of film production, Mr. Godard concocted a narrative that, like his movies “Contempt” (1963) and “Passion” (1982), chronicles a film that doesn’t get made.
Jean-Pierre Léaud plays Gaspard Bazin, a frenetic, declaiming figure driven to distraction by, well, it’s hard to say what — although the implication is strong that he’s been broken by filmmaking itself. Mr. Léaud’s performance here is a marvel, both manic and meticulously controlled” says Glenn Kenny.