Lovers: The Criterion Collection (The)
R1 - America - Criterion Collection
Review written by and copyright: Noor Razzak (9th June 2008).
The Film

Some time ago I had the pleasure of reviewing Criterion's box set "3 Films by Louis Malle" which included "Murmur of the Heart" (1971), "Lacombe, Lucien" (1974) and "Au Revoir, Les Enfants" (1987). Criterion overdid themselves with this set and remains among my most treasured box sets in my collection. I suppose it doesn't hurt either that Louis Malle is my favorite of the French New Wave filmmakers, who emerged from the post-war era. His films are personal, meaningful, subtle and beautiful. Malle is also not afraid to cross lines or break taboos, as he does with this 1958 feature "The Lovers" AKA "Les Amants" in its native French. The film caused a significant amount of controversy upon release as it broke taboos with its (then) graphic eroticism and was branded with an obscenity conviction in the United States preventing it from being screened, a conviction which was later reversed in 1968. "The Lovers" is not as shockingly sexual today as it was deemed in the 50's, standards have changed and cinema going audiences are used to much more in terms of what's appropriate to show sexually in a film. Despite this the film doesn't lose its impact.

"The Lovers" tells the story of Jeanne Tournier (Jeanne Moreau) a bored housewife who has grown tired of her husband (Alain Cuny) and delves into a affair with her lover, the snobbish polo player Raoul (José Luis de Villalonga), encouraged by her own friend to engage in the affair, Jeanne does so without remorse or guilt. And when on her way home from Paris her car breaks down and is helped by a handsome stranger, Bernard (Jean-Marc Bory) who is also on his way to her husband's home for a get-together. Jeanne and Bernard eventually fall into each other's arms, as "The Lovers" takes an open and raw look at sensuality, feminism and adultery.

Much like other French films of this period the pace is rather slow and meticulous, Malle spends his time establishing his characters and story at his own pace and for the most part its engaging. The characters are all interesting in their own rights, Jeanne, appropriately bored with her stately life and engages in illicit affairs to spice things up. Actress Jeanne Moreau brings this character to stunning life in a naturalistic manner, consistent with many of Malle's style.

The film's taboo nature is somewhat softened today and nowhere near as risqué as it was deemed back in the 50's, however the themes presented still make an impact. Malle's direction allows the characters and their situations to seem real almost as if it's a document of a real woman's life. This was his gift in many ways as viewers are drawn into the film without much effort.

"The Lovers" certainly makes a statement that's both intelligent and sophisticated about feminism, a statement that would have been far ahead of it's time even. It's a film worth watching with impressive and captivating performances and certainly one of Malle's more under appreciated classics.

Video

Presented in the film's original 2.35:1 widescreen this anamorphic transfer is yet another testament on why Criterion are at the top of their game. The image is sharp and wonderfully detailed, occasional soft shots pop up but these were inherent in films of this era. Grain is light for the most part although it's a little noisy amid the blacks, regardless of this the presentation is rather excellent. The image is mostly clean of specs, dirt and scratches, and the contrast is pitch perfect.

Audio

A single French Dolby Digital 1.0 mono track is included, this is the film's original soundtrack. The sound is free of hiss, pops, drop-outs and other annoy flaws that can plague films of this era. Criterion have done a superb hob in restoring this soundtrack, the dialogue is clear and distortion free and the film's music comes across well. The track lacks depth and range but after all this is a mono track.
Optional subtitles are included in English.

Extras

The Criterion Collection has included a few extras on this disc, they are a series of archival interviews, a gallery plus a booklet that features liner notes. Below is a closer look at these supplements.

There are a series of 6 archival interviews that include:

- Director Louis Malle in a 1963 interview which runs for 9 minutes 44 seconds comments on his career as well as the film.
- Director Louis Malle in a 1994 interview runs for 19 minutes 38 seconds, in this clip the filmmaker takes a retrospective look back at the film and the reaction to it when it was originally released.
- Actress Jeanne Moreau is interviewed after the 1958 premiere of the film a Film Festival and runs for 2 minutes 37 seconds.
- Actress Jeanne Moreau is interviewed again in 1972 and runs for 6 minutes 12 seconds, she recalls the production and the character she played.
- Actor José Luis de Villalonga is interviewed in this 1958 clip that runs for 5 minutes 31 seconds, here we see the actor preparing for the polo scene as he talks about his career.
- Writer Louise de Vilmorin is interviewed in this 1965 clip and runs for 3 minutes 52 seconds, the author comments on her involvement on the script in writing the dialogue among other things in this short TV segment.

Next up is a gallery of 14 promotional materials from the U.S. theatrical release of the film, they feature some pages regarding the film's obscenity hearings, as well as lobby cards created for the marketing and segments from the original press book.

Rounding out the extras is an 18-page booklet that features a liner note essay entitled "Succés De Scandale" by film historian Ginette Vincendeau.

Overall

The Film: A Video: A Audio: B Extras: B+ Overall: B+

 


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