Thursday, October 31, 2013

Venice 70: Future Reloaded

This year the Venice International Film Festival commissioned 70 filmmakers who've had success at the fest to create original short films, between one and three minutes long. There are some compelling names on that list, including Todd Solondz, Bernardo Bertolucci, Atom Egoyan, Isabel Coixet, Claire Denis and yes, Catherine Breillat. The festival describes the series of films, collectively titled Future Reloaded, as, "both a collective tribute to the Festival (the world’s first film festival to celebrate its 70th edition) and a reflection on the future of cinema." The films have already been completed and at least most of them seem to be available onlime.

The credits for Breillat's entry (which doesn't seem to have its own, individual title) aren't too helpful, only saying, roughly translated: "Catherine Breillat, her actors and crew," which I take to mean she's working with her usual people. At any rate, that's definitely Breillat herself in the primary speaking role, talking about film's dependance on money in this semi-documentary, semi-fictional film. It's just barely over ninety seconds long, so rather than explaining it further, I'll let it speak for itself:

Interestingly, the IMDB has an entry for a two hour documentary called Venice 70: Future Reloaded, which lists all 70 of the filmmakers as co-directors. I don't know if this is an upcoming documentary about the short films, or very possibly just a lazy way to list all 70 short films as one easy entry to the database. I'm hoping it means that the festival intends to package all 70 films as a single DVD, so I'll be able to remove it from the "DVDs Still M.I.A." list as quickly as I added it; but we'll see. At any rate, we've got an unexpected new short film by Breillat on our hands - enjoy!

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Abus de faiblesse

No, there's no DVD news yet, but Catherine Breillat's latest film, Abus de faiblesse (Abuse of Weakness) has been completed, and will be debuting theatrically in France later this summer. It's an adaptation of her own book (pictured) and stars the great Isabella Hupert and... Kool Shen? Apparently, he's a French rapper. Well, Breillat has shown proven her abilities to get compelling performances out of non-actors, porn stars, etc before, so I'm sure she knows what she's doing. The book is an autobiographical account of Breillat's relationship with a con man who apparently swindled her out of her life's savings after her stroke. Sounds quite compelling to me. Hopefully we'll see start to see limited international theatrical runs soon, which will herald the release of an English-language DVD.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

A...Better Bilitis?

I've talked about different discs of Bilitis on this blog before, here and here. But it's time to do it again.

It has been alleged by a helpful poster in the comments to my last Bilitis post that the Australian disc might still be better than the new Pathfinder disc (and all the others). So I've now got a copy of the Australian disc (from Amsell Entertainment) in hand. And I have to say, he might just be right.

So, above is a screenshot from the Australian disc of the same screen I took a shot of from the Pathfinder disc.  [Note: after clicking these images to enlarge them, you can right click these images and click "View Image" to see them even larger than blogger's image viewer allows, and see these shots full-size]  Of course, the first thing you'll notice is that the image quality stinks, just like it does on all the others. The fact is, it's just a shame Pathfinder were unable to find 35mm masters to do a proper restoration. Casual fans will probably find this comparison academic - they all look poor, so you might as well just buy whichever Bilitis is the cheapest and easiest to obtain depending on where you live  But...

While the image is much more faded than the Pathfinder disc (who probably just upped the saturation), there appears to be more detail on-hand here. Granted, it can get a little hard to discern the grain/video noise (which there is plenty of on the Amstell disc) from actual detail. But let's look at a part of the shot closer up:
First of all, yuck to both. lol But okay, I definitely can make out vague, blurry facial features on the left (Amstell) that I don't see on the right (Pathfinder). I'm not sure we're talking about a superior image source... I suspect the difference might be that Pathfinder decided to DNR all the grain, thus scrubbing some detail and making everything a bit softer. I suppose there is still open debate about whether a smoothed out, less grainy image is preferable to a noisy image, where solid black backgrounds look like an army of crawling insects - at the cost of detail from the original images - but I think most purists would say (and I'd agree), that the DNR is too destructive.

I think we need another comparison to get a firmer idea of what's going on here. Pathfinder above, Amstell below:

The Pathfinder does have that waxier, smoothed-out look alright. Because the source is so poor, though, I'm not sure if we're actually losing any non-grain detail here. On a high end Blu-Ray transfer taken from a negative or film source, this kind of DNR would be untenable, but here? They may've made the right choice - or not. At this point, I think it boils down to preference. Both discs seem to be using the same source, but Pathfinder played with it some more, and whether they helped it or hurt it - I'll leave that up to you. What's less subjective is that the colors are better on the Path disc, but there's slightly more vertical information on the Amstell (look at the elbow on the left).

You might ask, why not have a look at the opening shot you used to compare Pathfinder to all those other versions in your last post? Oh I was intending to, but the Amstell disc is missing the opening shot! Amstell throws us in on the close-up, after the shot that pans out from a medium to a wide, showing Bilitis's bedroom, shoes etc. I have to say, I was not expecting that when I popped this disc in.

