Blu-Ray Review: Le Plaisir

Director: Max Ophüls
Screenplay: Jacques Natanson, Max Ophüls
Based on Stories by: Guy de Maupassant
Starring: Jean Gabin, Danielle Darrieux, Simone Simon
Country: France
Running Time: 97min
Year: 1952
BBFC Certificate: PG


Max Ophüls is a hugely respected director, but his work isn’t often seen or spoken about these days. I must admit, I’d never watched any of his films before now either. I guess his penchant for what look like grand romantic melodramas didn’t appeal to me, nor to the modern cinephile who tends to lean towards darker, grittier fare. My tastes are broader these days though, so I was keen to take the Ophüls plunge when a screener for Le Plaisir, one of the director’s last few films before his death in 1957.

Le Plaisir translates to ‘the pleasure’, and the film is made up of three stories that each examine different aspects of the sensation. The first sees a masked man burst his way into a dance hall and stiffly, but exuberantly dance around the room, before collapsing. A doctor (Claude Dauphin), on removing his mask, realises he’s actually quite an old man and takes him home to recover, where he finds out about his past through the man’s wife (Gaby Morlay). The second is the longest story of the three, and sees brothel-madam Julie (Madeleine Renaud) take all of her girls on a trip to the country to attend the first communion of her niece. The final short tale sees a painter (Daniel Gélin) fall deeply in love with his model (Simone Simon), then endlessly argue after they move in together. The painter leaves her, but they end up married in the end through tragic circumstances.

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Blu-Ray Review: The Red Turtle

Director: Michael Dudok de Wit
Screenplay: Michael Dudok de Wit, Pascale Ferran
Starring: Emmanuel Garijo, Tom Hudson, Baptiste Goy
Country: France, Belgium, Japan
Running Time: 80 min
Year: 2016
BBFC Certificate: 12


I‘m an absolute sucker for animated films, so watch and enjoy a great deal of them. My favourite director has long been Hayao Miyazaki and the work he does, as well as that of Studio Ghibli, the production company he co-founded, is always classed as ‘must see’ in my household as I consider their output some of the best of the format. Michael Dudok de Wit’s The Red Turtle is only partly produced by Studio Ghibli, but its strong reviews have kept it firmly at the top of my ‘to watch’ list ever since I became aware of it. I frustratingly missed a couple of opportunities to see it on the big screen, but finally my chance came to watch the film when I was offered a screener to review, so I cranked up my projector and settled down, trying but failing to dampen my expectations in case of disappointment.

The Red Turtle opens with a nameless man struggling to keep hold of a capsized boat during a terrible storm, before later waking up on a desert island, the shattered remnants of his boat largely washed away. He survives as best he can and soon attempts to leave the island, stringing bamboo trunks together to form a small raft. This gets smashed by an unknown force under the water, so he swims back to shore and later tries again. His second raft gets destroyed again by a similar unseen underwater attacker. Then, on his third attempt, he catches his assailant in the act. It’s a large red turtle, who follows the man back to the island. In his anger and frustration, the man takes a large piece of wood and beats the turtle, then flips it on its back to die in the baking sunlight. After a while, the man realises what he’s done though and tries to nurse the animal back to life. Instead what happens takes the film in a fantastical direction, as the turtle turns into a woman. She can’t speak and still has some turtle-like characteristics, but the man falls in love with her and the pair decide to stay put, prompting the film to shift forward in time a couple of years to reveal they now have a young son. We then follow their lives as a family and watch the development of the boy into a man, who sets his sights beyond the island.

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Blu-Ray Review: Le Trou

Director: Jacques Becker
Screenplay: Jacques Becker, José Giovanni, Jean Aurel
Based on a Novel by: José Giovanni
Starring: André Bervil, Jean Keraudy, Michel Constantin, Raymond Meunier, Marc Michel
Country: France, Italy
Running Time: 132 min
Year: 1960
BBFC Certificate: 12


Jacques Becker is a director whose name seems to have passed me by, until I received a press release about the forthcoming re-release of a handful of his films. I almost forwarded the press release straight on to the rest of the site’s writers, but I had a quick look on IMDb and realised how well received his work has been, particularly the four Studiocanal are putting out on Blu-Ray and DVD – Edward and Caroline, Casque D’Or, Touchez Pas Au Grisbi and Le Trou. So I picked one to review that sounded most my cup of tea, (Le Trou – a.k.a. The Night Watch) and let some of my associates handle the rest.

