(aka 'Time of the Return' or 'Muriel ou Le temps d'un retour')

Directed by Alain Resnais
France / Italy 1963

 

 

Hiroshima, Mon Amour” (1959), “Last Year at Marienbad” (1961) and “Muriel” (1963). These are the first three feature films directed by Alain Resnais, and I cannot think of another director whose first three features rival them in quality. Granted, Resnais had already put in more than a decade as a short film maker (mostly documentaries) so he was hardly a novice when “Hiroshima, Mon Amour” took the film world by storm, but his accomplishment is still stunning.

While “Muriel” is hardly an obscure film, it is easily the least well-known of the three, but it’s hard to imagine why aside from the most obvious explanation: it hasn’t been as widely distributed either on film or, until now, on DVD. “Muriel” actually has two titles, the other being “The Time of Return” – multiple “returns” comprise the narrative’s main body. Bernard (Jean-Baptiste Thiérée), now in his mid-twenties, has just returned from a two year tour of duty in Algeria. Alphonse (Jean-Pierre Kérien), a dignified silver-haired gentleman, has also returned both from a lengthy stay in Algeria (or so he claims) and also into the life of his former love Hélène (Delphine Seyrig, who also starred for Resnais in “Marienbad”), who is also Bernard’s step-mother. Hélène, for her part, returns incessantly to her imagined idyllic past, an obsession signified in part by her vocation as an antique furniture dealer.

Guy Maddin is today’s king of cinematic meditations on memory, but Resnais was the memory-master of the 60’s. Hélène has a bad memory (which probably explains why she views the past so romantically) and envies those with good memories. Little does she know that her step-son is cursed by his eidetic recall of the most traumatic event of his life. While serving in Algeria, Bernard witnessed the interrogation, torture and murder of Muriel whose precise identity we are never told; in fact, we never even see her. Muriel is never far from Bernard’s mind; he even tells Hélène he is engaged to a woman named Muriel. Some of Bernard’s Algerian comrades, especially the vaguely menacing Robert (Philippe Laudenbach), want Bernard to drop the Muriel matter completely but he is both unable and unwilling to comply. Her memory, or at least his memory of her, must be preserved, and Bernard engages in just every form of recording you can think of: journal entries, a tape recorder and even a small portable film camera. The implication is that physical recording devices function as the best antidote to the unreliability of human memory.

Unlike in his previous two films, Resnais does not jump around in time, though he certainly skips a few beats. Each sequence is situated in a short period of time (a single day, for example) but the narrative dances back and forth among multiple story-lines involving each of the protagonists. Each character has his or her own life both in relation to and apart from the other characters: Bernard has his tortured memories; Alphonse has his own past to escape; Hélène has not only her aloof step-son and fickle lover to deal with but also the mounting gambling debts that threaten her struggling business.

Environment receives as much attention as character, a quality attributable both to Resnais and screenwriter Jean Cayrol who also wrote the catalogue-style narration for Resnais’ “Night and Fog” (1955). The film opens with a rapid-fire montage of Hélène’s household belongings; similar montages focus on building exteriors, street signs, and consumer goods in storefronts.

Muriel” is a portrait of trauma as moving as any since, well, “Hiroshima, Mon Amour.” Lonelyache exudes from every frame of the film, in each precise gesture, each exacting detail. The film is so densely packed with that even after four viewings I feel like I have barely scratched its surface. In fact, I find it more difficult to write about than even “Marienbad.”

As Jonathan Rosenbaum points out, Jean-Luc Godard is more properly considered a Swiss filmmaker which leaves the titles of “Greatest Living French filmmaker” up for grabs, and no more obvious candidate to fill the post than Alain Resnais. “Muriel” is one of his greatest achievements. Personally, I think it's an even better film than "Hiroshima, Mon Amour" but that's splitting hairs.

Christopher Long

 

****

If cinema has its equivalents to the master modernists of music, painting, or literature, then one of the tradition’s foremost practitioners is undoubtedly Alain Resnais — and Muriel, ou le Temps d’un retour (Muriel, or: The Time of a Return) represents one of his earliest, and greatest, triumphs. In Resnais’ two preceding features (the legendary Hiroshima mon amour and Last Year in Marienbad), the master filmmaker pioneered new ways of representing inner reality and emotion; but with Muriel, he merged the vicissitudes of his characters’ personal pasts, and married them to the traumas of the political present — namely, the French war in Algeria.

