A one-of-a-kind sumptuous treat, this lush, swoon-worthy period romantic drama from writer Jacques Prévert & director Marcel Carné, set in the 1830s, was improbably made during the French WWII Occupation. A feast in every department: acting, characters, sets & costumes, plot (dovetailed symmetry like a great 19th century novel), sentiment, violence, heartbreak, guilt-shaming kids . . . the works. All this you know. What’s needs mentioning is that the 2011 Pathé restoration on Criterion (replacing their earlier set) adds crucial resolution/definition to a film whose soft original texture made even decent prints look ‘dupey.’ And improvement to the soundtrack proves even more substantial. Of course, the grand story is so involving (all 3 hours & 10 minutes of it) that a battered VHS with pixel drop-out couldn’t stop you from squinting your way thru. But how nice to have it looking better than it has in decades; and sounding better than it ever has.
ATTENTION MUST BE PAID: Note our poster. Yes, a scene from the film, but taken as if from the outside. The extra set-up would have wrecked a follow-up gag that’s pure composition.
SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: Carné gets little love from auteurists & academics. And it’s true he’s only at his best collaborating with Prévert. But, any way you slice it, this is some kind of gorgeous/stylish moviemaking. No doubt, having Léon Barsacq and Alexandre Trauner on Production Design could make anyone look good, but check out a couple of gasp-worthy cinematic moments when Jean-Louis Barrault unexpectedly comes upon Arletty, his great lost love, in Part Two. First, with a simple reverse-angle; then, handled via purely theatrical mise-en-scène as a curtain is thrown open to reveal the lovers. Ah, love is so simple; so too, perfect framing.