DVDs for 6/23/09 – Memories of Marienbad and Lebanon

Delphine Seyrig as exhibit A
Delphine Seyrig as exhibit A

The very definition of art cinema, Alain Resnais’ 1960 Last Year at Marienbad defies audience identification, narrative clarity, even any assurance that anything we see is "real" in any sense. Characters without names, played by actors who barely change expression, walk through the lavish but coldly alienating vacation castles reserved for the rich and aristocratic, lost in time and space. One elegantly poised man (Italian actor Giorgio Albertazzi), identified as "X" in the credits," tries to convince a beautiful but impassive woman, "A" (Delphine Seyrig, in a hairstyle as coolly sculpted as the film itself), that they met last year and had an affair and made plans to run away together. She tells him, with a preternaturally restrained sense of calm, that they have never met. It could be a ghost story (the church organ score is appropriately eerie and ominous) in a European castle, the foreign equivalent of the Overlook Hotel. Or it could be film of memory, or perhaps dreams of a wished-for past, filled with flashbacks/memories/stories, but which are themselves full of elisions and gaps and even, at times, contradictory. It’s strange and surreal, full of odd humor and games, the most elaborate of which is the very tale that centers the narrative. Did something happen last year at Marienbad (Friedriksbaad or whatever lavish castle vacation spot was in fashion that year)? Or is it simply an elaborate tale, a seductive promise cutting through the stifling existence of social decorum?

Criterion’s new edition comes out on both DVD and Blu-ray in a superb transfer from a rich fine-grain master print that has been digitally cleaned and fine-tuned, supervised and approved by Alain Resnais. At the director’s insistence, Criterion includes the original, unrestored soundtrack along with the remastered, cleaned-up version. "By correcting so-called flaws, one can lost the style of a film altogether," he writes in the liner notes. Like The Seventh Seal released last week by Criterion, the Blu-ray edition is the a sight to behold and the closest I have come to seeing a beautifully preserved film play on my screen. The image felt alive, like perfectly restored celluloid projected from a well-tempered projector, and pulled me through the image. The DVD also features original half-hour documentary Unraveling the Enigma: The Making of Marienbad, a new, generous 33-minute audio-only interview with Alain Resnais and two early the short documentaries by Resnais: Toute la memoire du Monde and Le Chant du Styrene.

"I lost my memory. I can’t remember anything about the Lebanon war. Just one image." Waltz With Bashir is both art and autobiography from Ari Folman, a filmmaker with a deep interest in psychoanalysis. The memory gap was real ("It’s not stored in my system," he explains) and attempted to reconstruct those missing memories with the help of friends and fellow soldiers. Those conversations on his odyssey back in time and memory (a couple of them reconstructed with actors for the film, the rest recorded with the actual subjects) are the foundation of the script. "The memory is dynamic," explains psychiatrist Ori Sivan. So is Folman’s film, which uses animation not just to illustrate but explore the subjective quality of their remembrances, a mix of mind’s eye first-person observation, dream, fantasy and the exaggeration of emotional memory. Executed in bold lines and slow but fluid movements, it’s never sensationalistic but always striking vivid and immediate. What begins as an introspective odyssey into the effects of war on the young Israeli soldiers turns into a provocative expose on the Sabra and Shatila massacres, events that sent shock waves through the Israeli men who were made inadvertent collaborators. But the final word is not their emotional trauma, but the stark reality of the event itself. The film was nominated for "Best Foreign Language Film" at the 2009 Academy Awards (its absence in the “Best Animated Feature” nominations caused a minor outbreak of outrage). Ari Folman provides commentary (he introduces himself as "writer, producer, director and main protagonist of the film") and a press conference Q&A (in English) and participates in a 12-minute featurette (in Hebrew with English subtitles). Also available on Blu-ray.

Continue reading “DVDs for 6/23/09 – Memories of Marienbad and Lebanon”

DVD of the Week – ‘4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days’ – June 17

It was actually released on June 10, but as it’s featured in my MSN column this week, I’m happy to celebrate Cristian Mungiu’s beautiful and harrowing 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days as the DVD of the week. There’s no need to add to what I’ve already written on the film – both on this site and in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer (I also interviewed the director earlier this year here) – but for those who have still not heard about the film, it’s about a college girl arranging an illegal abortion for her roommate in the last days of the Ceausescu dictatorship in Romania and is a grueling and deeply affecting human drama and a powerful portrait of life in an oppressive society.

Anamaria Marinca is heartbreaking as the young woman who hardens herself to help her friend (Laura Vasiliu) get through a devastating ordeal. Mungiu wields the camera with blunt power and subtle discretion , yet through it all, Mungiu finds strength and perseverance and commitment under the desperation, a small miracle in such circumstances, and a magnificent reward in such an exquisite film.

I review the film in my MSN DVD column here.

UPDATE – 6/17/08: After reviewing the DVD (complete with interviews and documentary) and posting the review, I discovered the disc was pulled from release. For whatever reason, I do not know, but the studio never even bothered to update me on the status. I found out from Michael Atkinson at IFC, via GreenCine Daily.

UPDATE #2 – 6/17/08: After making a few inquiries, I was informed that the disc is being made available exclusively through Borders for a window of time (I was not told how long). Sure enough, a quick search found this page at Borders, proclaiming it as an exclusive. No cover art, however.

UPDATE #3 – 6/18/08: The DVD publicist has informed me that the DVD will be widely available in October. Until then, it is exclusively available through Borders Books, in store and online.


Also new this week is Criterion’s release of Claude Sautet’s directorial debut, the tough, lean, smart crime drama Classe Tous Risques. Continue reading “DVD of the Week – ‘4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days’ – June 17”