Lions Gate Films in collaboration with French juggernaut Studio Canal continue to deliver outstanding product to the North American market. This time around I have in my hands a 3DVD set with films by French contemporary director Andre Techine. The four films in it are: Hotel des Ameriques, J'embrasse pas, Ma Saison preferree, and Les Roseaux Sauvages.
Hotel des Ameriques (1981)
An emotionally battered man (Dewaere) encounters a disillusioned woman (Deneuve) in a rundown café, they become lovers. But the more they try to forget their unfortunate past affairs and look toward to the future the more they begin to realize that such may not be possible.
J'embrasse pas (1991)
A young provincial man (Blanc) arrives in Paris determined to make it big. He befriends an old gay man (Noiret) who attempts to warn him about the treacherous nature of show-business. The youngster falls for a beautiful prostitute (Beart) and ends up becoming a male companion as well.
Ma saison préférée (1993)
A brother (Auteuil) and sister (Deneuve) struggle to overcome personal issues but are drawn together after their mother (Villalonga) dies. They begin to slowly rediscover each other, what time has taken away from them.
Les Roseaux sauvages (1994)
A coming-of-age drama set during the Algerian War focusing on the lives of four teenagers with different goals in life. Maïté Alvarez (Bouchez) is a communist sympathizer whose view on the world does not necessarily reflect that of her comrades. François Forestier (Morel) has realized that he isn't interested in girls, but will the boy he likes respond to his feelings? Serge Bartolo (Rideau) has lost his brother in the war - is this a good time to fall in love? Henri Mariani (Gorny) despises the French and the oppressive regime they have imposed on Algeria but is drawn to Maïté. Do principles come before love?
Aside from Patrice Chereau whose fascination with alienating, sexually dynamic, relationships has produced some of the most challenging contemporary French films (Ceux qui m'aiment prendront le train) and to a lesser extent Christophe Honore and his controversial forays into the lonely world of sexual depravity (Ma Mere) Andre Techine is the only other Gallic director whose films I always find to be truly unpredictable. They are both gentle but angry (Les Roseaux sauvages), naïve but perverse (J'embrasse pas), romantic but controversial (Hotel des Ameriques), and pleasing but genuinely unsettling (Ma saison préférée). There is something about the manner in which Techine tells his stories that is undeniably contentious, always posing more questions than providing answers.
Each of the four films selected for this boxset also tells a story with an open ending. In Hotel des Ameriques two people who have practically given up on love and decided to live life by the day suddenly see a glimmer of hope when they encounter a similarly tormented soul. They become interested in each other only because they feel that there is enough misery in their past to keep them together. Unfortunately, as soon as they start rearranging their lives and begin to follow the route to happiness disappointment and jealousy take over.
In J'embrasse pas, a film as poetic but bitterly realistic as Cyril Collard's Les Nuits fauves (1992), Techine's camera follows the struggles of a young man whose desire to remain independent places him on the downslope of self-humiliation. He is forced to sell his body in order to preserve his freedom. But is freedom worth that much? J'embrasse pas ends on a positive note yet its message is anything but. As it is the case with most every other Techine film there is always a story behind the story.
Using an ordinary relationship between a brother and sister, both successful processionals, which has deteriorated into nothing more than a snobbish exchange of polite twaddle Ma saison préférée is amongst the best films I have seen about mid-life crisis. Here a tragic event resets a relationship which has been surviving on cruise-control for many years without being challenged by anyone but the, presumably, most conservative character in the entire story - the dying mother. Not surprisingly Techine's dissection of adulthood attacks conventional perceptions about modernity, family, and responsibility while allowing the main protagonists to confront each other endlessly.
The French director's most personal (apparently a semi-autobiographical) film Les Roseaux sauvages is also the one with the most complex construction. A coming-of-age story with a distinctive social flavor this is a film whose subtle exploration of human relationships feeds off nostalgia, loneliness, and drama while examining the lives of four very different protagonists. It is beautiful to behold yet an uncharacteristically angry story about rejection and the transition from childhood to adulthood. As the title of the film suggests (a broad metaphor addressing human characters -- how some bend while other crush -- just as wild reeds bend while oaks crush -- during stormy times) each of the main protagonists is also faced with difficult decisions during a time of heavy social turmoil.
Each of the four films in this boxset also has a highly individualistic look. In Hotel des Ameriques Techine opts for subdued and often devoid of movement camera shots that are in harsh contrast with the unpredictable rage bursts of the male protagonist. In J'embrasse pas the film composition is rather episodic reflecting the constant reshaping of the young man's brittle character. Ma saison préférée is arguably the tamest of the four films here with Techine's preference for conventional long shots and lack of abrupt camera moves in synch with the story's gradual progression. Finally, Les Roseaux sauvages boasts a misleadingly subdued color palette where nature is as important as the personal demons the main protagonists battle.
How Does the DVD Look?
All of the four films in this collection boast the same prints used by Studio Canal for the corresponding French releases. They are progressive, properly converted, and very well looking. Hotel des Ameriques, J'embrasse pas, and Ma saison préférée are all presented in their original aspect ratios of 2.35:1. Les Roseaux sauvages is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.66:1. All of them are enhanced for widescreen TVs. Each of the prints offers an excellent degree of detail, strong and convincing color reproduction, and only a minor dose of edge-enhancement (J'embrasse pas is the only film where you are likely to notice its presence). There isn't any disturbing damage on the actual prints either, they are in top-notch condition. Les Roseaux sauvages in particular looks very impressive. I own the old version by Koch Lorber Films and this new print is notably better in just about every department. For those of you wondering whether or not Hotel des Ameriques uses the same print as the one found on The Catherine Deneuve Collection, the answer is yes, they are identical.
How Does the DVD Sound?
All of the films in this collection arrive with their original French DD tracks. Each of them is just as impressive as the audio treatments described above. They are crystal clear, without any issues to report, and dialog is generally very easy to follow. The wonderful music each of these films is complimented with also comes off the speakers flawlessly and I did not detect any balance issues either. Finally, each of the films arrives with optional English and Spanish subtitles.
Unfortunately, none of the discs here offer any supplemental materials.
I am a great fan of the wonderful transfers LGF have provided for this and some of their earlier boxsets. It is quite a relief to see the films in this collection given the treatment they deserve. I have the initial R1 releases for Ma saison préférée and Les Roseaux sauvages and needless to say both of those will be finally upgraded with what I consider to be their definitive English-friendly DVD presentations. As to the overall value of this boxset I strongly encourage you to consider adding it to your collections. Andre Techine is one of the most sensual yet thought-provoking contemporary French directors whose work never disappoints. Thank you LGF for the wonderful treat!