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Image Entertainment presents
The Captive (La Captive) (2000)

Simon: I'd so like to know your thoughts, who you are, what you hide from me. Tell me, Ariane, what you're thinking.
Ariane: If I had thoughts, I'd tell you, but I don't.

- Stanislas Merhar, Sylvie Testud

Review By: Robert Edwards  
Published: January 26, 2004

Stars: Stanislaus Merhar, Sylvie Testud, Olivia Bonamy
Other Stars: Liliane Rovère, Françoise Bertin
Director: Chantal Akerman

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (nudity, sexual situations)
Run Time: 01h:52m:52s
Release Date: January 27, 2004
UPC: 014381205824
Genre: drama

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A- B+A-B- B-

DVD Review

Simon Levy (Stanislas Merhar), young, rich, and handsome, spends most of his time writing in his large apartment in Paris, accompanied by his ailing grandmother (Françoise Bertin), housekeeper (Liliane Rovère), and a young woman named Ariane (Sylvie Testud). He's completely obsessed with Ariane, who has given up her former life in Normandy to live with him. He watches over her constantly, but although she may be a captive, she's not quite Simon's prisoner. She often leaves the apartment for social engagements and singing lessons, usually accompanied by Simon's friend Andrée (Olivia Bonamy), who acts as his surrogate and keeps a watchful eye on Ariane.

In The Captive, Belgian director Chantal Akerman paints a convincing portrait of a one-sided obsession. Simon wants to know all there is to know about Ariane—her activities, her plans, and her innermost thoughts—but Ariane doesn't reciprocate. She's happy not knowing everything about Simon, because she finds his unknown side intriguing, something to be potentially, rather than actually explored. She answers Simon's questions during his regular interrogations, but in an elusive and self-contradictory manner, often changing her responses from moment to moment. Ariane is clearly aware that Simon takes some pleasure in his obsessiveness, and is only to happy to feed it by laying false trails to her hidden life, the one thing Simon most wants to know and understand.

Simon is further frustrated by his inability to form a true sexual bond with Ariane, who prefers women to men. He doesn't seem particularly interested in moving beyond their codified sex, which is basically frottage while Ariane is sleeping, but rather a deeper understanding of Ariane's psyche, and how it's informed by both her attraction to women, and the nature of lesbian relationships.

Director Akerman, born in 1950, is often considered to be a part of the French New Wave, but she's more properly placed in the tradition of European art house cinema. Most of her films privilege situation and character, rather than plot incident and story development. She often uses long takes and static camera placement, calling attention to time and duration (the events of her most famous work, Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles unfold in the course of over three hours of near-real time). The Captive is typical in this respect. Many scenes show characters entering or leaving empty shots of the claustrophobic apartment or other locales, and the frontal camera placements calls attention to the viewer's role as spectator of, rather than participant in, the film.

Indeed, those who are more accustomed to the rapid-fire pace and editing of typical Hollywood fare may find the film slow and ultimately frustrating. But the patient viewer who is willing to observe the careful visual strategies that Akerman deploys, lend a sensitive ear to the dialogue, and allow him- or herself to be carried away by the deliberate rhythms of the film, will find much to like in Akerman's insightful exploration of this unusual relationship.

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


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: A good transfer is necessary to fully appreciate a film that favors visuals over plot, and Image certainly deliver the goods in this case. The anamorphic transfer has good black levels and a wealth of detail, with only a few brief scenes exhibiting a bit of softness. Colors are slightly muted, although this may be a feature of the source, rather than a fault of the transfer. There are no compression artifacts and only a bit of edge enhancement.

Image Transfer Grade: A-


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Frenchno

Audio Transfer Review: The two-channel sound is somewhat limited in separation, and it's really only noticeable that it's in stereo when there is background music playing. But it's reasonably full-range, and the many environmental noises (creaking of the floorboards in the apartment, crashing of waves on the beach) come through clearly.

Audio Transfer Grade: B-


Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 12 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English
1 Original Trailer(s)
Packaging: Keep Case
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. Interview with director Chantal Akerman
  2. Interview with actress Sylvie Testud
  3. Printed insert with chapter listing
Extras Review: The occasionally-clunky English subtitles are burned into the print, but they are displayed in a large white font and are always easy to read. The French theatrical trailer has no subtitles, and its nonanamorphic transfer is a bit blurry and faded.

The 26m:46s video interview with Chantal Akerman is presented in full frame. She talks about the source novel (Proust's La Prisonnière) and its relevance to the 21st century, her choice of actors, her history as a film-maker, and the process of making the film. Perhaps the most interesting comments for film buffs will be her comparison of The Prisoner to Kubrick's Eyes Wide Shut and her remarks on Hitchcock.

In Sylvie Testud's 8m:40s anamorphic video interview, she discusses what drew her to the script, her impressions of fellow actor Stanislas Merhar, and how acting mirrors the situation presented in the film.

Extras Grade: B-


Final Comments

With its languid pacing, carefully composed shots and de-emphasis on plot, some viewers may find The Captive tedious, but those in tune with its European art-house traditions will find much to enjoy in its exploration of an obsessive relationship. The great transfer and interesting interviews are an added bonus.


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