Le Trou is based on the true account of a prison break from La Santé Prison in France in 1947 and adapted from a novel (called ‘The Break’) about the incident written by an inmate of the prison, José Giovanni. Claude Gaspard (Marc Michel) is transferred to a new cell in the prison, joining four other men, Jo Cassine (Michel Constantin), Roland Darban (Jean Keraudy), Manu Borelli (Philippe Leroy), Vossellin/Monseigneur (Raymond Meunier). They seem a little hesitant about Gaspard’s appearance at first, but once they warm to him, they decide to tell him about their intended jail break and get him involved in it. From then on, we observe the work done by the inmates to dig their way out of the prison, whilst trying to keep it a secret from the guards. There are also some worries about how trustworthy Gaspard is, as some unexpected twists arrive later on.

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Blu-Ray Review: The Sorrow and the Pity

Director: Marcel Ophüls
Screenplay: André Harris, Marcel Ophüls
Starring: Georges Bidault, Matthäus Bleibinger, Charles Braun, Maurice Buckmaster, Emmanuel d’Astier de la Vigerie
Country: France, Switzerland, West Germany
Running Time: 249 min
Year: 1969
BBFC Certificate: E


Choosing to request a copy of the documentary The Sorrow and the Pity to review was a case of feeling I should watch the film rather than me wanting to watch it. The title for starters doesn’t suggest you’re in for an easy night in front of the TV. Then you’ve got the length. At a little over four hours, it’s a hefty slab of documentary and not easy to get through in one go (I watched it over 3 nights, but only because I was far too tired to concentrate the first night – 2 would have been fine and the film is split in 2 parts to accommodate this). Nonetheless, I’d heard it often called one of the greatest documentaries ever made so, being a fan of the genre, I felt I ought to have seen the film, so I semi-reluctantly asked for a copy.

What also didn’t help my low level of enthusiasm was that I thought the film was about the Holocaust, which doesn’t make for easy viewing and is a subject that has been well covered elsewhere (particularly in the even lengthier Shoah). However, I was misinformed (or rather hadn’t read into it properly). The film is about France during WWII, so the Holocaust does feature and much time is spent on the subject of the Nazi’s anti-semitism. The core subject matter however, is the examination of Germany’s occupation of France between 1940 and 1944. Once I realised this was the case (shortly before finally putting the film on), I became less reluctant to watch it. A lot of films and documentaries have covered WWII and various aspects of the war over the decades that followed. However, other than Casablanca and the TV series ‘Allo ‘Allo, which are hardly documentaries or even ‘based on true events’ for that matter, I’ve personally never seen the occupation covered in much detail on film.

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Blu-Ray Review: Diabolique – Criterion Collection

Director: Henri-Georges Clouzot
Screenplay: René Masson, Frédéric Grendel, Henri-Georges Clouzot, Jérôme Géronimi
Based on a Novel by: Pierre Boileau, Thomas Narcejac
Starring: Simone Signoret, Véra Clouzot, Paul Meurisse, Charles Vanel
Country: France
Running Time: 117 min
Year: 1955
BBFC Certificate: 12


Diabolique seems an odd film for Criterion to choose to release in the UK as part of their collection of exquisite Blu-Ray re-releases of classic films. That’s not to say Diabolique doesn’t deserve to be part of the Criterion Collection. It’s a highly respected film from an equally respected director. However, another boutique Blu-Ray label, Arrow Academy, turned their hand to it only three years ago (albeit under the film’s alternative title, Les Diaboliques). I haven’t actually watched that release, so can’t compare, but knowing Arrow’s reputation, it’s probably equally as well remastered and seems to have a couple of equally as decent special features included. Nevertheless, it’s a film worthy of attention and I’d not seen it for a few years, so I didn’t hesitate to request a copy to review for you all here.

In Diabolique, Christina (Véra Clouzot) and Nicole (Simone Signoret) are an unlikely pair who plot to kill Christina’s husband, a cruel headmaster named Michel (Paul Meurisse). They’re an odd couple because Nicole was Michel’s mistress and Christina is perfectly aware of this. The twisted Michel makes no secret of it and this, on top of his constant belittling and humiliation of Christina, drive the women to the drastic measure of committing murder. Their plan, driven largely by the cold and calculated Nicole, seems to go relatively smoothly until Michel’s body goes missing. As Christina’s fear of being caught builds on top of her mounting guilt, her sanity and already weak heart are tested to their limits.

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Friday One Sheet: Raw

Sporting a photographically pure, that is to say, a single image with very little colour/contrast/background manipulation, allows the eye to focus on the blood (and the crisp typesetting) on display for the latest poster for Julia Ducournau’s pulse-poundingly visceral coming-of-age horror picture, Raw. The relative still nature of this Australian poster for the film belies what the film does at its best. Is that false advertising, or perhaps better setting the stage for a ‘pleasant’ (if that is the right word) surprise. The tagline, “Sister – bound by love, torn by flesh” has a kind of 1970s Italian vibe to it, and is quite at odds with the design, but salacious enough to ground Raw in the trashy space the film finds itself wandering into at key moments. This one is a keeper, and a far better design than the previous posters.

