Although best known for a trio of films released between 1955 and 1961 (Night and Fog, Hiroshima Mon Amour, and Last Year at Marienbad), octogenarian French director Alain Resnais experienced a recent resurgence of interest in his work after winning the Silver Lion at the Venice Film Festival in 2006 for Private Fears in Public Places (aka Coeurs). Perhaps to capitalize on this resurgent interest, Kino has just released four of Resnais' minor films from the 1980s: Life Is a Bed of Roses (1983) (aka La Vie est un roman), Love unto Death (1984) (aka L' Amour à mort), Mélo (1986), and I Want to Go Home (1989) (aka Je veux rentrer à la maison). Three of these films, Life Is a Bed of Roses, Love unto Death (1984), and Mélo (1986) have identical core casts and explore common themes of love and death. This review concerns the last of these, Mélo (1986).
Mélo is based on a 1929 play by Henri Bernstein and retains many of a play's characteristics. The film is divided into three acts. Each act is composed of a handful of long scenes, occurring on a small number of studio sets, by a limited number of actors: there are only seven speaking roles, three of which are quite small. Further the dialogue is decidedly melodramatic and acting, while very good, is theatrically larger than life.
The first act begins with a dinner held to celebrate the return of Marcel (André Dussollier) to Paris by his friend and fellow professional musician Pierre (Pierre Arditi). Marcel is a bachelor, while Pierre is recently married. Pierre's wife Sabine (Sabine Azéma), meeting Marcel for the first time, falls for him, and arranges to meet him alone at his apartment the following day. Sabine makes a pass at Marcel, and despite his initial principled reservations, Sabine seduces him. So ends Act I.
What follows in Act II is an overwrought affair between Sabine and Marcel in which they continuously yearn for one another when apart, and spend their time together dreading the inevitable separation at evening's end. As Sabine recedes from Pierre's daily life, her cousin Christiane (Fanny Ardant) steps in as nursemaid when Pierre becomes mysteriously ill. Torn between passion for Marcel and compassion for Pierre, Sabine takes desperate measures. So ends Act II.
Act III concerns the aftermath of the dramatic events concluding Act II, and is best left to the viewer to discover.
The 1.66:1 image is preserved and is given an anamorphic presentation. Though the transfer is better than that found on some other Kino releases, and is far better than that commonly found on other conversions of European films (e.g., BBC Warner releases), the image is soft and there is noticeable motion blur. Overall the image is acceptable, but not spectacular.
This disc provides a 2.0 stereo audio track which is generally fine except that there is no noticeable separation between channels.
Extras include a trailer for this film and a 13-minute interview with producer Marin Karmitz which is uncommonly informative. Karmitz vividly recalls the conditions he imposed on the production to bring the film in for 7 million francs including cutting the running time, eliminating troublesome crew members, compelling wage concessions from the remaining crew, and limiting filming and editing time. The one thing Resnais would not compromise on though was his determination to have the film made in a studio rather than in real locations.
Like all of Alain Resnais' films, Mélo employs a contrived storytelling device, though here it's more subtle and more accessible than in some of his other works. Here it's overly melodramatic theatricality that Resnais employs, therefore it's no wonder that Resnais fought to have this film made on a studio set. The artifice of the film would not have worked as well on real locations. As it is, whether one likes Mélo turns on one's appreciation for this contrivance. The melodrama certainly isn't bad, Sabine Azéma and Pierre Arditi received the French Film Academy's highest honors for their performances, but it is not for everybody.
Viewers who prefer their dramas realistic will not appreciate what Alain Resnais has done here, but those open to a uniquely urbane approach to extreme melodrama should check out Mélo.