The Criterion Collection presents
Fanfan la tulipe (1952)
"It's in the stars, I tell you. She'll love me."- Fanfan (Gérard Philipe)
Stars: Gérard Philipe, Gina Lollabrigida
Other Stars: Marcel Herrand, Olivier Hussenot, Nerio Bernardi, Jean Parédès, Noël Roquevert, Sylvie Pelayo, Genevieve Page, Jean Debucourt
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (swashbuckling action and violence)
Run Time: 01h:39m:53s
Release Date: 2008-11-18
DVD ReviewThose of us who are familiar with the output of the French New Wave tend to be a good deal less familiar with the films that the members of the New Wave were rebelling against; that 'old wave' included standard "crowd-pleasing" adventure tales and costume dramas that have, as critic Kenneth Turan notes in the included essay, essentially been suppressed in favor of those pictures that came after. The time is therefore ripe for rediscovery of such films as this, which offers a fine entertainment and excellent production values.
In 18th-century Acquitaine, a peasant Casanova by the name of Fanfan (Gérard Philippe) faces a forced marriage after romancing a farmer's daughter in a haystack. On the way to be wed, he runs into gypsy Adeline (a young Gina Lollabrigida), who upon examining his palm announces that Fanfan is fated to join the military and marry the daughter of King Louis XV (Marcel Herrand). Acting on the suggestion, Fanfan escapes and joins the army, only to discover that Adeline's fortune-telling is a scam to obtain recruits. But he remains focused on the prophecy, especially after he manages to rescue Princess Henriette (Sylvie Pelayo) and the Marquise de Pompadour (Genevieve Page), and nothing will stop him from romancing the princess—including the entire French and Austrian armies.
Gérard Philipe makes for an exceedingly pleasant hero, with charming good looks and charisma to spare; he also (with the help of a modestly undercranked camera) manages an athleticism in the action sequences that Fairbanks would be proud of, including duels atop roofs and on carriages. It's too bad he died a few years later, since he is an appealing star. Lollabrigida is stunning, with the luminescence of youth not yet pasted over by overenthusiastic makeup artists. She offers a temperamental Adeline who is determined to help Fanfan in spite of herself, and in spite of his obsessions. The chemistry between the two is terrific, as opposed to the bland, slightly dim-looking Henriette, who is good for the object of folie but little else. And of course, Lollabrigida's appeals in low-cut peasant blouses require little comment.
There's also a fair amount of political comment, with some sharp barbs directed at the person of the king and his courtiers; his whims become their commands and they come to ever-more outlandish rationalizations for why they are the obviously correct course of action—even when they shift 180 degrees. The nature of 18th-century warfare is treated as wholly ridiculous, with the maneuvers of forces being an elaborate minuet that has little to do with actual combat. For all that Mme. de Pompadour is vilified by history, she's given a fairly sympathetic treatment here that's a little surprising.
The photography is frequently sumptuous, with one cute moment in which Lollabrigida is seen suspensed over Fanfan, as we assume his point of view. There are numerous sequences that make good use of the French countryside (though a few medium shots look stagebound and don't quite match). The concluding section with chases through castle sets look fairly authentic and give a definite sense of the period. The film can be enjoyed on many levels, as adventure, action, romance, comedy and satire, and it's never dull. One wonders what other gems may be lurking in the 1950s French cinema.
Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: B+
|Aspect Ratio||1.33:1 - Full Frame|
|Original Aspect Ratio||yes|
Image Transfer Review: The original full frame picture is derived from a fine grain positive, and it offers a gorgeous range of greyscale. There is an occasional minor shimmer in some of the background, but it's not too serious or distracting; there's a bit of flicker and waver in the image during the scene in which the captain of the army addresses the new recruits. The closeups of Fanfan and Adeline while he is held in prison are genuinely stunning, with a marvelous glow that comes across beautifully. There's hardly a speckle or other damage to be seen. Except as noted, this is a splendid example of just how good an old black & white film can appear.
Image Transfer Grade: A-
Audio Transfer Review: Both the original French and a decent English dub (although the first 15 seconds or so of the English track are still in French) are supplied in 1.0 mono. Purists may object to the English track, but increasing the accessibility of this picture is probably a good idea. There's a clear and crisp quality to the audio, with no indications of hiss or crackle. The jaunty musical score by Maurice Thiriet and Georges Van Parys sounds quite good for its age, and helps set the scene well. It's not flashy but for the period it's fine indeed.
Audio Transfer Grade: B+
Disc ExtrasStatic menu
Scene Access with 18 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
Layers Switch: 00h:54m:38s
Extras Review: The extras are a little thin for a Criterion release, since we've been so spoiled recently by massive two- and three-disc special editions. In addition to the booklet with the essay by Turan noted above, there's a new documentary on Philipe, Gérard Philipe: Star, Idol, Legend (27m:03s) that gives a good overview of his career, with archival footage, interviews with his daughter and some behind-the-scenes footage from Fanfan la tulipe. The package is rounded out by an original trailer and a clip from the hideous colorized version, which resembles a 1930s painted postcard.
Extras Grade: B-
Final CommentsAlthough little known in America, Fanfan la tulipe is a good deal of rollicking fun, provided here with a beautiful transfer.
Mark Zimmer 2008-12-01