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Koch Lorber presents
Muriel (1963)

"I owe it to myself to tell you of my life."
- Alphonse (Jean-Pierre Kérien)

Review By: Jon Danziger   
Published: December 14, 2007

Stars: Delphine Seyrig, Jean-Pierre Kérien, Nita Klein, Jean-Baptiste Thiérrée
Director: Alain Resnais

MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Run Time: 01h:55m:58s
Release Date: March 13, 2007
UPC: 741952310693
Genre: foreign

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
C C-C-C+ D

DVD Review

All directors of even modest accomplishment have their partisans, and I know that Alain Resnais has his. I remain deeply skeptical about his body of work, though—even his most celebrated pictures, like Hiroshima mon amour, strike me as suffering from an exaggerated sense of their own importance, and Resnais never demonstrated the technical facility on display in the work of his nouvelle vague brethren Jean-Luc Godard and François Truffaut. So about the most charitable thing I can say about Muriel is that it did not dissuade me from any of my previous conclusions about Resnais' films. In fact, it frequently exemplifies the solipsism and pretentiousness that are so frequently derided in the U.S.—no doubt the director is well intentioned and reasonably intelligent, but having to sit through this really is kind of unbearable.

That's because it's essentially a movie of ancient recriminations, about events that took place long ago and far away—we're supposed to be struck by their continuing psychological resonance, I suppose, but they're never made alive for us, and the characters in the piece seem successively more unpleasant. Here's your central quartet: Delphine Seyrig plays Hélène, who lives in the sea town of Boulogne, and, now widowed, does her best to cobble together a living by selling antiques and other collectibles out of her apartment. Her late husband left her not only this handsome flat, but also a roommate of sorts—she shares the place with her stepson, Bernard (Jean-Baptiste Thiérrée), who has recently returned from the war in Algiers. He's mum not just about what it was like at the front, but about everything else. For reasons that remain essentially opaque, Hélène has recently contacted an old lover, and he's coming for a visit—Alphonse (Jean-Pierre Kérien) couldn't be more full of himself, and he too has logged time in Algiers, though as a café owner, not as a soldier. (He clearly fancies himself a sort of Rick Blaine, but no one is as impressed with him as he is with himself.) He travels with a companion, the lovely young Françoise (Nita Klein), ostensibly his niece, though if you believe that, I've got a bridge I'd like to sell you.

There's no shortage of old grievances being aired, about how and why things went south decades ago between Hélène and Alphonse—what happened to you on that May evening before the war, when we were young and lovely? But it's never made palpable for us—it's like dropping in on old relatives feuding about who overcooked the turkey and burned the gravy on Thanksgiving in 1953. They love nursing their grudges and airing their dirty laundry, but really, there's almost no dramatic interest to this. Potentially more intriguing is Bernard, who clearly suffers from what would later be labeled post-traumatic stress disorder—but Resnais portrays him as little more than an overgrown, unruly teenager, all angsty and emo about the rules laid down by his wicked stepmother. The first portion of the film is dominated by a long dinner scene with the four of them, and you watch desperate for something to happen, or for at least some sort of emotional flare-up, but at some point you realize that the tedium is actually being cultivated, and you turn on the film and its director. If you've got the endurance or charitable disposition to hang in there, you won't be rewarded for your efforts. Check, please.

Rating for Style: C
Rating for Substance: C-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.66:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The colors have bled into one another and faded significantly with the years; the print really looks very poor, even compared to films of its period, and the transfer offers nothing to offset that.

Image Transfer Grade: C-


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Frenchno

Audio Transfer Review: The audio problems aren't quite as glaring, especially if you're not a Francophone; but even if you're reading along with the subtitles exclusively, you'll notice a fair amount of crackling.

Audio Transfer Grade: C+


Disc Extras

Static menu with music
Scene Access with 12 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
5 Other Trailer(s) featuring La Belle Captive, Un Coeur en hiver, Changing Times, Gilles' Wife, Children of the Century
1 Featurette(s)
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extras Review: Aside from trailers, the only extra is an interview (13m:47s) with Resnais biographer François Thomas, discussing the director and issues of censorship, particularly with regard to the Algerian war. As you could probably predict, Thomas is more favorably disposed toward the film under discussion than is your humble dOc reviewer.

Extras Grade: D


Final Comments

Diehard Resnais fans may rejoice, but for the rest of us, this is a pretentious exercise in cultivated tedium.


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