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PostPosted: Mon Oct 16, 2017 5:34 pm 
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Eclipse Series 45: Claude Autant-Lara—Four Romantic Escapes from Occupied France

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Too often overlooked after his work was spurned by the New Wave iconoclasts as being part of the "tradition of quality," Claude Autant-Lara was one of France's leading directors of the 1940s and '50s. He began as a set and costume designer and went on to direct French-language versions of comedies in Hollywood, but it was back in his home country that Autant-Lara came into his own as a filmmaker. He found his sophisticated and slyly subversive voice with these four romances, produced during the dark days of the German occupation. Sumptuously appointed even while being critical of class hierarchy, these films—all made with the same corps of collaborators, including the charmingly impetuous star Odette Joyeux—endure as a testament to the quick wit and exquisite visual sense of the director whose name they established.

Le mariage de Chiffon

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This delightful comedy brought Claude Autant-Lara his first popular success as a director. Chiffon (Odette Joyeux) is being pushed by her mother to wed a dashing military officer (André Luguet) but finds herself drawn to her stepfather's penniless brother (Jacques Dumesnil). For Le mariage de Chiffon, Autant-Lara convened the creative team—including screenwriter Jean Aurenche, cinematographer Philippe Agostini, and the incomparable Joyeux—that would reunite for each of his subsequent three features, initiating a remarkable run of sharp love stories.

Lettres d'amour

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A deceptive lightness distinguishes this farcical second feature made by Claude Autant-Lara while Germany occupied France. During the reign of Napoleon III, a plucky postmistress (Odette Joyeux) agrees to receive love letters to a prefect's wife from a young official, and soon finds herself embroiled in a scandal that inflames a town's class tensions. A transporting period piece with ornate costumes by Christian Dior, Lettres d'amour paints a blithely pointed portrait of life in a highly stratified society.

Douce

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As belle epoque Paris prepares for Christmas, the residence of Countess de Bonafé hosts more than its share of intrigue: the countess's headstrong granddaughter, Douce (Odette Joyeux), pines for the estate manager, whose heart has been broken by the governess, who is being courted by Douce's widower father. Elegantly shot, Douce is a dizzying romantic roundelay that contains a biting critique of France's rigid social order. This film, which ultimately takes a tragic turn, found Claude Autant-Lara in full command of his craft.

Sylvie et le fantôme

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With this film, conceived during the occupation and released after the war, Claude Autant-Lara entered the realm of pure fantasy. Odette Joyeux stars as Sylvie, in love with a figure from the lore of her family's castle. Sylvie's father hires three actors to impersonate the ghost of her beloved, while the spirit himself (Jacques Tati, in his first feature-film role) stalks the grounds. Marrying a playful script, artful special effects, and wistful performances, Sylvie et le fantôme stages a delicate dance of enchantment.


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PostPosted: Mon Oct 16, 2017 5:39 pm 
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Joined: Tue Apr 15, 2008 10:25 am
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Douce is lovely, haven't seen the others. A brief synopsis I wrote elsewhere:

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Taking place in what would appear to be a constantly jostled snow globe, Douce chronicles the taboo breaking exploits of a crumbling aristocratic family with ominous visuals touches, plenty of shimmering adornments, and graceful, roving camera work that would make Ophüls blush. But, as happens with actual people who live in snow globes, not all of the film's characters can survive the constant shaking.


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PostPosted: Mon Oct 16, 2017 6:49 pm 
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Joined: Sun Sep 25, 2005 12:56 am
It's about time these got some new exposure. My sense is that Autant-Lara's films have been eclipsed, not only by the tectonic shift in critical tastes ushered in by the new wave (and their pointed antipathy toward Aurenche/Bost, the screenwriting team who by rights should get co-billing on this release), but also by his eventual move into the worst kind of revanchist right-wing politics (plus ça change...). Ideally this would be accompanied by some contextual material revisiting the Occupation roots of the so-called "tradition of quality" (a vague descriptor that has probably obscured more than it has clarified over the past 50+ years).

