"As seen in the quartet of effervescent, extroverted films from the mid-1930s featured in Criterion's boxed set Presenting Sacha Guitry, this leading actor, playwright, and stage director in France in the early 20th century transferred his artistry to the movies nearly intact," writes the New Yorker's Richard Brody.
"Guitry's reluctant turn toward the cinema — which seemed to him an inferior and technically fussy medium, one attempting to pickle the ephemeral vivacity of theatre — was initially done only as a method of reaching a larger audience." Josef Braun: "Yet the story of Sacha Guitry is as compelling a piece of evidence as I've seen that great things can arise when an artist is coerced to work in a form other than the one in which he or she feels most comfortable. I can imagine Guitry's stage work as very fleet-footed, pithy and entertaining, but I'd be surprised if it had anything on the playful innovation or unbridled narrative accumulation or sense of quiet spaces within a noisy world that one finds in the quartet of movies collected here."
Updates through 8/1: More from Fernando F Croce in Slant, Bilge Ebiri for Time Out New York, Michael Koresky at Criterion's Current, Dennis Lim for the Los Angeles Times and Nicolas Rapold for Artforum. "Although at least two of the films in this indispensable collection, The Story of a Cheat (1936) and The Pearls of the Crown (1937), were released on home video back in the VHS days, Guitry has never caught on with most American cinephiles," writes Dave Kehr in the New York Times. "Even so, his work represents some of the most purely pleasurable filmmaking imaginable, an inexhaustible storehouse of wit, joy, sensuality and wisdom."
"As many DVD distributors cut back on releases of older films — 'deep library,' in industry parlance — it's a particular pleasure to welcome a new company to the field. Olive Films, a theatrical and home video distributor, has announced an ambitious schedule of releases drawn from the rich Paramount library." In the New York Times, Dave Kehr presents capsule reviews of the first five, Lewis Allen's Appointment with Danger (1951), Rudolph Maté's Union Station (1950), William Dieterle's Dark City (1950) — and you may remember reading Louis Black in the Austin Chronicle on those first three a couple of weeks ago — Andrew Marton's Crack in the World (1965) and Burt Kennedy's Hannie Caulder (1971). More from Sean Axmaker and R Emmet Sweeney (TCM).
"The best scenes in Tunisian-French writer-director Abdellatif Kechiche's The Secret of the Grain resemble the unique protean bouillabaisses found in port cities," writes Joseph Jon Lanthier in Slant. "Every converging ethnicity offers an indigenous spice to the soup, and the forced relationships coax out flavors you never knew each ingredient possessed.... It's not a perfect film, but perfection requires an organization that would instantly betray the racially-crowded French-Tunisian lineage, along with its past, present, and future matriarchs. The film is a rarity becoming increasing more common: a surreptitious creation myth crafted to inspire pride in even the most diverse and elusive of ethnic identities." Michael Atkinson for IFC.com: "The final half-hour is crucifying in its anxiety and ironies, and lends what could've been in less ambitious hands a gritty ethnic street drama a sense of tragic grandeur." More from Jamie S Rich and Gary W Tooze. And Wesley Morris for Criterion's Current.
Jerry Portwood for the New York Press: "The Art of the Steal is the sort of documentary (out on DVD this week from IFC) that seems like it's going to be a dull homework assignment but turns into a blood-boiling manifesto that gets to the core of why money, power, politics, race and big business still confound so many."
DVD roundups. Sean Axmaker, Peter Martin (Cinematical), Noel Murray (Los Angeles Times), PopMatters, Bryce Renninger (indieWIRE), Slant and Michael Tully (Hammer to Nail).
Images: A poster for The Story of a Cheat (1936) and Sacha Guitry on the set of Quadrille (1938).
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