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Now, in describing the plot, I'm essentially going to give away the entire movie. What happens is pretty sparse and slim. It is in the way it is told that is the selling point. Director Julie Lopes-Curval has a laid back, unobtrusive style that is all about observation and the little things, so it is, sort of, one part Eric Rohmer and one part National Geographic Nature Special.
Taking place over the course of a year, we meet some of the inhabitants of this beachfront community. There is lifeguard Paul, juggling his time between a souring relationship with girlfriend Marie and his gambling addicted mother Rose. Marie slogs through her days in the pebble factory (they are polished and sold as souvenirs) and is being bitterly consumed by the tedium.
They are the working class end of the spectrum, while at the other end is Albert, the son of the man who started the pebble factory. His father lost the factory but Albert has maintained employment there, though more out of familial obligation than anything else, and his lack of enthusiasm leads to his firing. Albert and Marie begin to connect. Although they both have devoted partners, the two share a deep desire to escape from the town and their lot in life and this connection leads them towards an affair.
Pretty much, the characters fall inot two categories- the down and depresssed like Marie, Rose, and Albert, and those who are okay with life and completely unawre/unable to recognize/cope with those who are down and depressed, like Albert's wife and mother, Paul, and Paul's old buddy who is a successful photographer.
With its detached perspective, Seaside manages to avoid one of the biggest pitfalls of drama- manipulation. Too often with dramatic film, tragedy can exist for the sake of tragedy. It is almost like storytellers feel the need to punish a character in order to tell an effective story about the human condition. Someone has to be an addict. Some one has to get a terminal disease. Someone innocent has to have some terrible misfortune, otherwise there is no story. Sure tragedy and conflict are the basic hinges of drama, but really, how often do we need to see some actress get a terminal disease to learn a lesson about humanity?
Seaside doesn't feel manipulated at all. As a matter of fact, the film unfolds with such a lack of urgency or intensity, it comes close to reaching an emotional flatline. But, really it is rewarding to watch a film without the hysterics and meltdowns. Sometimes in life, that is the way things happen. Like the Seaside factory worker who was laid off but still comes to work, unable to shake his pattern, but not causing a big scene, we move on through our ennui and instinctually continue with life. This is a seaside that has a smooth tide and not a hurricane.
The DVD: First Run Features
Picture: Anamorphic Widescreen. Picture quality is pretty good. Contrast and general details are fairly crisp and technically sound with no transfer defects or major print damage. Minor complaints in two areas, the sharpness and the color. Sure, this is a pretty chilly beach, but no matter what the season, the locale looks cold and muted. Hard to tell if this was intentional or if the scenes are lacking some warmer tones. Still, a good presentation, just not overwhelmingly striking.
Sound: Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo, French language with English subtitles. You know, I watched the film last week and now I cannot recall if the film had a score. Like I said this is a laid back very spare film, so if there was a score, it was obviously so low key it didn't even register with me. Good audio, everything is clear and distinct, but, I'll say it again, very low key.
Extras: Still Gallery— Biographies— Director's Notes— Trailer Gallery for more First Run Feature titles.
Conclusion: Fans of foreign film and the drama within minutia should be entertained. The direction and acting are assured, however the style is almost so laid back and consciously un-dramatic, I don't see this one getting too much replay value. Yes, it is involving if you are into the style, but emotionally it only hits a simmer. The DVD presentation is fair, good image and sound, but bare in terms of substantial extras.