For those interested, I'd highly recommend the two volumes of Colin Crisp's French Cinema: A Critical Filmography, which has a lot new to say about these and many other films (well-remembered and largely forgotten) from the dawn of the sound to the new wave.


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PostPosted: Mon Oct 16, 2017 6:53 pm 
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Joined: Sat Sep 06, 2008 6:49 pm
Thanks for the book recommendation. While his feature work I've seen is only quite good his contribution to the Seven Deadly Sins omnibus is fabulous in a surprisingly modern way.


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PostPosted: Mon Oct 16, 2017 7:11 pm 
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Joined: Sun Nov 21, 2004 12:49 am
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Wow, this comes out of nowhere. With no Eclipse sets since Duvivier in November 2015, I was certain the line was dead. Very excited to pick this up. All of these films will be new to me.


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PostPosted: Mon Oct 16, 2017 7:23 pm 
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Yes! So glad to see the eclipse line revived especially with the much maligned (and thence effectively repressed by the cahiers kiddos ) tradition-of-quality films.


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PostPosted: Mon Oct 16, 2017 8:21 pm 

Joined: Tue Apr 29, 2008 12:49 pm
Have any of these been Blued in France, or shown up elsewhere in HD?


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PostPosted: Mon Oct 16, 2017 8:36 pm 
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Really nice release. Looking forward to getting into those films. I've only seen, from his late output, La Traversée de Paris, which is somewhat forgettable, and Le Rouge et le noir, the Stendhal adaptation, which is very memorable and makes me very interested in seeing these.


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PostPosted: Mon Oct 16, 2017 10:00 pm 

Joined: Mon Dec 02, 2013 4:49 pm
After the announcement of the Olympics box set, it suddenly occurred to me that possibly the Eclipse line had been put on the shelf to divert resources to that enormous project. I suspect it took a couple of years to get it done, but since it was announced before the other December releases, I figured we would either see a new Eclipse out of nowhere pretty soon--or never. Looks like great selection for relaunching the line.


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PostPosted: Mon Oct 16, 2017 11:07 pm 
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whaleallright wrote:
For those interested, I'd highly recommend the two volumes of Colin Crisp's French Cinema: A Critical Filmography, which has a lot new to say about these and many other films (well-remembered and largely forgotten) from the dawn of the sound to the new wave.


Thanks for the recommendations, I will certainly check these out. I am completely unaware of Claude Autant-Lara but this is precisely why I've enjoyed the Eclipse line so much over the years. I'm thrilled to see it return!


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PostPosted: Tue Oct 17, 2017 10:23 am 
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I've seen all four. They are all gems and it's brilliant to see them available on DVD. Lettres d'amour is the rarest. I hope the running time is correct. So far, the only print I have seen was only 90 min long.


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PostPosted: Tue Oct 17, 2017 4:20 pm 
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Ann Harding wrote:
Lettres d'amour is the rarest.
It's the only one in the set not already available on FilmStruck.


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PostPosted: Fri Oct 20, 2017 9:07 pm 
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Just watched Le mariage de Chiffon on Filmstruck. It looks quite lovely there. Tres charmante.
[Reveal] Spoiler:
But our heroine's choice strikes me as WAY too old for her
.


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PostPosted: Sat Oct 21, 2017 10:43 pm 
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Joined: Sun Sep 25, 2005 12:56 am
It's interesting that this is labeled "escapes," when (it seems to me) that the films here aren't any more or less escapist or stylized than, say, Lumière d'été on the Grémillon-Occupation-films set. I wonder if there's an echo here of the diverging receptions their bodies of work have received in subsequent decades: the way certain of Grémillon's films were interpreted as "Resistance films" (despite Gremillon's leftish politics, this is a dubious notion that the aforementioned Colin Crisp has thrown some welcome cold water on) and Autant-Lara pilloried initially as an aesthetic reactionary and later (justifiably) as a full-fledged political revanchist.

Or maybe I'm over-interpreting myself ;)


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