Friday, August 19, 2016

Blu-ray/digital debut of a Philippe de Broca duo: THE FIVE DAY LOVER and ON GUARD

If Philippe de Broca is less well-known to American arthouse audiences than some other French filmmakers who came to international popularity in the 1960s, this may have more to do with the fact that his oeuvre is all over the place -- from comedy adventures (That Man From Rio) to swashbucklers (Cartouche) to that very famous (but rather cloying) arthouse hit, King of Hearts.

For my money, the one true classic this journeyman filmmaker (and I do not mean that appellation in any disrespectful way) directed and co-adapted (with Daniel Boulanger, from the novel by Françoise Parturier) is THE FIVE DAY LOVER (L'amant de cinq jours) from 1961. It stars the lovely and quite special Jean Seberg (below, right, whom the French knew how to use so much more skillfully than did we Americans, including the fabled Mr. Preminger, though he did better with his second try than with his first), and a French actor whom De Broca helped bring to prominence, Jean-Pierre Cassel (below, left, whose son Vincent has managed to carve an even more impressive career for himself).

I had not seen this film since its original New York City opening some 55 years ago, and I have to say that it holds up amazingly well. The French have long been noted for their sophisticated views on love and relationships, but even so, this film remains a kind of revelation. In it, a happily married young woman (Seberg) with husband and two children, falls into an affair with the lover (Cassel) of her fashion-designer friend, Madeleine (the lusciously elegant Micheline Presle, below).

Yet she clearly cares for and about her rather silly and history-obsessed hubby (a lovely sad-but-smart acting job by the great François Périer, below). The affair, as is much of the movie, proves so buoyant you can almost imagine that the film as a musical. Yet it goes places that most movies don't get near in terms of addressing the needs of us humans -- men, sure, but women, too -- and it ends on a note of pure wonder and amazement at the human condition.

Ms Seberg rarely seemed as radiant as she does here, while Cassel proves a funny, sexy farceur, with Presle and Perier the grounding adults of the foursome. The music by Georges Delerue is up to his usual fine standard, and the camerawork (Jean Penzer) has us glued from beginning to end. For me, the movie compares to little else: It's an original that deserves classic status, taking the French penchant for romance, sex, love and philosophy, and juggling it all into very high mode indeed.

The new Blu-ray 2K restoration from the original negative is as crisp and beautiful a black-and-white transfer as you're likely to see, with its look at Paris of the early 60s a particular delight. In French with English subtitles and running just 87 minutes, the movie is a joy to view in so many ways.


ON GUARD (Le bossu or The Hunchback) from 1997, on the other hand, offers up de Broca in his swashbuckler mode. It is one of the films of his final decade (the filmmaker died in 2004), and in its way, it provides a kind of master class on how to make a movie in this genre. Starring Daniel Auteuil (on poster, left) in the kind of dashing, heroic role we're not so used to seeing this actor play, the film proves a testament to Auteuil's versatility (and stamina). Based upon the Paul Féval novel, first published piecemeal in 1850, the film takes in two hunchbacks, one a fake (played later in the film by Auteuil), the other a fellow who meets an untimely (though not particularly undeserved) end in the service of the movie's villain, played with his usual alternately subtle and lip-smacking style by the great Fabrice Luchini.

The film takes in an enormous range of characters and several time frames as it spans a couple of generations involved in family betrayal, murder (an entire wedding party!), and the raising to adulthood of an infant into young womanhood. One of the chief action sequences takes place as our hero sword-fights while holding that infant in his arms. (This was, and is, I think, a first.)

The child grows into actress Marie Gillain (at left, above), fathered by that lean and lany hunk, Vincent Perez (at left, two photos above). That's M. Auteuil, playing his hunchback character, above, which he does to a fare-thee-well. It is such a pleasure to watch this actor work! There is beaucoup swordplay, family squabbles, romance, danger and death -- but by the end of it all, we're primed mostly for charm and pleasure. M. de Broca surely did know how to make a pleasing costume adventure, which is said to be more-or-less based on history.

The 4K Blu-ray transfer is gorgeous to behold -- glowing, colorful and as precise (with the exception of a single short scene) as you could wish, Coming to us via the Cohen Film Collection's Classic of French Cinema, this two-disc set, complete with plenty of "extras," hit the street earlier this month and is now available for purchase or rental.

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