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The Criterion Collection presents
Four by Agnes Varda (La pointe courte / Cleo from 5 to 7 / Le bonheur / Vagabond) (1954-85)

Her: Did you recognize me?
Him: I know you by heart.

- Sylvia Montfort, Philippe Noiret

Review By: Jeff Wilson  
Published: February 06, 2008

Stars: Philippe Noiret, Sylvia Monfort, Corinne Marchand, Antoine Bourseiller, Jean-Claude Drouot, Claire Drouot, Marie-Françoise Boyer, Sandrine Bonnaire
Other Stars: Dorothée Blank, Michel Legrand, José-Luis de Vilallonga, Macha Méril, Stephane Freiss, Yolande Moreau, Patrick Lepczynski, Yahiaoui Assouna, Joël Fosse, Marthe Jarnias
Director: Agnes Varda

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for adult themes, nudity
Run Time: 05h:56m:38s
Release Date: January 22, 2008
UPC: 715515025928
Genre: drama


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

DVD Review

Having had two of her films previously released on DVD by Criterion, Agnes Varda's work now receives a more prestigous treatment in the 4 by Varda box set, which gathers those two previous Criterion entrants (Cléo from 5 to 7 (1962) and Vagabond(1985)), along with two new to US DVD features: La pointe courte (1955) and Le bonheur (1965). Varda began her work as a director with no formal schooling in film, indeed even claiming to hardly watch films at all before making La point courte (which makes one wonder why she wanted to do it in the first place). Her work is now seen as a foundational part of the French New Wave, though as the included booklet points out, her sensibilities reside more with the likes of Chris Marker and Alain Resnais than the likes of Truffaut and Godard.

That first feature demonstrates Varda's interest in documentary-style filmmaking, as she weaves together two separate strands, one involving the daily life of a small fishing village, and another featuring a former resident of that village (Philippe Noiret) and his wife (Silvia Monfort), who work through the issues surrounding their relationship while exploring the village and its surroundings. This film is the least of the four, in spite of being filled with gorgeous compositions. The dual story approach, inspired, as Varda comments, by William Faulkner, doesn't really work and the husband-wife tale falls flat in terms of any kind of narrative-emotional content. Having the actors perform in a affectless monotone does nothing but make this section of the film look like a parody of European art films. For a first effort however, it's a striking debut.

Cleo From 5 to 7 is one of Varda's best known works, and rightfully so, as this story of a singer killing time until she gets a potentially fatal medical test result is a joy to watch. Cleo (Corrinne Marchand) begins the film at a fortune teller's having tarot read. The vivid color of the tarot reading snaps into black and white once the reading is complete, as if the hope embodied in a positive reading has been sucked away. Cleo proceeds to spend her remaining time by meeting friends, rehearsing, and shopping, among other things. Mirrors form a recurring motif, as regard, both self and external, make up a large part of the film. Cleo spends the first part of the film being viewed by others, until she snaps and storms away on her own, having removed her wig and fancy clothing. Her chance meeting with a soldier about to return to duty in Algeria (Antoine Bourseiller) ties the film up emotionally, as she confronts some of her feelings and makes a connection with the soldier. Varda's documentary instincts come forth again here, as Cleo's movements through Paris document the city as well as the character. Michel Legrand appears as a composer, and Varda's own short Les fiancés de Pont MacDonald is included, which stars Jean-Luc Godard and Anna Karina.

Next is Le bonheur (Happiness), the film which will spur the most discussion of the bunch. Jean-Claude and Claire Drouot play François and Therese, a happily married couple with two angelic kids (played by the Drouot's children). Everything about their life is happy; François works at the family business as a carpenter and Therese makes a little extra on the side as a dressmaker. Things begin to change when François meets Emilie (Marie-France Boyer), a beautiful postal worker who's moving into their neighborhood. François and Emilie quickly strike up an affair, which sees both happy as well. But is such happiness meant to last? The answers to that question presented by Varda spark an entertaining feature in the extras, and watching with a group is likely to produce similar results. Varda frames the film in candy-coated visuals and the clean, bracing sounds of Mozart to highlight the artificiality at the heart of everything within the film. Varda remarks that the film is intended to ask how one reacts to a mate's desires, but the questions of how deeply one's own emotional investment is comes up as well. A troubling, powerful film.

Finally, we have Vagabond, from 1985. Here, Sandrine Bonnaire plays Mona, a homeless drifter who encounters all sorts while wandering from place to place. Her story, told in flashbacks after her body is found frozen in a ditch, takes on a documentary-style investigation of Mona's life, with narration by Varda herself, further blurring the line between fiction and reality. The film presents an intriguing look at how we try to shape others to fit our needs , all the while Varda is keeping us aware that she is doing that very same thing in making the film.

