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DVDs. Pialat, von Sternberg, Laloux, More

In the Los Angeles Times, Dennis Lim writes that Maurice Pialat's first feature film, L'enfance nue (Naked Childhood, 1968), "out on DVD this week from the Criterion Collection, can be seen as a companion piece — or perhaps a response — to François Truffaut's The 400 Blows (1959), the beloved landmark that was synonymous with the New Wave's first flowering. Truffaut was a producer on L'enfance nue and an early champion of Pialat's, but their films, although both focused on the travails of troubled boys, diverge in tone and approach. One critical difference, as the writer and filmmaker Jean-Pierre Gorin put it: 'We are looking at Truffaut's imp. But we are seeing through the eyes of Pialat's.'"

[Update, 8/19: "Where François Truffaut was lyrically, almost subjectively attuned to his pubescent stand-in's secluded world," writes Fernando F Croce in Slant, "Pialat — no less emotionally invested in his protagonist's joys and pangs — keeps his camera at a distance, as interested in the boy's sensitivity and delinquency as in the adult characters' reaction to them. This distance, along with Pialat's often deliberately brusque editing (scenes of harrowing squabbles segue into moments of fond connection, with no indication of how much time has passed between them), attests not just to the director's belief in emotional truth over facile charm, but also to his respect for the utter unknowability of human behavior."]

More from Josef Braun, Jamie S Rich and Gary W Tooze. Speaking of Gorin, though, do see Doug Cummings's fascinating report on "The Reel Thing," the annual technical symposium for the Association of Moving Image Archivists that took place this past weekend: "One of the most impressive presentations was John Polito's demonstration of the sound work he performed on Poto and Cabengo, Gorin's first solo feature and an utterly fascinating exploration of the linguistic mystery posed by two young San Diego twins who appeared to have invented their own language. (The restoration has been touring, and plans are in place to release it as a Criterion DVD.) When standard de-essing software failed to correct sound distortions on the original master, Polito separated the sibilance and the vowels into separate tracks, processed them individually, and recombined them. Gorin (who was in attendance) emphasizes the dialogue by an ingenious use of intertitles and subtitles, inviting the viewer to listen closely and pick out the pidgin words, so optimal clarity was crucial."

We're still a full week away from Criterion's release of its next box set, 3 Silent Classics by Josef von Sternberg, and I've already pointed to Guy Maddin's rollicking appreciation for Current, and here I am, pointing it out again. Gary W Tooze: "Firstly, this could easily be considered the DVD release of the Year for many cinephiles — and Criterion have done it up to their usual professional standards — right down to the menus. It is untouchable." Today, Not Coming to a Theater Near You has launched a new series, von Sternberg and Dietrich, in which, over the next week, they'll be reviewing seven films — and then, on Saturday, they'll be presenting Dishonored and Shanghai Express at New York's 92YTribeca. Even if you can't make it, you'll want to take a look at these two posters especially designed for the event (click "View full size"): Dishonored and Shanghai Express.

"Shot in Rio de Janeiro by a French director, adapting a Brazilian playwright's take on a Greek myth, with a Brazilian cast and a non-stop beat of Brazilian percussion and Bossa Nova music, the 1959 Black Orpheus offered a look at Brazil's culture far different from the clichés seen in Hollywood's South American romantic fantasies," writes Sean Axmaker. "It's a far cry from the Cinema Novo films that more politically motivated directors like Glauber Rocha made in the 60s, and a decidedly romanticized portrait of slum life that films like City of God have put to rest in the past decade. And yet knowing that this is an exoticized portrait of Third World peasants by a European director doesn't stop me from appreciating the energy and music and dance presented by director Marcel Camus and his cast (a mix of stage actors, musicians and non-professionals) and crew, or from enjoying the fantasy that is on screen.... Previously available in the no-frills Essential Art House series, it now gets a deluxe release in a newly remastered edition on DVD and Blu-ray from Criterion." For Gary W Tooze, "the Blu-ray appears to be far more faithful to the source — if we lose the perception of being crisp with richer black levels. The visuals on the new format edition are consistent and seem to support the film well — although it isn't at the atmospheric levels some have come to expect from HD." Update, 8/18: More from Michael Atkinson for Criterion and Glenn Heath Jr at Slant.


