Eclipse Series 45: Claude Autant-Lara—Four Romantic Escapes

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swo17
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Eclipse Series 45: Claude Autant-Lara—Four Romantic Escapes

#1 Post by swo17 » Mon Oct 16, 2017 5:34 pm

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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Re: Eclipse Series 45: Claude Autant-Lara—Four Romantic Esca

#2 Post by swo17 » Mon Oct 16, 2017 5:39 pm

Douce is lovely, haven't seen the others. A brief synopsis I wrote elsewhere:
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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Re: Eclipse Series 45: Claude Autant-Lara—Four Romantic Esca

#3 Post by whaleallright » Mon Oct 16, 2017 6:49 pm

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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Re: Eclipse Series 45: Claude Autant-Lara—Four Romantic Esca

#4 Post by knives » Mon Oct 16, 2017 6:53 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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Re: Eclipse Series 45: Claude Autant-Lara—Four Romantic Esca

#5 Post by Werewolf by Night » Mon Oct 16, 2017 7:11 pm

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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Re: Eclipse Series 45: Claude Autant-Lara—Four Romantic Esca

#6 Post by movielocke » Mon Oct 16, 2017 7:23 pm

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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Re: Eclipse Series 45: Claude Autant-Lara—Four Romantic Esca

#7 Post by Perkins Cobb » Mon Oct 16, 2017 8:21 pm

Have any of these been Blued in France, or shown up elsewhere in HD?

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Re: Eclipse Series 45: Claude Autant-Lara—Four Romantic Esca

#8 Post by Rayon Vert » Mon Oct 16, 2017 8:36 pm

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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Re: Eclipse Series 45: Claude Autant-Lara—Four Romantic Esca

#9 Post by Bressonaire » Mon Oct 16, 2017 10:00 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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Re: Eclipse Series 45: Claude Autant-Lara—Four Romantic Esca

#10 Post by headacheboy » Mon Oct 16, 2017 11:07 pm

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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Re: Eclipse Series 45: Claude Autant-Lara—Four Romantic Esca

#11 Post by Ann Harding » Tue Oct 17, 2017 10:23 am

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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Re: Eclipse Series 45: Claude Autant-Lara—Four Romantic Esca

#12 Post by Werewolf by Night » Tue Oct 17, 2017 4:20 pm

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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Re: Eclipse Series 45: Claude Autant-Lara—Four Romantic Esca

#13 Post by Michael Kerpan » Fri Oct 20, 2017 9:07 pm

Just watched Le mariage de Chiffon on Filmstruck. It looks quite lovely there. Tres charmante.
SpoilerShow
But our heroine's choice strikes me as WAY too old for her
.

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Re: Eclipse Series 45: Claude Autant-Lara—Four Romantic Esca

#14 Post by whaleallright » Sat Oct 21, 2017 10:43 pm

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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Re: Eclipse Series 45: Claude Autant-Lara—Four Romantic Esca

#15 Post by criterionsnob » Sun Jan 21, 2018 6:04 pm


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Re: Eclipse Series 45: Claude Autant-Lara—Four Romantic Esca

#16 Post by ethel » Tue Feb 20, 2018 6:28 am

Just started this box. I was intensely curious to see anything of Autant-Lara, now mentioned in print (if at all) mainly for Truffaut’s disdainful dismissal of his work.

LE MARIAGE DE CHIFFON is a mild and fluffy adaptation of a fluffy 19th century romance. The visuals and the atmosphere are sort of Lubitsch, Clair and water... Academically correct photography by Isnard whose work included minor films of major directors. Not a starry cast. Interesting to see Luguet who 10 years previously had worked with Keaton (and Lya Lys of L’AGE D’OR) in Hollywood, and later worked on MAJOR THOMPSON, Sturges’ last film. The Gigi-esque character of Chiffon herself is aged 16, but is played by the tiny, laminated and plucked Joyeux who was 26 and looked it.

Production values reminiscent of contemporary RKO pictures. Resourceful, though with more exteriors to feature the pioneer-aviation subplot. The reluctance to feature shallow focus closeups until the second half means the eye has time to wander over the constrained bourgeois luxury which the cinematography failed to fully disguise.

Continuously fascinating for extracurricular reasons, chiefly its status as a film made for a broad audience which was acceptable to the occupying Nazi censors. This fact tends to overshadow every other consideration. The film premiered a couple of weeks after the infamous Vel d’Hiv roundup and deportation of over 13,000 Jewish citizens in Paris, and all the films in this box were developed so as not to affront the sensibilities of those responsible for this.

So you watch these with necessarily divided attention, I guess. Interesting all right, but you don’t feel the subterranean push back you do with Gremillon or Carne’.

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Re: Eclipse Series 45: Claude Autant-Lara—Four Romantic Esca

#17 Post by ethel » Wed Feb 21, 2018 6:38 am

LETTRES D’AMOUR the second film from 1942 in the box. The print is much more uneven than the pristine one used for LE MARIAGE DE CHIFFON, and is missing the 18 or so minutes removed by the distributor early on. At 91.5 minutes, it seems plenty long enough.

The tone and much of the playing seem far more consistent here: Joyeux is more becomingly cast as a dignified and intelligent young widow in the provinces; Perier (from Cocteau’s ORPHEE) is a standout as her lawyer love interest; Renant (unforgettable as the lesbian photographer in Clouzot’s QUAI DES ORFÈVRES); Carette (the poacher in Renoir’s REGLE DU JEU). Costumes are by Dior.

The story, safely set in 1855, is of farcical romantic goings on, and there are those who find the class distinctions significant. (One may recall that Clouzot’s village poison pen drama LE CORBEAU was acceptable to the Nazis the next year, but landed him in hot water with those who felt it showed the French in a very poor light).

