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The Criterion Collection presents
The Last Metro (Blu-Ray) (1980)

Lucas: You said it's a sure thing.
Marion: It's never sure.

- (Heinz Bennent, Catherine Deneuve)

Review By: Rich Rosell  
Published: March 23, 2009

Stars: Catherine Deneuve, Gérard Depardieu
Other Stars: Jean Poiret, Heinz Bennent, Andréa Ferréol, Sabine Haudepin, Maurice Risch, Paulette Dubost, Jean-Louis Richard, Pierre Belot, Alain Tasma, Rose Thierry, Jacob Weizbluth, Richard Bohringer, René Dupré, Christian Baltauss, Laszlo Szabo, Franck Pasquier, Martine Simonet, Hénia Ziv, Rénata
Director: François Truffaut

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (brief mild language)
Run Time: 02h:11m:56s
Release Date: March 24, 2009
UPC: 715515042314
Genre: foreign


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
A- B+A-B A-

DVD Review

As a self-professed film geek, I often felt the need to try and absorb as much of everything as humanly possible, but naturally genre preferences and availability (think back to a time before VHS) often would dictate my viewing habits. And over all those decades, I'll admit my "foreign film" background has paled next to my consumption of horror or just-plain-weird cinema, but that doesn't mean it wasn't for lack of trying. I would, at times, make an effort to seek out at least one or two films by the biggies, and when it came to landmark French directors I chose Godard, who gave me an immediate love affair with the unenviable cool of Jean Seberg, and, naturally, Truffaut, which came via Jules et Jim, back in my long-ago college days.

Inexcusably, I never really dug all that deep into Truffaut's catalog outside a few titles, but of late I've been trying to make up for lost time, and the latest stop is his 1980 film The Last Metro, aka Le Dernier Métro, now issued on Blu-ray by Criterion. Taking place in Nazi-occupied France during World War II, The Last Metro tackles a lot of issues, ranging from old-fashioned romance to raging anti-Semitism, in a story set in a small French theater, populated with a gaggle of actors attempting to put on their rendition of play known slyly as The Vanished Woman. There's a marvelously large ensemble cast, meshing all manner of backstage drama in a setting where the dangers are all very real.

Catherine Deneuve is Marion Steiner, a former film star now relegated to running the Theater Montmarte, as well as being one its marquee names. Her iconic director husband Lucas (Heinz Bennent) is Jewish, and has allegedly left the country to avoid Nazi persecution. Except that poor Lucas has taken up residence in the theater's basement, hidden from the world by Marion and kept a reluctant prisoner as rehearsals take place above him.

A dashing new actor (Gérard Depardieu) has joined the troupe, and the womanizing Bernard—who spends much of the film lusting after the wrong woman—eventually becomes a corner of a love triangle that dips and weaves along a rather leisurely path of romantic discovery. Truffaut gently turns the tables on poor Deneuve's Marion, peeling away her tough exterior bit by bit as she slowly reveals her true self, even as the film launches itself into a resolution that never quite seems to follow.

It is Deneuve—all radiance, class, and sex-apeal—who is twisted and turned emotionally, as she tries to hold together the theater production, battling for censor's permits and kissing the ass of influential and dangerous drama critic Daxiat (Jean-Louis Richard). Meanwhile, she's babysitting a husband she may no longer adore as she once did, while a handsome leading man appears to be seeing her in an entirely new way. Truffaut is not shy about using music (lyrics are thankfully subtitled here, along with the dialogue) to propel some of the minor keys in the story, and when a scene takes place in a Nazi-filled nightclub late in the film, the song setup is a doozy, and one can almost taste the vodka, gin, and champagne that seems to flow so readily.

Perhaps a little long in the tooth, runtime-wise, The Last Metro remains a curiously old-fashioned romance, albeit one with a distinctively European undercurrent. All respectable home DVD libraries need a cross-section of the great ones, and there's no denying that Truffaut fits that bill. This impressive BD release from Criterion presents one of his more immediately accessible works, with an alluring Deneuve leading the drama as a woman torn between lovers in Nazi-occupied France. And of course, the show must go on.

Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: B+

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio1.66:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicyes


Image Transfer Review: It is now officially safe to ditch that spotty old Fox Lorber release with this striking Blu-ray from Criterion. Truffaut's film is presented in its original 1.66:1 widescreen aspect ratio, a crimson-heavy AVC-encoded 1080p transfer that still retains all of the natural film grain, yet now likely looks sharper and brighter than it did during its theatrical run. There's much to rejoice about—from the even, natural tones of flesh to the spot-on rendering of all that red—but the thing that impresses the most is the subtle level of renewed clarity, the sort where fine facial hair and small imperfections in fabric become so visible.