How do the discs compare outside of the image comparison? Well, here Pathfinder wins hands down. The Amstell disc has nothing but a simple Play button on the menu. Not only do you not get the extras (the soundtrack album, gallery and Breillat interview), you also don't get the subtitles or the alternate audio. While the English dub seems to use the original actress's voice (well, I'm not sure but our commenter seems confident that it's her), it's still obviously a pretty chintzy dub. The French audio track definitely sounds like the most naturalistic audio of the three, and the optional subs are a definite plus in cases like this.

You can really make a case for either disc (or perhaps more accurately, a case against either disc!)... Both have advantages over the other. Pathfinder has the French audio, subtitles, extras, and better colors (I'm not listing "less grain" as a plus, all things considered). Amstell has slightly better detail in at least some (I'd say most) shots, and isn't as over-cropped on the bottom edge. Of course, Amstell is also missing the opening shot, which isn't cool. Personally, considering the poverty of the image on all discs, I'll probably just hang onto my Pathfinder. But look at the shots and go for whatever makes you happiest. Hopefully someday a nice 35mm print will surface and we'll all be able to double-dip for a stunning Blu-Ray, anyway.

Friday, October 5, 2012

The Social Corset Doc

There's a new, French documentary in town called Images de femmes ou Le corset social (or Images of Women or the Social Corset), which is now available on DVD in France. As you've probably gathered without my specifically stating, Catherine Breillat participates in it. And happily for us, the French DVD has English subtitles. So import away!

Here's the official description taken from the film's press kit: "A man wonders about the image of women offered to his gaze... A questioning about the criteria of beauty promulgated - imposed? - by the fashion world and its models. And little by little the film leads us to think about appearances by reflecting upon the mirages that fill the social universe, lingering on the representations that invade our unconscious desires. Fashion designers, philosophers, feminine magazine editors, advertisers, psychoanalysts, and poets unravel, for us, the laces of a "social corset" that imprisons women, and from which it has become difficult to escape."

The disc appears to be R0 (region free), which is great, but note that it is PAL. I haven't picked this one up myself, since it's focused on the fashion industry and issues of female beauty rather than Breillat and her work; but it has some extras, including additional interviews and a short film; so it could make a nice little pick-up for the Breillat fan who has everything.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

A Better Bilitis

Pathfinder's Bilitis DVD is here!  So, what do you want first?  The good news or the bad news?  Okay, let's start out with the bad news.  You may remember from earlier reports on this very blog that Pathfinder was looking for a 35mm print of this film to make a fresh, quality transfer. Well... they didn't find it. Apparently, there are no surviving prints to be found, and in that sense, you could add Bilitis to the tragic list of the world's lost films. And, so, the transfer on hand is just like the past discs I've covered: low quality and video sourced (see: above).

But wait; I did say there was good news, right? Disappointing as the above is (and it really is, especially to a film like this, where lush visuals and... a good look at the actresses... are a key part of the film's appeal), Pathfinder has put in the work to make this the best Bilitis disc yet. They've included the original French audio (with English subs, of course), which puts it a good length ahead of most of the other Bilitis discs out there, which only include the English dub. And that English dub is on here, too, if you want it... as well as even a German dub, which is perhaps getting carried away; but hey, I'll take it.

They've also included the Bilitis soundtrack album as a feature in the extras... for a long time, the soundtrack was easier to find than an actual DVD of the film. Now they're both on here. There's also a brief slide-show of what I'm guessing are publicity photos, and some bonus trailers of other Pathfinder releases. And most excitingly, especially for us Breillat.blogspotters, is a new video interview with Catherine Breillat about the film. It's a bit short, but very frank and forthcoming, and answers some questions a lot of us surely have about her involvement with the film.

It also appears to be the uncut version. On many discs (I think all of them except the PAL Australian disc), towards the end of the film where Melissa dances with Lucas and Bilitis runs off through a doorway, we cut back to them dancing. In this version, we first see Bilitis accidentally stumble upon two other characters' intense love scene, and run back out in disgust.  Also, many versions have a truncated ending, cutting out the final, silent shots of the film. This one has the full ending.

And while this image is disappointing, it looks better than I've seen it elsewhere... It's close to its original 1.66:1 aspect ratio (though so was the PAL Australian disc). And there's some screenshots comparisons I've made with it, one of the full-screen discs, and even a 1.66 TV print I found online (#3... you'll note the hint of a watermark mostly out of frame in the top left corner). Certainly the colors and details are best on the Pathfinder disc (#4, the last one at the bottom), and has much more visual information on the left and right sides of the screen.  It does look like it's been a teensy bit over-cropped vertically (it's the only one that crops out the bottom of her shoes); but it's very slight, and definitely the strongest image over-all. Click them and then select "view image" to see them full-size:

So, I'm calling it: this is the best of all the Bilitis discs, and barring a 35mm discovery, the best we're apt to ever get. So, if you already have an older disc, it may or may not be worth an upgrade; but if you don't, this is certainly the one to get, and conveniently, the easiest to find.