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Fox Lorber presents
The One Hundred and One Nights of Simon Cinéma (Les Cent et une nuits de Simon Cinéma) (1994)

"I find all commemorations fallacious and dangerous."
- a talking cow that appears to speak for Luis Buñuel, then orders a dry martini

Review By: debi lee mandel   
Published: June 16, 2000

Stars: Michel Piccoli, Marcello Mastroianni
Other Stars: Henri Garcin, Julie Gayet, Mathieu Demy and Emmanuel Salinger (with a cameo cast of thousands)
Director: Agnès Varda

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (some nudity, language, adult themes)
Run Time: 01h:41m:00s
Release Date: April 25, 2000
UPC: 720917519425
Genre: foreign

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
C- A-B+B- D+

DVD Review

When the American Film Institute jumped on the millennium bandwagon last year and came out with their Top 100 films, I avidly watched their presentation unfold on CBS. Like millions of Americans, I am inexplicably drawn to televised extravaganzas; but unlike most, I'll admit it. Perhaps it is the pleasure of the rare "family nights" we had as I grew up, where staying home to watch these network specials meant the only arguments might be debates over what we were watching instead of shrieking at each other. That really was special.

But of course, that was the AFI and featured only American Cinema.

Agnès Varda instead offers Les Cent et une nuits de Simon Cinéma (The One Hundred and One Nights of Simon Cinéma), one woman's homage to the art of the cinema. With reference to more than 50 films and appearances by over 30 actors (from Jeanne Moreau to a whistling Robert DeNiro) within a plot employing 6 name-worthy actors, this is a tribute for anyone who...well, anyone who can sit through its trivia-packed over-the-top 100 (and one) minutes.

The overall concept might have been a delightful vehicle: Simon Cinéma, played by veteran Michel Piccoli, is a centegenerian who personifies the first 100 (and one) years of moviemaking. He IS David O. Selznick. He IS the dashing young Orson Welles that gave us Citizen Kane. When he is alone at night, he conjures the silent Lumiére brothers to cast light on his darkening shadows. He bickers with his old "Italian Friend" (Marcello Mastroianni) because neither can sort out the details of memorable bath scenes—which one of them played which role in which movie (the delight here is that Mastroianni was in Fellini's 8 1/2; Piccoli in Goddard's Contempt—but who DID "borrow" from whom?). We are treated to clips and memories from the world's cinematic masterpieces as some of the most famous names in celluloid history drop by to visit the aging maëstro. But there is an over-indulgent, "E!" quality that suffocates this well meaning tribute and turns it into a 101-ring circus.

The subplot is embarrassingly weak and distracting—as M. Cinéma fears his eminent senility, he hires a young cinéaste, Camille (Julie Gayet), to help keep his mind active, lest he forget a single detail of his glorious career. Camille's boyfriend, Mica (Mathieu Demy) is a budding filmmaker, and together they plot to steal the aging man's estate.

Some of the references come more as obscure gems woven into the subplot, so that these scenes are made more tolerable. One of my favorites takes place with Camille and her friends in a café: someone quotes Arletty and a leitmotif from Les Enfants du paradis (the French classic, Children of Paradise) wafts in as Camille and Mica suddenly take on the roles of Garance and Baptiste. Another comes when Camille's bicycle is stolen and Mica remarks, "Italian neo-realism strikes again."

If viewed as an extravagant trivia challenge, this film CAN be a lot of fun, actually a great resource for that very thing. And if you own this DVD, you can play the tidbits over and over again—there are so many treasures to find here.

(Note for those as squeamish as I am: At the mention of Buster Keaton, prepare to turn your head—the scene quickly cuts to Buñuel's notorious eye-slitting scene from Un chien andalou. Shudder.)

Rating for Style: C-
Rating for Substance: A-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.66:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: This is such a menagerie, but I am impressed with the overall quality of this transfer. Of course, the myriad of media presented is shown in its actual state—if the original footage from Citizen Kane is nicked or dirty, it is presented that way; I would suppose Varda made no effort to clean them up in her original.

The lighting changes so frequently in this film, any deterioration or roughness would be terrifically annoying, but instead the changes are smooth and consistent. Varda makes great use of natural light, even in many interior sequences, so I believe the subdued tones are more a product of this than of a careless transfer. There are a few nicks here and there, nothing too distracting. The yellow subtitles are clear all the way through.

Image Transfer Grade: B+


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access

Audio Transfer Review: If my French were better, I'd have more to say. The PCM track is a bit crisper than the mono, and the incidental music keeps its place. A workman-like transfer,nothing remarkable.

Audio Transfer Grade: B-


Disc Extras

Animated menu
Scene Access with 8 cues
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
Cast and Crew Filmographies
1 Original Trailer(s)
Packaging: Alpha
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extra Extras:
  1. Production credits
  2. Weblink to WinStar's Website
Extras Review: The standard fare from Fox Lorber: filmographies for the major players, production credits, subtitle access, a weblink to WinStar that cannot be accessed from my Macintosh, and a wild roller coaster of a trailer presented in full screen, in the original French, sans subtitles. Merde.

Extras Grade: D+


Final Comments

I applaud Ms. Varda's chutzpah in rounding up some 1000 (and one) references, clips, actors and cinematic memories, presenting and preserving them in the body of on M. Simon Cinéma. I can't say whether it is blessing or a shame that she didn't have 101 hours to show it all.


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