Beautiful.

Image Transfer Grade: A-

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
MonoFrenchyes


Audio Transfer Review: The film's original French language is the sole audio track provided, delivered in uncompressed monoaural. Dialogue and music elements are clear, with no hiss or distortion evident, and while the presentation remains quite understated, the mix (thanks to the lossless audio) never carries those typically flat tonal textures typically associated with mono.

Audio Transfer Grade: B

 

Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 32 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
1 Deleted Scenes
Production Notes
1 Documentaries
5 Featurette(s)
2 Feature/Episode commentaries by Annette Insdorf, Serge Toubiana, Gérard Depardieu, Jean-Pierre Azéma
Packaging: custom cardboard cover with sl
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extras Review: It's really no surprise that Criterion wouldn't want their BD titles to look like all the other studios, and when it comes to packaging it might be tough to pick this out as a Blu-Ray release once the shrinkwrap is off. Instead, Criterion has issued The Last Metro with a slipcover, housed over a thin, hinged case, which when opened reveals the disc on the right and an insert booklet nestled in flap made to look like theater seats, with the come-hither eyes of Deneuve on the booklet peeking over the top. Aside from the usual production and film credits, the booklet carries the six-page article Truffaut's Changing Times, written by New York Press film critic Armond White.

Two commentaries are provided, one in English and one in French, both available with optional English subtitles. The first comes from noted film scholar Annette Insdorf, author of a book on Truffaut. Insdorf, who has a long history with the director and clearly a wealth of knowledge on the subject, is fascinating without being terribly dry, able to convey an almost professorial amount of content in a very listenable manner. The French track features Truffaut biographer/moderator Serge Toubiana, actor Gérard Depardieu, and historian Jean-Pierre Azéma. Here the material takes a slightly different approach than Insdorf's, and the three participants meld work and personal reminiscences. As a result, the revelations carry a far more personal subtext. Depardieu in particular is quite upfront about his thoughts on Truffaut.

A solitary deleted scene (04m:59s)—cut from the theatrical print but added back for a 1982 video release—features a longer, more detailed encounter between Deneuve's Marion and René Dupré's Valentin, a character who only gets a casual appearance in the original cut. Les Nouveax Rendez-Vouz (10m:46s) is culled from a 1980 French television interview program, with Truffaut, Deneuve, and Depardieu chatting somewhat generically about the film, while Passez Donc Me Voir (06m:25s)—also taken from a 1980 French television interview—has Truffaut and actor Jean Poiret talking up not just the film, but their own recollections of the actual Nazi occupation. Working With Truffaut: Nestor Almendros (28m:06s) is from April 1986, and has been specially edited from the documentary Arbeiton Mit François Truffaut. The late Almendros, renowned cinematographer, is eloquent about his career with Truffaut, and comes off ridiculously hip.

A pair of brand-new pieces have gathered up cast and crew for a look back, beginning with Performing The Last Metro (14m:55s). Cast members Andréa Ferréol, Paulette Dubost, Sabine Haudepin, and Alain Tasma (who was also assistant director on the film) are interviewed separately about the project, and while the remembrances are of moderate interest, naturally a prurient streak exists just to see how these folks have aged in the subsequent 29 years. Visualizing The Last Metro (09m:35s) has camera assistants Florent Bazin and Tessa Racine offering somewhat more technical memories.

An unexpected treat is a 1958 black-and-white short entitled Une Histoire D'eau (12m:14s), a film co-directed by Truffaut and Jean-Luc Godard. This oddly joyful little exercise documents a young woman's visit to Paris, and her fascination with the flooded area surrounding it. It's Truffaut and Godard together, and no matter how brief or trippy, there's no denying the coolness; the title—The Story Of Water—is a direct take-off of an infamous bit of French erotic literature from Pauline Réage.

The film's theatrical trailer is included, as is a Timeline segment that allows for bookmarking, and features chapter stops not only the film, but the two commentaries. The film is cut into 32 chapters, with optional English subtitles.

Extras Grade: A-

 

Final Comments

Truffaut. Deneuve. Blu-Ray. Criterion. That's a darn nice quadrilogy of qualifiers right there, and with the release of the celebrated director's Nazi-occupied France WWII romance, The Last Metro is finally delivered with a beautifully robust image transfer. The film is charmingly dangerous and the unstoppable radiance of Deneuve steps up a level or two in HD.

Recommended.

 


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