One’s response to this film will probably hinge on Aurenche’s script. There’s rather a lot of quibbling and posturing in the agreeable outdoor locations and interiors, and I found the spinning out of the tale a bit trying even in the abbreviated version.

Many interesting moments make it worth a look for Autant-Lara watchers.

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Re: Eclipse Series 45: Claude Autant-Lara—Four Romantic Esca

#18 Post by domino harvey » Sun Feb 25, 2018 12:20 am

Le mariage de Chiffon carries itself like it's giving us Lubitsch but it's all a lot closer to one of those rote Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy movies without the musical numbers. The film is, apart from a few inelegant scene transitions, well-made, and while as a comedy it did not make me laugh even once, it's pretty harmless fluff. I know it's tempting to reclaim an unpopular work and bring it renewed glory, but regardless of what one thinks of the detractors of the director, this still ain't art, folks. It is perhaps worth noting that while their overall take on the director (and co-screenwriter) is not exactly a secret, I found exactly zero mentions of this specific film in any issue of Cahiers, so it may very well have passed unseen or was intentionally skipped by the Young Turks on first release (and it's not exactly a film one imagines teenagers lining up for)... Not that they needed to say otherwise, as no one watching this could ever confuse it for something they'd praise (at least not at the time of their greatest influence). No doubt the Young Turks could recognize as well as anyone that a film like this is aping staid Hollywood product. That alone wouldn't out of hand be a problem for the Cahiers crew, but it has the misfortune of imitating the kind of studio films the Cahiers crew never gave the time of day!

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Re: Eclipse Series 45: Claude Autant-Lara—Four Romantic Esca

#19 Post by ethel » Wed Mar 07, 2018 7:11 am

The third title in the box, DOUCE (1943j is a considerable advance on the first two titles. Joyeux returns in a wholly dramatic role, joined by Robinson (fresh Off Gremillon’s LUMIERE D’ETE) and the ogress Moreno (a favourite sparring partner of Guitry’s) and Debucourt (an Ophuls veteran).

DOUCE is an interesting mashup reminiscent of THE MAGNIFICENT AMBERSONS meets THE PARADINE CASE and MISS JULIE, but you’re never sure which bits or how it will end (HANGOVER SQUARE?). Much of the action takes place in a stifling mansion in 1887, and all the actresses even have an Agnes Moorehead scene each.

The mise en scene frequently recalls Ophuls without in any way overshadowing him. Agostini provides distinguished photography appropriate to the louring atmosphere as the characters obsessively jockey for romantic and financial advantage. Interestingly, in such a class-conscious story, a single line about “impatience and revolt” was cut from the film by the nervous Collaborationist government censor, and only restored after the war.

If all of Autant-Lara’s work was of this quality, I don’t think he would’ve been treated so dismissively in subsequent decades.

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Eclipse Series 45: Claude Autant-Lara—Four Romantic Escapes

#20 Post by movielocke » Wed Mar 14, 2018 2:21 am

This whole set was quite pleasurable. None are great films (though there are lovely moments in each film) but none are bad films. They actually made me feel nostalgic, not for the era of the films or the era they were made in, but nostalgic for that moment when I discovered tcm eighteen ish years ago and it would just run through the gamut of classic mgm and rko melodramas. Going through this set is sort of like watching a day of pleasant, mostly forgotten Hollywood thirties films. Often charming, generally fluffy, occasional glimpses of sharp edges that are carefully avoided and undeveloped.

While there is a vague lubitsch air to most of the films, they lack the touch and panache, and something like Sylvie and the Ghost has more in common with the odd little melodrama “Smilin through” than a lubitsch film

I liked them all, love letters and Sylvie and the ghost were slight favorites, Douce was probably my least favorite mostly because it resorts to bland “stakes raising” nonsense in the developments of the climax and plot resolution.

Often, I kind of loath a lot of idle rich fawning, as often found in these films. but here the films worldviews are so naive and fairy tale simple they never bothered me.

Overall I liked this set better than the other melodramas sets, but would probably put this about in the middle tier of eclipse sets. No masterpieces, but some solid films that are rather worthwhile and are frequently delightful.

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Re: Eclipse Series 45: Claude Autant-Lara—Four Romantic Esca

#21 Post by ethel » Sat Mar 17, 2018 7:11 am

The last title in this box is SYLVIE ET LE FANTOME - Joyeux, then 30, appears once again as a 16 year old (not a good idea) with Perier and Carette (who seems to be trying to underplay in the first half, but is eating the scenery as usual in the second) and Desailly (How many other actors worked for both Autant-Lara and Truffaut?). A real point of interest is the debut of Tati as the ghost, mute and all in double exposure. Agostini photographs an elaborate castle setting.

Based on a popular play, the action becomes rather clotted with “fake ghosts” as no one realises there’s a real one until much time has passed. Tati’s silent performance is an anomaly in an era where the light comedy ghosts were normally very chatty with the female leads (Laughton in THE CANTERVILLE GHOST, Donat in THE GHOST GOES WEST).

This is another charm offensive from Autant-Lara, and one’s reaction will depend on one’s tolerance for fairly determined whimsy and “enchantment”. The working through of the complications again seem very leisurely at 98 minutes. (Producer Andre’ Paulve’ was at the same time overseeing Cocteau’s BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, which rather sweeps the board in the enchantment department, and for all time.)

A beautiful restoration of a forerunner to the era of Autant-Lara’s most well-regarded films, now forgotten and largely unseen outside France. When will there be a subtitled box of these, I wonder..?

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