Raw is being released by Monster Pictures in Australia and New Zealand on 20 April. The film will be bowing a earlier in the USA with a theatrical release on March 10th. My recommendation: Go see it with someone who doesn’t watch horror pictures very much, and watch them squirm. Ducorneau is the real deal. Apropos of the cannibal angle, Raw would also make a swell double bill with Ana Lily Amirpour’s The Bad Batch.

Blu-Ray Review: Napoleon (1927)

Director: Abel Gance
Screenplay: Abel Gance
Starring: Albert Dieudonné, Vladimir Roudenko, Edmond Van Daël
Country: France
Running Time: 332 min
Year: 1927
BBFC Certificate: PG


Abel Gance’s Napoleon is a late silent feature that is famed for being a masterpiece of cinematic invention, but it has endured a troubled history. You should look it up to get the full story (or watch the well stocked set of features included with the Blu-Ray/DVD), but basically, although Gance had high hopes for his epic film (9 and a half hours long in its fullest form), planning on it being the first part of a 6 film series, it performed poorly on its initial release and pretty much disappeared for many years. In the 50’s and 60’s some reels were found and released, but it wasn’t until the late 70’s, when film historian Kevin Brownlow presented a restored version, that interest was reignited. He’d bought a couple of reels of Napoleon as a boy and had been obsessed with it ever since. His work didn’t stop in 1979 either, he’s continued to work to reconstruct the film as fully as possible and now we are finally presented with (probably) the most complete version of the film we’re ever likely to see. The BFI have screened this at festivals and special screenings over the last few years and now it is finally being made available on Blu-Ray and DVD in the UK.

As you might imagine, the film is a biopic of the French military and political leader Napoleon Bonaparte. Being originally intended as part of a six part series though, the film focuses solely on his early years, beginning with Napoleon as a boy, leading a large scale snowball fight and being bullied for his stony countenance. It follows his movement up the ranks in the military and politics during the birth of the French Revolution, up until he is put in charge of the French army of Italy and advances towards taking the country for the French.

I mentioned Napoleon’s reputation as a cinematic masterpiece and this is largely down to the extraordinary volume of groundbreaking techniques Gance throws into the mix. Multiple exposures are used for various effects, including creating a split screen kaleidoscopic look a few times. There’s some wildly kinetic camera movement aided by a substantial number of handheld shots, which were little used at the time. There’s some stunning editing on display too, from rapid cutting techniques, thrillingly fast paced action scenes & some striking use of intercutting. The best example of the latter sees political upheaval cutting with Napoleon on a small boat in a mighty storm (which utilises a French flag as a sail).

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Blu-Ray Review: Day for Night – Criterion Collection

Director: François Truffaut
Screenplay: François Truffaut, Jean-Louis Richard, Suzanne Schiffman
Starring: Jacqueline Bisset, Jean-Pierre Léaud, François Truffaut, Jean-Pierre Aumont, Valentina Cortese
Country: France, Italy
Running Time: 115 min
Year: 1973
BBFC Certificate: 15


Films about filmmaking always tend to be popular with critics and I must say I’ve always been a fan of them myself. From the razor sharp satire of The Player, to the noirish brilliance of Sunset Boulevard, to over the top daft takes on the genre like Bowfinger, there’s a lot to enjoy from the film industry poking fun at or shining a mirror on themselves. French new wave legend François Truffaut turned his hand at making a film about making a film back in 1973, Day for Night. It was hugely popular at the time, winning numerous awards, including the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film and The Criterion Collection have chosen it as their latest release on Blu-Ray in the UK. I haven’t seen it since I was a teenager, but I had fond memories of it, so was keen on giving it a rewatch.

Day for Night charts the production of ‘Meet Pamela’, a soapy-looking drama about a young woman who’s torn between her fiancée and his father. Truffaut plays the on-screen director who tries to keep the machine rolling during a shoot fraught with problems. The cast are divas, the crew are getting off with each other left-right and centre and little goes to plan. Mid-production things start to level off, but several disasters towards the end lead to some wild compromises.

It perfectly captures the madness of making a film – the problems; major and minor, the fakery and the beauty. Despite so much going wrong during the fictional production, it still made me desperate to get out on set, being a filmmaker myself. This is a testament to the great balancing act Truffaut pulls off between poking fun at the industry’s inherent absurdity and writing it a love letter at the same time. A closing bit of dialogue perfectly sums it up, when a reporter asks the prop-man (the only person willing to talk to the press) if the shoot was difficult, and he answers “no, it went fine and we hope audiences enjoy watching it”, despite the multitude of catastrophes they went through.

