An ongoing collaboration between Lions Gate Films and French juggernaut Studio Canal has brought a number of interesting, priced to own, multi-disc collections highlighting the work of famous European actors. The latest addition to LGF's catalog celebrates the work of one of the most beautiful actresses to ever step in front of the camera - Catherine Deneuve.
Housed in an elegant black case The Catherine Deneuve Collection offers five classic films by five different directors:
Manon 70 (1968)
A stunningly beautiful woman (Deneuve) conquers the hearts of different men willing to pay for her affection. They provide her with expensive gifts, exotic trips, and everything else she desires. But when a handsome reporter (Frey) steals her heart she is faced with a difficult decision - to run away and live her dreams or continue to enjoy the easy life. Directed by Jean Aurel (La Bride sur le cou).
Le Savage (1975)
A disappointed French bride (Deneuve) runs away from her Italian husband (Vannucchi) on their wedding night. He follows her up, she gets involved with an unsuspecting stranger (Montand) who reluctantly agrees to help her. But the stranger gets more than he bargained for when the French bride refuses to split and follows him up on his private island. Directed by Jean Paul Rappeneau (Le Hussard sur le toit).
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. Directed by Andre Techine (Le Roseaux sauvages).
Le Choc (1982)
A deadly hitman (Delon) is on his way to retirement. After years in the business he has finally decided to call it quits. With the help of a knowledgeable assistant he has managed to invest a large amount of his money into a turkey plant somewhere in the French countryside. He relocates and falls madly in love with the woman (Deneuve) who takes care of the plant. Directed by Robin Davis (J'ai epouse une ombre).
Fort Sagane (1984)
A true epic story following the life of a soldier (Depardieu) who must confront personal demons while serving his country in French Sahara. Falling in love with two beautiful women, one he meets in the desert (Marceau) and another he encounters in Paris (Deneuve), the man will realize that there are battles that can't be won. Directed by Alain Corneau (Le Deuxième soufflé).
Building a representative collection of films covering Deneuve's best work, I would assume, is next to impossible. After all does one focus on her more controversial roles (Belle de Jour), her more entertaining roles (L'Argent des autres) or, some of her latest and critically acclaimed work (Le Héros de la famille)? LGF have chosen to focus on what I would describe as the French star's thematically easiest to access films which unfortunately up to this point have been unavailable in North America with acceptable transfers.
The earliest entry in this boxset, Manon 70, is actually a film that was produced back in 1968. It teams Deneuve with director Jean Aurel who only a few years earlier worked with Brigitte Bardot on the eye-candy affair La Bride sur le cou. Not surprisingly the tone of Manon 70 is quite similar to that of La Bride sur le cou - what you will encounter here is lush camera work, plenty of panoramic vistas celebrating the beauty of the French Riviera, and of course, a great deal of close-ups fixated on the graceful presence of the French star. The plot is mostly straightforward and without any shocking twists but nevertheless quite rewarding.
The second entry in the boxset, Le Sauvage, was produced during the mid-70s and not surprisingly also bets heavily on a luscious camerawork rather than on an original script. Humor, adventure, and romance are all mixed in a light but notably delicate film where two great French actors are poking fun of well known stereotypes the two sexes methodically struggle with.
The third film in this boxset, Hotel des Ameriques, is also by far the most challenging one. Directed by a man (Andre Techine) who has made an enormous impact on contemporary French cinema this is very much a character study of two people who can't remain committed to each other even though they are clearly in love. Their personalities are too strong and eventually prove to be an impossible obstacle in a relationship where control proves to be key.
The fourth installment in the boxset, Le Choc, is also my favorite one. It is directed by Robin Davis who made a career in French TV and as far as I know is currently one of the major contributors behind the planned for 2009 remake of his film. Le Choc teams up two of the greatest French actors from the 20th century - Alain Delon and Catherine Deneuve - and again, in the middle of this film is an impossible love affair where two people must overcome a great deal of adversity in order to remain together. Needless to say the greatest selling point of Le Choc is seeing the two actors next to each other.
The fifth installment in the boxset, Fort Sagane, is somewhat of an enigma to me. Not because the film does not match the stylistic criterion used by the producers of this collection but because Deneuve's contribution here is, to put it mildly, minuscule. Her love relationship with a very young-looking Gerard Depardieu is limited to a total of approximately twenty minutes (the film runs at a little over 180 min). This was also the only film that I hadn't seen prior to receiving the collection. It was originally made for French TV and features a very young and on-the-rise Sophie Marceau as well as a strong cameo performance by Philippe Noiret (Cinema Paradiso).
How Does the DVD Look?
I am especially pleased with the treatment LGF have provided for the films in this boxset. They appear to be exact replicas of the Studio Canal distributed prints and fortunately enough are progressive and properly converted. The films are offered in their original aspect ratios with only Manon 70 being modified from 1.66:1 to 1.78:1. The rest are as follows: Le Sauvage presented in 1.66:1, Hotel des Ameriques presented in 2.35:1, Le Choc presented in 1.66:1, and Fort Sagane presented in 2.35:1. As mentioned earlier all of the films have received an anamorphic transfer. This being said the actual quality of the presentation is exceptionally high as well - contrast is very good, color reproduction is excellent, and damage is not an issue of concern. Edge enhancement is kept to an acceptable level and aside from some minor macro-blocking that I noticed on Le Choc and Le Sauvages I think it is fair to conclude that this will be the best treatment these films could have possibly received on SDVD. I am very pleased.
How Does the DVD Sound?
All of the films carry their original audio mixes - French mono with optional English and Spanish subtitles. The quality of the audio is very good and I did not detect any drop-outs or hissing worthy of reporting here. The English translation is good but I did notice that occasionally portions of the dialog were slightly simplified. Still, the translation is more than adequate.
Unfortunately there aren't any supplemental materials to be found here. Instead the collection arrives in an elegant digi-pack housed in an elegant black vinyl case.
I am very happy to have this set in my hands. Call me sentimental if you wish but seeing all these films again with such great transfers brings to life all sorts of memories. The experience is quite similar to watching some of Monica Vitti's genre films (Teresa la ladra; La Donna scarlatta; etc). Or, Isabelle Adjani's early films (L'Été meurtrier). These are all fun and great for late night viewing. Highly Recommended.