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Image Entertainment presents
Stavisky (1974)

"Nobody knows who I am and what I'm capable of."
- Stavisky (Jean-Paul Belmondo)

Review By: Jon Danziger   
Published: May 24, 2002

Stars: Jean-Paul Belmondo
Other Stars: Francois Perier, Anny Duperey, Michel Lonsdale, Robertao Bisacco, Claude Rich, Charles Boyer, Gérard Depardieu
Director: Alain Resnais

Manufacturer: Ritek
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Run Time: 01h:52m:39s
Release Date: March 12, 2002
UPC: 014381066821
Genre: foreign

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A- BA-B D-

DVD Review

As is true of the character whose name provides this film's title, Stavisky has in many respects been unjustly neglected by audiences, on this side of the Atlantic especially. It's a handsomely made movie that, while occasionally lacking in adequate historical detail for a 21st-century audience, provides a sharp portrait of a gentleman thief responsible for making much mischief between the two world wars.

Always with a fresh carnation in his lapel and an eye for the ladies, Stavisky is part Jay Gatsby, part Oskar Schindler, that potent mix of money, criminality and self-invention. Even his name is up for grabs—born in Kiev as Stavisky, he now does business in his adopted land, France, as Serge Alexandre, and he has no shortage of aliases and diminutives for a variety of purposes, some of them innocent, others less so. But the recklessness of living the high life has amounted only to a pile of debts, and when the millions of chits need to be honored, the bank isn't much interested in how rakish and successful you may be in the hotel bar. Jean-Paul Belmondo stars in the title role, and he's terribly charming—I'm not sure whether or not Belmondo is a great actor, but there's no questioning the fact that he's got the charisma marking him as a movie star.

Stavisky's marriage to Arlette (Anny Duperey) is a deeply peculiar one; he cheerily reports to her that he has seduced other women and stolen their jewels, and presents the goods to her as tribute. Yet while he continues to play the field—he seems to be casting an especially wide net when attending auditions for actresses at his theater—his wife remains fervently devoted, despite other offers. As she says to one suitor: "I belong to a man. Only he can free me from this servitude."

The movie is principally a character study of Stavisky's fall from grace, and those he brought down with him. I admire the ways in which the story jumps around in time, and is slow in revealing the framing device that allows for all the necessary exposition, but I admit to being entirely ignorant of these historical circumstances, and sometimes wondered if the filmmakers haven't taken too much for granted. The story begins, for instance, with the arrival of Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky in France, and though Trotsky pops up every now and again in the story, there's only the most tenuous connection between him and Stavisky. There's also a strong effort made late in the film to fix le scandale Stavisky into a broader historical context, about the course of French governance, but it doesn't have much relevance to the rest of the story. (I don't want to reveal too much of the plot, but there's one moment early on, when a character delivers a soliloquy to the camera, that may make you think: Uh oh. Things soon right themselves, happily.)

Perhaps it's the subject matter, or the fact that the movie is so thoroughly French, but whatever the instance, it brings out the best in director Alain Resnais, whose other films (particularly Hiroshima mon amour) can be ponderous to an almost excruciating degree. But here not only are the shots beautiful, they're filled with characters in fierce pursuit of their aims, and happily not offering their own meditations on the human condition. (The production design merits special mention, too, as do the lovely evening gowns, provided by Yves Saint Laurent.) Particularly notable in the supporting cast are Charles Boyer as Baron Raoul, a Stavisky confidant (perhaps Boyer's menacing performance in Gaslight will be available on DVD before too long); and a young Gérard Depardieu, who has one scene as an inventor trying to convince Stavisky to front him some money.

For English-speaking audiences, the yellow subtitles are generally legible, though there are more than a few spelling errors—Stavisky is even misspelled one time as "Stavinsky"—and some obvious confusion about verb tenses, especially in the interrogative case. Questions thus include: "And was your first diagnosis was completely confirmed?" Or: "What can you tell us anything about this?"

One of the big lures of Stavisky, for theater folks especially, is that the musical score is by Broadway legend Stephen Sondheim. There are no original Sondheim songs on hand (as opposed to, say, his contribution to Dick Tracy), but the score is warmly evocative of the period without drawing too much attention to itself. It's also a curious directorial choice, given that Sondheim was on the team, to have the story reach its climax with complete silence on the soundtrack.

Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: B


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.66:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The image transfer, with its slightly unconventional aspect ratio, is absolutely ravishing. Just a few bits of debris interfere with a deep, well-saturated transfer to DVD—I don't know how true to the period the production design is, but there are images here that are sure to make even Merchant and Ivory drool.

Image Transfer Grade: A-


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access

Audio Transfer Review: The French mono track is the only one available, and while it's nowhere close to as rich as the images it accompanies, it's a pretty clean and steady one, principally free of hiss and crackle.

Audio Transfer Grade: B


Disc Extras

Static menu with music
Scene Access with 16 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
Packaging: Amaray
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extras Review: Some information about the historical personages depicted in the movie would have been a welcome addition, but this disc offers only chapter stops. Quelle dommage.

Extras Grade: D-


Final Comments

Stavisky is a study in the allure and pitfalls of venality, and is at its most successful when we're watching the title character operate. You may wish for the occasional historical footnote to follow along better with the historical events, but a fine video transfer and musical score make it worth taking this lovely journey.


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