Thanks once again to Criterion, another French classic comes to DVD and should prove worth discovering -- for older movie buffs, especially. FANFAN LA TULIPE was a huge international success in its day (1952), firmly placing French matinee idol (and fine actor) Gérard Philipe (below, left) at the top of his game, while giving the buxom and beauteous Gina Lollobrigida (below, right) her breakout international role. (Just one year later, she made Huston's Beat the Devil.)
It's difficult to oversell the delights of Fan Fan, particularly during the film' first hour or so. The smart, swift opening, with its narrator's droll, ironic "take" on France and war, is terrific and is soon followed by a wonderful action scene in which, if I am not mistaken, the camera speed is slightly increased -- to subtly humorous effect. (By film's end some of the sword-fights, probably more enjoyable back in the day, seem to go on a tad too long.) And there is a wonderful I've-had-enough-of-the-military moment that you'll wish could have found its way into countless other "military discipline" movies. The dialog, too, is surprisingly witty and bright, while the morality on view is decidedly French and intellectually sophisticated; ideas about love and duty, marriage and fidelity bounce and smack like cue balls on an active pool table.
The movie moves fast and rarely lets up. When it does, you can count on something good: a beautifully observed "hanging" or a Candide/Cunegonde-like scene between Philipe and Lollobrigida in a local tavern. Director Christian-Jaque made some 76 films and TV pieces, yet few if any of these ring the bell regarding quality or notability. Watching Fan Fan, this fact seems odd, because in so many ways this is a wonderfully conceived and executed film. Scene after scene work beautifully, and occasionally the visuals are staggeringly good. The DVD transfer is fine, though not up to Criterion's highest level. On the Extras, watch the scene from a later "colorized" version of the film. (It's not bad: the movie would have seemed a perfect candidate for color, but probably the budget wasn't there). There is also a fine feature on M. Philipe, in which you'll discover what an interesting family history the fellow had.