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The Criterion Collection presents
“First, I’m not witty. Second, I’m doing the best I can.”
DVD ReviewFrench filmmaker Louis Malle has made his share of classic movies, but the best-known of his early works is arguably 1958’s The Lovers. It’s most known, however, for the scandal that it caused to rage through conservative France upon its release in November of that year. The controversy centered on the film’s “shocking” scene of the main female character achieving sexual pleasure at the hands of a man who isn’t her husband. Of course, these days, we often see more explicit sequences on television, but in late 1950’s France (the film dealt with similar problems from Catholic Italy at that year’s Venice Film Festival) such a scene was unheard of. Avid film buffs that have yet to experience Malle’s film can check it out in all of its uncut glory thanks to The Criterion Collection’s excellent new DVD release.
Jeanne Tournier (Jeanne Moreau) has it all, thanks to her marriage to wealthy press magnate Henri (Alain Cuny). However, all the wealth in the world can’t keep Jeanne from being bored, so she turns to polo player Raoul (José Luis de Villalonga) to fulfill her sexual needs. Disguised as visits to her friend, Maggy (Judith Magre), Jeanne’s trips to Paris become more frequent, arousing the suspicions of Henri. One weekend, Henri calls Jeanne back from Paris, unexpectedly, but she has no idea that he has also invited Maggy and Raoul to the estate. On her way back, the car breaks down and Jeanne is picked up by Bernard (Jean-Marc Bory), a young archaeologist who drives her back home and is asked to stay for his troubles. While initially shocked at the presence of Maggy and Raoul, it isn’t long before Jeanne realizes that true love is finally staring her in the face.
The Lovers, among many other things, is a wonderful showcase for French actress Jeanne Moreau. This natural beauty had previously appeared in Malle’s Elevator to the Gallows, but she reaches her peak as an actor here. Hers is an extremely complex character, a woman who thinks of nothing and no one but herself, yet Moreau somehow makes us sympathize with her. She could have done this by being bright and bubbly, but it’s a testament to her acting proclivity that she doesn’t have to resort to such cheap tactics to remain credible throughout. This is a performance for the ages, and one that has yet to be surpassed when compared to similar characters in cinema.
Malle’s film often comes across as a Young Lady Chatterley with brains, and little explicit sex. Whereas exploitation films like that are cut and dried filth, Malle has so much more to say here that I’m instantly ashamed of the comparison. His true genius comes through in the way he portrays the Jeanne character. While Moreau adds so much to the character, Malle allows us to make our own judgments regarding her actions, a tactic that single-handedly adds depth and a need for post-viewing discussion to the film. Do we sympathize with someone who is truly unhappy with her husband? Do we change our tune when we realize she’s probably stringing along her lover as well? Has she truly found love during the film’s finale? It’s these questions that truly power The Lovers and have allowed it to stand up so well after 50 years and plenty of similar, far-inferior fare.
Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A
Image Transfer Review: The film is presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen, and the images are sharp and detailed throughout. This new print is practically flawless, exhibiting no dirt, grain, or other blemishes at all. While this is remarkable enough, we also see deep blacks, and excellent shadow levels at all times.
Image Transfer Grade: A
Audio Transfer Review: The original French mono track is here, and everything sounds natural. The music sounds crisp and uninhibited, while being well-worked into the overall mix, along with crisp, clear dialogue.
Audio Transfer Grade: B
Disc ExtrasStatic menu with music
Scene Access with 17 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
Packaging: Keep Case
There’s also a stills gallery that chronicles the controversy surrounding the obscenity charges that were made against the film in the U.S. This is a very interesting subject that’s also laid out in the accompanying 14-page booklet.
Extras Grade: C
Final CommentsLouis Malle’s The Lovers was not only a lightning rod for controversy upon its release, but it was also a crossroads for sexuality in French cinema. Powered by an amazing performance by Jeanne Moreau, Malle’s film is a riveting character story 50 years later. The Criterion Collection works their magic again with this stellar release, complete with excellent audio and video transfers and some great extras as well.
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