It's only an unfortunate twist of fate that a brilliant filmmaker like Bernard receives only scant recognition in the States while Pagnol and his hackwork is considered somehow sublime or brilliant. Again, "less well-known" or "unrecognized" would be a better turn of phrase than "minor," at least as it relates to Bernard.
William Klein on the other hand could possibly be considered minor, at least insofar as this was his impact on the American avant-garde/independent scene. That's not to say that this is not a worthwhile set, it may well be, and I'm happy to see Criterion is doing something other than releasing more titles from established art-house auteurs like Bergman and Malle. Still, it's not quite the same as releasing a Brakhage Eclipse set that contained, say, Dog Star Man or something. Hell, as a friend pointed out, it's not even like releasing rare French avant-garde feature Deux Fois (which is a masterpiece by the way).
One might never know from the deluge of unmitigated enthusiasm on the Criterion Forum, or the copy on the back of the actual Bernard set, or any (or just many?) of the reviews of Bernard's films, but -- and I'm writing this as a warning for the cinephiles -- the real revelation for me, tumbling down following the nurtured hope that I was going to discover some "lost" figure (albeit one whose films are easily licensable by Gaumont for anyone who will step up to take the risk of releasing these works that are not as well known) on the level of Vigo or Renoir, or Astruc or Guitry, or Leenhardt or Demy, or Rohmer or Franju, or Moullet or Garrel, -- or, as grandly, and although an American filmmaker, one I imagined beforehand as a potential parallel: King Vidor -- is that Bernard turns out to be a card-carrying member of the "tradition of quality".
taken on its own is probably, in all fairness, as offensive a piece of film as The Battle of Algiers
. The schematization of the destined-to-die heroes, highlighted in that little "introduction" scene in the courtyard, is almost as pathetic as Charles Vanel's death scene, in which Bernard does what Renoir never would have: Pulled back on the truth (the human truth) at the moment Vanel implores the destined-to-die protagonist to let his wife know what a cheating bitch she was -- "No.. no... on second thought, tell her... tell her that she must be better
from now..." Both Renoir, and Shakespeare, would have let him die gurgling the oath -- finally, this character would have had something more to his presence than a strategic positioning as mere "gruff colonel-figure" or whatever his rank was -- we'd know him beyond Archetype, know something of pain, deceit, unforgiveness -- taken to the grave and unrepentantly.
= René Clément + Carol Reed, except very clumsy in aspects like, as one example, the simple dramaturgic staging of "an event"/"the story action": the lifting-the-cart-off-the-peasants scene early on pretty much broke my
camel's back. Of course I'm sad that there turned out not to be any 'discovery' after all, but seeing both pictures did help to elucidate why Bernard was never discussed in the Cahiers
or other front-line annals over the course of the last century: he wasn't worth discussing. That said, I don't begrudge the release of these films at all, because sometimes we need to be able to be reminded what it means for a filmmaker to fail, or (spoiled as we are) to see what a "bad filmmaker" looks like once again, or, by exact contrast, what it means to say that "Renoir was great" -- for his greatness went far beyond head-scratching lighting effects, or 'hushed tonality'.
Releases like the Bernard set also help us have some perspective on the history of cinema: that is, just because the 'equipment' of the soundstage eras facilitates a certain aesthetico-technical effect that is "pleasing to look at" or "painterly" or whatever, one must be capable of feeling what else there 'is' or 'is not' to a film, and realize that with certain filmmakers
, regardless of however much of the 'protective skin' of the '30s cinema's technical processes they were able to wrap their contemporary work in by default, some really were no different than a kind of, say, "Luc Besson of their day." This is one of the great virtues of the Eclipse series in fact.
I'm looking forward to these Klein films a whole lot -- especially Polly Maggoo
. Releases such as this, or the forthcoming Gorins, make speculation about an eventual set devoted to the Zanzibar group (picking up on the Deux fois
mention above) seem not so far-fetched after all.