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: B+

 

Image Transfer

 OneTwo
Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame1.66:1 - n/a
Original Aspect Ratioyesyes
Anamorphicnoyes


Image Transfer Review: Varda owns much (or all, maybe?) of her work, and has undertaken restorations of much of it (along with that of late husband Jacques Demy), and the fruits of that work are seen here, with absolutely lovely transfers. Le Bonheur's colors pop off the screen, and the crispness of Le point courte is very impressive. Cleo seems a little dark at times, but is definitely an improvement over the previous Criterion release. Vagabond, being the most recent film, looks fine as well.

Image Transfer Grade: A

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
MonoFrenchno


Audio Transfer Review: No problems here, as the original soundtracks prove more than capable for each film, with no noticeable defects to be found.

Audio Transfer Grade: A

 

Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 84 cues
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
3 Original Trailer(s)
3 Documentaries
14 Featurette(s)
Packaging: Boxed Set
Picture Disc
4 Discs
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. Booklet with essays on each film
Extras Review: A dizzying array of materials is provided here, much of it produced by Varda herself, who really comes to mind as one of the few filmmakers who takes an interest in actively documenting her own productions, going so far as to make her own documentaries about her own films. That's all to our benefit however, as her work does give us a nice behind the scenes look at her films and the people who acted in them.

On La pointe courte, we get an interview with Varda (15m:44s), covering the film's genesis and production, in addition to an excerpt episode of Cinéastes de notre temps from 1964, in which Varda discusses her career. On Cleo, it gets more bountiful. Most interesting is Remembrances (36m:01s), a retrospective documentary about the film, including fascinating details about the making of the film (like how they strove to make sure the clocks all matched throughout), and interviews with cast members. Cléo's Real Path Through Paris (09m:17s) takes the viewer through Cleo's steps in modern day Paris, albeit via motorcycle. Two short films by Varda are included: 1958's L'Opera mouffe (16m:05s) contrasts shots of the pregnant Varda with shots of produce and market activity; Les fiancés du pont Macdonald (04m:55s) is presented separately from Cleo and Varda gives some brief comments about it as well (02m:57s). Varda acknowledged the influence of painter Hans Baldung Grien, and a small gallery of his work is presented for perusal. The "most worthless extra" award goes to a mercifully brief excerpt from a 1993 French TV show in which Varda compliments Madonna (grinning stupidly through most of it). Madonna once planned to re-make Cleo but thankfully failed.

On Le bonheur features: The Two Women of "Le bonheur" (06m:12s), which interviews the female leads and their reactions to the film; Thoughts on "Le bonheur" (15m:02s), which features four commentators discussing the film in a fairly interesting piece; Jean-Claude Drouot Returns (10m:26s), in which the titular event occurs, as Drouot visits the shooting locations; Happiness? The People of Fontenay Respond (05m:53s) sees Varda interview people on the street for their ideas of happiness; Bonheur: Proper Name or Concept (01m:36s) contrasts real people with the last name "Bonheur" with quotes about happiness; an excerpt from vintage TV series Démons et merveilles du cinéma (04m:11s) in which Varda is seen on set; and finally, Du Côté de la côte (25m:57s), a beautifully restored 1958 short about the Cote d'Azur.

Vagabond wraps things up with: Remembrances (40m:37s), another making-of doc with cast interviews and the like; The Story of an Old Lady (03m:48s), which sees Varda profile Marthe Jarnias, who played the old aunt in the film; Music and Dolly Shots (12m:17s) sees Varda and composer Joanna Bruzdowicz discuss the latter's score for the film and how it was conceived; To Nathalie Sarraute (09m:19s) is a radio program excerpt with Varda and novelist Serraute, whose work inspired the film.

Trailers are included for all films except the first. Lastly, Criterion's packaging is classy, but I would again like to register my general dislike of paper-based cases like those used here. You break one of the hubs, and you're stuck for a replacement, as these are unique to the title itself. I've never liked compact disc digipaks, and I feel much the same about DVDs using them. Rant over, and it certainly isn't a reason to skip the set.

Extras Grade: A+

 

Final Comments

A quartet of provocative, beautifully shot films, coupled with extensive, worthwhile extras, make this boxed set an easy recommendation. The films look great as well, and Criterion's packaging, while not entirely practical, looks good too.

 


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