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Trailer: Évolution

Beautifully shot, languid, haunting, esoteric, and cold. All of these things can be said of Lucile Hadzihalilovic’s latest film, Évolution. The same could be said of her first feature, Innocence, which was about a boarding school for girls. Her latest, coming more than a decade later, is about a strange ‘school’ for boys, but considering the somewhat spoiler-y nature of the trailer below, it’s not really a school in the case, more of a clinic (and it’s not really that either). Some very impressive body horror and formal cinematography abound in this one; both gorgeous shots of the seaside, and what lies beneath.

10-year-old Nicolas lives with his mother on a remote island, in a village inhabited solely by women and young boys. In a hospital overlooking the ocean, all the boys are subjected to a mysterious medical treatment. Only Nicolas questions what is happening around him. He senses that his mother is lying to him, and is determined to find out what she does with the other women at night, on the beach… What he discovers is the beginning of a nightmare into which he is helplessly drawn.

Fun Fact: Lucile Hadzihalilovic is married to Gaspar Noe, and their cinema complements each other in interesting ways, she is the yin to his yang, but she is also the better filmmaker.

DVD Review: Evolution

Director: Lucile Hadzihalilovic
Screenplay by: Lucile Hadzihalilovic, Alante Kavaite, Geoff Cox
Starring: Max Brebant, Roxane Duran, Julie-Marie Parmentier
Country: France, Belgium, Spain
Running Time: 78 min
Year: 2015
BBFC Certificate: 15


Nothing to do with the 2001 sci-fi comedy of the same name, Evolution is an art-house horror film of sorts from Lucile Hadzihalilovic, the director of Innocence. I usually like art-house genre crossovers, so I thought I’d give this a shot.

Giving a synopsis is tricky as this is a highly unusual film. It opens with a young boy, Nicolas (Max Brebant), swimming in the ocean where he sees the dead body of a boy under the water. No one believes him, but we soon begin to realise that all is not what it seems in this seaside community and something suspicious is going on between the inhabitants. Speaking of which, for reasons never explained, the only residents of this village seem to be young boys on the brink of puberty and their ‘mothers’, who mainly seem a little too young to be so. The boys just play on the beach all day whilst the women tend to their needs, giving them ‘medicine’ at regular intervals and preparing their suspect looking meals. The plot thickens further when Nicolas and some of the other boys are taken to a hospital where they are treated for an unnamed ‘illness’.

I won’t go in to too much more detail about the plot as that would be spoiling things and, to be honest, I wasn’t quite sure what the hell was going on half the time. It’s a most unusual film. On one side this plays to the its strengths, presenting an incredibly mysterious story which you can’t second guess. On the other side, it makes the film quite difficult to maintain a grip on. This isn’t helped by the minimal dialogue and cold, expressionless performances. The presentation is art-house with a capital A in that sense.

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Blu-Ray Review: Hiroshima Mon Amour

Director: Alain Resnais
Screenplay: Marguerite Duras
Starring: Emmanuelle Riva, Eiji Okada, Stella Dassas
Country: France, Japan
Running Time: 90 min
Year: 1959
BBFC Certificate: 12


My hit and miss relationship with French cinema (particularly the New Wave) has left a lot of gaps in my knowledge of the country’s filmic output. One of the major titles that had passed me by, which is often cited as one of the greatest films of all time (it just missed out of the top 10 in Sight and Sound’s greatest films lists in ’62 and ’72), is Alain Resnais’ Hiroshima Mon Amour. Given its reputation I didn’t hesitate to request a screener when one was offered, but my occasional dislike of the French style made me approach the film with caution.

Hiroshima Mon Amour is quite sparse in terms of up front narrative. An unnamed (although IMDB calls her Elle) French actress (Emmanuelle Riva) is having an affair with a Japanese architect (Lui on IMDB, played by Eiji Okada) whilst shooting an anti-war film in Hiroshima. Her time there is limited, but Lui is desperate for her to stay and the two spend the day or so they have together discussing the war and delving into Riva’s tragic past of lost love and the ensuing mental suffering. We visit these memories through brief flashbacks throughout the film.

I was a bit torn in my feelings about this. The first 15 minutes are made up of a montage of footage of Hiroshima around the time of the bombing and the present day (late ’50’s) whilst the two leads muse about the war. Elle describes things she’s seen and Lui keeps saying that she’s “seen nothing”. This is the sort of poetically philosophical dialogue that has turned me off many French films in the past, so the film didn’t set off on the right foot for me. However, I found Resnais’ shots of Hiroshima (some of the footage in this sequence is stock from the war) particularly striking which kept me on board and the subject matter interested me (I’ve always found the idea of nuclear weapons terrifying and don’t feel the bombing of Hiroshima is discussed enough in the West).

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