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Burned Barns, The
Director Jean Chapot's 1973 film, The Burned Barns (or Les granges brûlées in its native France) would be the filmmaker's last theatrical effort as after the difficulties he ran into on this shoot, he'd make the shift into television productions. Regardless, if he somewhat infamously had trouble corralling his two leads, Simone Signoret and Alain Delon, their performances in this imperfect but interesting murder mystery are so very good that the movie is worth seeing for their work alone.
Early in the movie, the corpse of a beautiful young woman is found brutally murdered in the French countryside on the outskirts of The Burned Barns farm. The farm is run by a stern woman named Rose (played by Signoret) and her husband Pierre (Paul Crauchet) and it is operated by them and their family, Paul (Bernard Le Coq), who is married to Monique (Miou-Miou), and Louis (Pierre Rousseau) who is married to Francoise (Catherine Allégret). The police are, obviously, called in to investigate with Judge Pierre Larcher (Delon) in charge of the operation. As Larcher starts digging about and exploring the specifics of the murder, he starts to wonder if Rose's two sons may be the ones to have committed the crime. Rose, for the most part, is cooperative when it comes to Larcher's investigatory tactics, until he starts to dig deeper than she'd like, which only serves to make him more suspicious of what her family may have been responsible for.
Set to an excellent soundtrack by Jean-Michel Jarre and beautifully photographed by Sacha Vierny, The Burned Barns isn't quite the typical police procedural that you might expect it to be, given that brief plot synopsis. Chapot and company seems just as interested, if not more interested, in exploring the odd elements of dysfunction that plagues Rose and her family. This affords the cast opportunity to delivery really strong acting, which they definitely do, but depending on your expectations, might be a bit of a letdown as during these sequences, the movie plays out as more of a drama than a mystery and the pacing can slow down a bit for this reason.
Still, the story, which was co-written by Chapot and Sébastien Roulet, is an interesting one and this makes it worth sticking through the slower spots, simply because the good parts are very good indeed even if the movie winds up as more of a character study than a thriller. The production values are really strong here, with the photography doing a really solid job of capturing the remote farm location where the bulk of the movie plays out, the snowy landscapes looking both scenic and somewhat destitute at the same time.
Ultimately, it's the casting of Delon and Signoret that really makes this one stand out. They're excellent together in this picture, there's palpable tension noticeable in certain scenes that goes a long way towards making the events in the movie more interesting than they would be had these scenes been handled by lesser performers. Perhaps the fact that they didn't get along on set played a part in this, but regardless, they do excellent work and make this worth checking out in spite of its sometimes obvious flaws.
The Burned Barns arrives on Blu-ray from Cohen in an AVC encoded 1080p high definition transfer framed at 1.66.1 widescreen taking up just under 21GBs of space on a 25GB disc. Taken from a new 4k master supplied by Studio Canal, the picture quality here is quite strong. There aren't any compression artifact or edge enhancement problems to not and the elements used where in great shape. We get solid detail throughout and plenty of depth as well as very nice color reproduction and nice, deep black levels.
The only audio option for the feature is a French language 16-bit DTS-HD 2.0 Mono but it sounds just fine. Optional subtitles are provided in English only. Dialogue stays clean and clear throughout and the track is nicely balanced. There are no problems with any hiss or distortion to note, nor is there any audible sibilance. It would have been nice if the English dub had been included here, even if it isn't nearly as good as the French language option, but that didn't happen.
The main extra on the disc is a twenty-six minute featurette made up of interviews with Script-Girl Florence Moncorge-Gabin, First Assistant Director Philippe Monrier and Assistent First Director Jean-Francois Delon. This piece covers the tension that existed on set between the film's two leads, the difficulty that Jean Chapot had in dealing with Signorey and Delon's dueling egos, what it was like on set, Chapot's directing style, fights that broke out on set, problems that arose with the shooting schedule due to all the conflict and quite a bit more. There's also some brief archival interview footage in here as well.
Aside from that, we get a trailer for the feature as well as bonus trailers for Apples, The Will To See and Monsieur Hire as well as menus and chapter selection options.
The Burned Barns as a few pacing and tonal issues but overall, it's a nicely made film with excellent performances from both Delon and Signoret, both of whom do strong enough work here that this is definitely worth tracking down for fans of French cinema or murder mysteries in general. The Blu-ray release of The Cohen Media Group looks and sounds very good and the featurette does a good job of exploring the movie's complex backstory and troubled production history. Recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.