Resnais’ film is the story of the middle-aged Hélène (portrayed by Delphine Seyrig, of Last Year in Marienbad, Truffaut’s Stolen Kisses, and Akerman’s Jeanne Dielman), an antique dealer located in the provinicial port-town of Boulogne-sur-Mer, who resides amid her wares inside the same flat that serves as her business showroom. An old lover of Hélène’s comes to visit — and soon takes up a more permanent residence within her life, despite the presence of a suspicious, tortured, and sexualised stepson who is haunted by a woman, a name, from his own past in Algiers: “Muriel”.

Scripted by Jean Cayrol, the co-writer of Resnais’ landmark early short film Night and Fog, Muriel is one of the great “family films”, and stands like a cinema landmark as one of the most complex and rewarding films of the 1960s. The Masters of Cinema Series is proud to present Alain Resnais’ great work for the first time on DVD in the UK.

Excerpt from Masters of Cinema located HERE

Posters

Theatrical Release: October 13th, 1963 (USA)

Reviews        More Reviews      DVD Reviews

DVD Review: Eureka - Masters of Cinema - Region 1 - NTSC

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Distribution Eureka - Masters of Cinema - Region 0 - PAL
Runtime 1:51:20 (4% PAL speedup)
Video 1.78:1 Aspect Ratio
Average Bitrate: 6.75 mb/s
PAL 720x576 25.00 f/s

NOTE: The Vertical axis represents the bits transferred per second. The Horizontal is the time in minutes.

Bitrate:

Audio French (Dolby Digital 2.0) 
Subtitles English, None
Features

Release Information:
Studio: Eureka - Masters of Cinema

Aspect Ratio:
Aspect Ratio 1.78:1

Edition Details:

• The original French theatrical trailer for the film, newly subtitled.
• 44-page booklet containing a new essay by writer B. Kite; another new essay about the film by writer Anna Thorngate; a short piece on the film by Henri Langlois; and a critical “scrapbook” on the film containing excerpts by François Truffaut, Jacques Rivette, and more.

DVD Release Date: March 30th, 2000

Transparent Keep Case
Chapters: 26

 

Comments:

Muriel came out on DVD by Koch Lorber for region 1 in 2007 - reviewed by Christopher Long for DVDBeaver HERE, but I was never able to conclude that the screen captures he obtained were not somehow compromised resulting in their obvious ratio distortion. I don't own the disc myself to confirm or deny this vital detail.

NOTE: Confirmed externally - both Koch (US) and Arte (France) have the 'squished' ratio distortion issue. The MoC edition is the only edition of the film available which corrects this squishing problem. (thanks Tim - in email)

It appears that the theatrical aspect ratio of the film was 1.66:1 but this new Masters of Cinema telecine of Muriel was reported to be directly supervised by director Alain Resnais. We may conclude from this that the presentation of the film is not altered beyond the scope of his approval from 1.66 to 1.78. Aspect ratio aside it appears similar in appearance to the NTSC counterpart - looking thick and occasionally soft - which we can probably surmise is a result of the original 'look' or available, existing source material. This PAL image seems to be somewhat more detailed and not as flat as the NTSC counterpart. It is dual-layered, anamorphic and progressive... and probably looks as good as it can on SD.   

Audio is 2.0 channel - unremarkable but reasonably clean and consistent. The MoC offers optional English subtitles.

The only digital extra is a trailer - running almost 4 minutes but included is one of their wonderful liner notes booklets. It is 44-pages and has photos as well as a new essay by writer B. Kite; another new essay about the film by writer Anna Thorngate; a short piece on the film by Henri Langlois; and a critical “scrapbook” on the film containing excerpts by François Truffaut, Jacques Rivette and others. 

Gary W. Tooze

 



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DVD Box Cover

   

CLICK to order from:

Distribution Eureka - Masters of Cinema - Region 0 - PAL




 

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