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The Criterion Collection presents
"Life's not much fun when you don't love anyone. It's not that I don't love anyone. I adore my father. But that won't get me far. It kind of scares me. It's as if my heart's dried up."
DVD ReviewMaurice Pialat is not the quintessential French auteur. His films certainly do not belong to the nouvelle vague, nor are they the usual European import American audiences fancy. Often described as a French Cassavetes, Pialat is largely ignored by the majority of cinephiles, yet there is a discipleship that hails him as one of the greatest—if not the greatest—French filmmaker. I can't bring myself to agree with this sentiment, but his work is astonishingly bold and undeniably captivating.
À nos amours (To Our Loves) may stand as Pialat's greatest achievement. His usual flaws and strengths are on full display here, from inept storytelling to vivid presentations of human behavior. Suzanne (Sandrine Bonnaire, in her screen debut) is a 15-year-old Parisian girl on the verge of her sexual awakening. She is in love with Luc (Cyr Boitard), but inexplicably calls off their relationship. There's a solemn air about Suzanne, something that suggests a life of solitude will inevitably mark her future. She loses her virginity to an asinine American tourist, which is only her first stop in a period marked by casual sex that springs from one Parisian boy to the next. Suzanne and her friends seem lost in time; indeed, the whole film seems to be lacking context. The story could be set in the 1980s or the 1960s, there's no real way of telling.
At home, Suzanne contends with an overbearing father (played by diector Pialat), a jealous mother (Evelyne Ker), and possibly incestuous brother, Robert (Dominique Besnehard). The screenplay, by Arlette Langmann and Pialat, opaquely seems to focus around Suzanne's relationship with her dad. Angered by her slick manipulation of social mores, the father violently hits Suzanne in the face. It's a shocking moment, but not so much because of its physical violence. Within the same evening, the two share a tender conversation in which they broach not only her sexual maturation, but also his forthcoming departure. There seems to be an impenetrable bond between these two people, though neither they nor the audience understands just exactly what it is.
À nos amours doesn't have much of a plot, with scenes coming and going clumsily. When Suzanne spends time with her friends at parties or beds the most recent young man of her choosing, each scene begins and ends at unexpected moments. Never did I feel a sense of completion while watching the film, nor do I suspect I should have. Pialat seems to be stripping the story of all stereotypes and clichés concerning teenagers and their families, opting to tell an elliptic tale. The events on screen unfold as if captured by a documentarians, with awkward camera pans that don't correctly capture the image's movement and the dialogue spoken as if it is all unrehearsed. Sandrine Bonnaire's future stardom is unmistakable here. She acts courageously, presenting a mysterious girl who is failing to comprehend her own psychological state. Pialat is also impressive as the father, especially in a scene near the end of the film that is truly devastating.
Watching Suzanne suffer the emotional and physical brutalities of her life is shocking, though I was not entirely moved by it. Yes, there are moments that play with an aura of transcendence, but the film's uncanny pursuit of truth hinders it. Each scene is effective on its own, but there's no narrative strong enough to sustain the film. Clocking in at under 100 minutes, À nos amours feels more like 200 minutes in length due to the monotonous direction. Pialat deserves praise for refusing to reduce these characters to simplistic psychobabble, but I'm not willing to forgive him his inadequacies as a filmmaker. To constantly defy this fundamental aspect of the medium, a narrative, is either the result of laziness or a callous disregard of the audience's needs.
While flawed, there is still a power to Pialat's film that merits respect. Pialat is clearly invested in the material and his casting of Bonnaire provides a gift that certainly overrides the movie's shortcomings. While not quite the masterpiece its admirers proclaim it to be, À nos amours certainly deserves attention.
Rating for Style: B-
Rating for Substance: B
Image Transfer Review: The anamorphic 1.66:1 widescreen transfer looks astonishing. Depth is wonderful and colors look vivid, especially in the party scene near the harbor. There's a strong filmlike look to the whole picture, with pleasant contrast and finely textured blacks making the film look like it was shot yesterday.
Image Transfer Grade: A
Audio Transfer Review: The French mono mix preserves the original theatrical presentation quite nicely. No hiss or crackling is evident, creating a crisp and engaging mix.
Audio Transfer Grade: B
Disc ExtrasFull Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 21 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
Packaging: Double alpha
The sole supplement found on Disc 1 is the movie's theatrical trailer, shown in 1.66:1 widescreen and French mono. The rest of the extras are found on Disc 2. Beginning with The Human Eye, a 1999 documentary by Xavier Giannoly about the film, these special features open an intelligent discussion about the movie. Featuring interviews with members of the cast and crew, as well as film critic Jean-Michel Frodon, the documentary thoroughly explains the making of the film and the screenplay's origins. Each interviewee provides additional insight pertaining to the movie's meaning, though it seems their interpretations are no more valid than anyone else's. The featurette, Maurice Pialat on Set (11m:45s), is an excerpt from the TV show, Etoiles et toiles, and offers a unique view of Pialat's interaction with actors and crew members. One particularly interesting moment is when Pialat discusses various acting styles.
Following this are three video interviews. Sandrine Bonnaire (17m:11s) allows the star an opportunity to recall her relationship to Pialat and reaction to the film. There's also a tender moment when Bonnaire discusses how the experience effected her relationship with her own father. Catherine Breillat (10m:50s) describes her working relationship with Pialat. Breillat also offers her opinion of his work and how she patterns her own filmmaking after him, though a lot of her commentary is repeating information already covered in earlier supplemental material. Rounding out the interviews is Jean-Pierre Gorin (11m:54s). The documentary filmmaker and now film professor discusses the ambiguity of Pialat's work and provides valuable information about his treatment of not only actors but the supporting characters in his films.
Wrapping up the special features is a section called Auditions (20m:40s). The videotaped recording of actors Dominique Besnehard, Cyr Boitard, Sandrine Bonnaire, Cyril Collard, and Pierre-Loup Rajot can be played together or separately. Additionally, there is one segment featuring Bonnaire and Pialat rehearsing together. The auditions carry a raw intensity, which is made even more evident when the actors break character and we can hear Pialat direct them. While not the most comprehensive collection of special features, the material provided here merits a viewing.
Extras Grade: B+
Final CommentsThe Criterion Collection's treatment of À nos amours (To Our Loves) gives the film a proper home on DVD, with excellent transfers and an impressive collection of supplemental material.
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