"Back in 2006, Eureka was responsible for the UK DVD debut of René Laloux's psychedelic animated sci-fi, Fantastic Planet (La Planète Sauvage)," writes Jasper Sharp, upgrading his original review now that Eureka's released a Blu-ray package with a "customarily informative" booklet twice the size of the original and expanding the number of accompanying shorts by Laloux from two to five. Ard Vijn at Twitch on the 1973 film: "Eureka really went to work this time, providing an absolutely stellar disc which keeps everything that was good about the DVD and manages to fix most of what was fixable."

"It took the genius of Alfred Hitchcock to absorb [Kim] Novak's dual nature into the tragic paradox of her dual role in Vertigo (1958), by far her greatest performance and a crucial component of one of the great works of art of the 20th century," writes Dave Kehr in the New York Times. "But her complex appeal is very much on display in The Kim Novak Collection, a group of five Columbia features drawn from the height of her popularity."

John Carpenter's Elvis, a biopic broadcast on ABC back in 1979, starring a then-27-year-old Kurt Russell, has rarely been seen in the UK, but now it's out on DVD and Blu-ray from Fremantle Home Entertainment. The Telegraph's David Gritten: "And what an intriguing piece of work it turns out to be.... I well remember the furore caused by Elvis. I had moved to the US the month before it was broadcast, and was struck by how much this TV movie seemed to dominate the media and people's everyday conversation. It was a sensational ratings hit.... On the subject of casting Russell, Carpenter observed at the time: 'What's the point of getting someone who looks like Elvis and can impersonate him? The thing about Kurt is he's an instinctive actor. I think he understands Elvis. He's totally convincing.'"

DVD roundups. Sean Axmaker, Harry Knowles (AICN), Noel Murray (LAT), the Playlist, PopMatters, Bryce J Renninger (indieWIRE) and Slant.

Update: "In retrospect, L'enfance nue (1968) seems one of the most remarkably self-contained and obdurate debuts in cinema history," writes Phillip Lopate for Criterion. "By his own admission, the director, no youngster at the time but already forty-four, had sought with this first feature to make an 'uncomfortable' film for audiences. Although it was hailed by critics, it was not exactly a crowd-pleaser, and Pialat vowed to correct his ways and please audiences more in the future; yet such was his character that he went on to create one gloriously uncomfortable film after another. These include the astringent The Mouth Agape (1974; a mother lies dying with cancer while her son seeks erotic release), the explosive À nos amours (1983; a promiscuous teenage girl in a ruptured family), the antiheroic epic Van Gogh (1991; the artist seen as crabby moocher), and his final work, Le garçu (1995; a devastating study of arrested male development). When his eighth feature, an austere drama involving religion, Under the Sun of Satan (1987), was announced as the winner of the Palme d'Or at Cannes and drew catcalls from the audience, Pialat showed his contempt for their opinion by making the classic fuck-you gesture. The confrontational relationship that existed between this famously difficult, temperamental auteur and the French public ought not to be misconstrued as arising from misanthropy on Pialat's part. He was a complicated humanist whose sympathies for his characters ran so deep that he felt no obligation to sugarcoat their flaws."



The Fantasy Filmfest opens in Berlin today and runs through next Wednesday. Previews in the local papers: Thomas Groh (taz) and Frank Noack (Tagesspiegel); and Blogville will be running reviews throughout the festival.

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L’Enfance nue is also fascinating for what it reveals of Pialat’s origins as a painter, too, especially in his use of colour – the surprising swatches of bright colour in the otherwise drab Northern settings, for instance.

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