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Kino on Video presents

Mélo (1986)

"It's a little frightening, the stories you tell..."- Pierre (Pierre Arditi)

Stars: Sabine Azéma, Pierre Arditi, André Dussollier
Other Stars: Fanny Ardant, Jacques Dacqmine
Director: Alain Resnais

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (adult themes)
Run Time: 01h:52m:002
Release Date: 2008-02-19
Genre: drama

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B+ BB+B B-


DVD Review

Though director Alain Resnais is best known for the short film Night and Fog and the feature Hiroshima mon amour in the late 1950s, he's never really stopped working, and is still directing films though now well into his eighties. Mélo, from 1986, is a minor addition to a body of work that stretches from the 1930s until the present, though there are masterful touches, even if the film disappoints in other areas. Based upon a 1922 play by Henri Bernstein, it tells the story of a high-drama love affair between a world famous musician, and the wife of his best friend. It's beautifully filmed, with a stunning color palette and lots of iconic 1920s settings: suburban Paris at night, art deco apartments and the like. Resnais also has some fun with the format, being that of an adapted play. Curtains rise and fall between acts. The opening scene, set in a courtyard at night, is filmed on an entirely obvious, but all the more stunning for it, soundstage. It's another reminder, to all of the directors who devote their energies to recreating the commonplace with fidelity, that the beauty of film is in its ability to show us heightened or entirely imagined realities. Resnais' artificial view of the city at night from a candlelit courtyard is far more interesting than if he'd simply filmed a courtyard at night.

The material itself is strictly melodrama: an affair, murderous intent, suicide, deathly illness. Resnais takes it to another level by treating it all lovingly: the sets, while deliberately stage-like, are stunning and colorful. The performances are great, and the camera lingers on these faces in a way that's often hypnotic. Marcel (André Dussollier), the embittered and love struck violinist, has a monologue early on that's brilliantly delivered and establishes his character so thoroughly and sympathetically that it's impossible to hate him, even when the story takes some darker turns. Sabine Azéma as Romaine, the wife, is sprightly and beguiling, at least at the outset. She plays the role with a dark twinkle in her eye, and a great deal of charm. Pierre Arditi is perfectly likeable and naive as the type of sincere and friendly husband that you could see getting a little bored with, and that you might feel a bit guilty about not appreciating more. Perhaps best known to American audiences, Fanny Ardent has a small role as a loyal friend. She's appeared in a number of films that have done well stateside, including Elizabeth and, most recently, Paris je t'aime.

Unfortunately, the best material is at the beginning, with everyone involved seeming to give those early scenes their best, and breathing life into tricky material. It loses much of that spirit in the later acts, succumbing to melodrama and losing some of the charge that animates the early scenes. There's a passionate affair, a life-threatening illness, hints at murderous intent, another passionate affair, suicide, etc. The performers all work hard to sell the work, and mostly succeed, but the drama goes over the top. While the introductory scenes have a real sense of liveliness and fun, if foreboding, Resnais goes strictly for drama later on, and it all becomes just a bit much. Juliet couldn't muster quite the hair-pulling passion for Romeo that Romaine shows for Marcel. Her character also jumps rather sloppily between doting wife, and vicious adulteress, at one point sneaking out of the house in the middle of a medical crisis so as not to miss a rendezvous with her boyfriend. She's one of those bad women in film. In spite of her hair-pulling, it's pretty much impossible not to either hate her or become bored with her before the end. It's nothing we haven't seen before, and Mélo doesn't add anything new. The material is great in patches, with some deft camerawork and fine acting, but so often self-serious. If Resnais had brought it to life consistently as he did in the beginning, Mélo could have been a masterpiece.

Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: B


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.66:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The material shows its age just a bit, and I'm not sure that much work was done by way of restoration for this smaller Resnais work. Still, the beautiful period cinematography of the film comes through beautifully, with the contrast of bright blues and whites against more melancholy tones coming through beautifully. I didn't spot any significant transfer problems.

Image Transfer Grade: B+

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Frenchno

Audio Transfer Review: It's hardly stunning, but the two-track audio works fine for the talky material.

Audio Transfer Grade:

Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 15 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
1 Featurette(s)
Packaging: Keep Case
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extras Review: Two extras are included: a brief interview with the film's producer Martin Karmitz touches on some of the technical aspects of the film, as well as on working with Alain Resnais. Though quick, it's worth checking out if you've enjoyed the feature. Mélo's original theatrical trailer is also included.

Extras Grade: B-

Final Comments

The hands of a master are obviously at work on Mélo, with some beautiful camerawork and great performances. The heavy melodrama takes its toll before long, though, and a wonderful opening sequence gives way to a soap opera that lost me. Patches of greatness redeem the work, but the uneveness of the picture makes it hard to recommend wholeheartedly.

Ross Johnson 2008-05-30