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A view on Blu-ray by Gary W. Tooze

Le Beau Serge [Blu-ray]

 

(http://www.dvdbeaver.com/film/direct-chair/chabrol.htm, 1958)

 

Criterion - Region 'A' - Blu-ray LEFT vs. Masters of Cinema - Region 'B' - Blu-ray RIGHT

 

   

 

Review by Gary Tooze

 

Production:

Theatrical: Gaumont

Video: Criterion Collection - Spine # 580 / Masters of Cinema Spine # 58

 

Disc:

Region: 'A'-locked / Region 'B'-locked (as verified by the Momitsu region FREE Blu-ray player)

Runtime: 1:39:26.001 / 1:38:58.166

Disc Size: 46,662,191,739 bytes / 45,070,160,324 bytes

Feature Size: 29,332,076,544 bytes / 28,558,927,872 bytes

Video Bitrate: 35.00 Mbps / 34.99 Mbps

Chapters: 19 / 10

Case: Transparent Blu-ray case

Release date: September 20th, 2011 / April 8th, 2013

 

Video (both):

Aspect ratio: 1.33:1 matted to 1.78

Resolution: 1080p / 23.976 fps

Video codec: MPEG-4 AVC Video

 

Audio:

LPCM Audio French 1152 kbps 1.0 / 48 kHz / 1152 kbps / 24-bit
Commentary: Dolby Digital Audio English 192 kbps 1.0 / 48 kHz / 192 kbps

LPCM Audio French 1536 kbps 2.0 / 48 kHz / 1536 kbps / 16-bit

 

Subtitles (both):

English (SDH), none

 

Extras:

• New audio commentary featuring Guy Austin, author of Claude Chabrol
• Claude Chabrol: Mon premier film, a documentary by Francis Girod on the making of Le beau Serge, featuring interviews with Chabrol and actor Jean-Claude Brialy
• Segment from a 1969 episode of the French television series L’invité du dimanche in which Chabrol revisits Sardent, the town he grew up in and Le beau Serge’s location (10:00)
• Theatrical trailer
• Liner Notes booklet featuring an essay by film critic Terrence Rafferty

• Original theatrical trailer (2:52)
• Chabrol Launches The Wave (55:34)
• L’Avarice [Avarice], Chabrol’s 1962 short film (18:36)
• 32-PAGE BOOKLET with vintage writing by Claude Chabrol, François Truffaut, Jean Douchet, and Jean-Claude Biette; and rare archival imagery

 

Bitrate:

Criterion - Region 'A' - Blu-ray TOP vs. Masters of Cinema - Region 'B' - Blu-ray BOTTOM

 

 

Description: Of the hallowed group of Cahiers du cinéma critics turned filmmakers who transformed French film history, Claude Chabrol was the first to direct his own feature. His absorbing landmark debut, Le beau Serge, follows a successful yet sickly young man (Jean‑Claude Brialy) who returns home to the small village where he grew up. There, he finds himself at odds with his former close friend (Gérard Blain)—now unhappily married and a wretched alcoholic—and the provincial life he represents. The remarkable and stark Le beau Serge heralded the arrival of a cinematic titan who would go on to craft provocative, entertaining films for five more decades.

***

Gérard Blain and Jean-Claude Brialy star in the first of their collaborations with the great Claude Chabrol. The director’s masterful feature debut — ironic, funny, unsparing — is a revelation: another of that rare breed of film where the dusty formula might be used in full sincerity: Le Beau Serge marks the beginning of “the Chabrol touch.”

In this first feature film of the French New Wave, one year before Truffaut’s The Four Hundred Blows, the dandyish François (Brialy, of Godard’s A Woman Is a Woman, Rohmer’s Claire’s Knee, and countless other cornerstones of 20th-century French cinema) takes a holiday from the city to his home village of Sardent, where he reconnects with his old chum Serge (Blain), now a besotted and hopeless alcoholic, and sly duplicitous carnal Marie (Bernadette Lafont). A grave triangle forms, and a tragic slide ensues.

From Le Beau Serge onward up to his final film Bellamy in 2009, the revered Chabrol would come to leave a significant and lasting impression upon the French cinema — frequently with great commercial success. It is with great pride that we present Le Beau Serge, the kickstart of the Nouvelle Vague and of Chabrol’s enormous body of work, on Blu-ray and DVD in the UK for the first time.

 

 

The Film:

Technically this 1958 Claude Chabrol film was the first feature of the French New Wave to be released—though it was Chabrol's second film, Les Cousins, with the same stars, Gerard Blain and Jean-Claude Brialy, that had an international impact. Brialy plays a tubercular theology student who returns to his hometown to convalesce and becomes reacquainted with a childhood friend (Blain), an alcoholic stuck in a bad marriage. Roland Barthes attacked this film for its “right-wing” and “static” image of man, and even Chabrol fan Tom Milne has found its Hitchcockian theme of “transference” expressed too overtly in terms of Christian allegory. I barely remember it, but it has a certain fascination as Chabrol's first practical (as opposed to critical) encounter with mise en scene.

Excerpt from Jonathan Rosenbaum at the Chicago Reader located HERE

Claude Chabrol, a former film critic and writer-producer of "Le Beau Serge" (translated somewhat sardonically in this case as "Handsome Serge"), returned to his native village, Sardent, in central France, to film his story. Its rundown, forlorn stone houses and austere countryside provide fitting background for this dark tale of a convalescent city youth who returns to his home town to discover that his gifted boyhood friend and idol has degenerated into an unshaven, drunken and irresponsible husband. He finds, too, that his other friends are demoralized and apathetic. It is his efforts to rekindle the youthful promise once shown by his pal that form the bulk of the stark goings-on.

Excerpt from NY Times located HERE

Image :    NOTE: The below Blu-ray captures were taken directly from the Blu-ray disc.

Like Les Cousins, Le Beau Serge appears very strong on Blu-ray from Criterion. The 1080P image is very film-like with fine grain visible. Criterion's, impressive, contrast is exquisite although I did look closely at a specific scene to dismiss an initial identification of moriing. This is dual-layered with a high bitrate. Le Beau Serge is pristinely clean from an obvious healthy source. Detail has surprising moments of clarity and overall I have no strong complaints with the resulting image quality. It provided an exceptional presentation taking into account the age of the film.

There is probably more difference here of the Criterion and Masters of Cinema than in the Blu-ray comparison of Les Cousins, but it essentially boils down to how much darker the Criterion is. It just happens to be a shade more significant than in the other transfer. But again both have the same bitrates and look almost exactly the same in motion. The Criterion may show a shade more grain. Essentially, not enough in a side by side presentation to make issue with.

 

CLICK EACH BLU-RAY CAPTURE TO SEE ALL IMAGES IN FULL 1920X1080 RESOLUTION

 

Criterion - Region 'A' - Blu-ray TOP vs. Masters of Cinema - Region 'B' - Blu-ray BOTTOM

 

Criterion - Region 'A' - Blu-ray TOP vs. Masters of Cinema - Region 'B' - Blu-ray BOTTOM

Criterion - Region 'A' - Blu-ray TOP vs. Masters of Cinema - Region 'B' - Blu-ray BOTTOM

 
More Blu-ray Captures
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Audio :

Duplicating our comments from Les Cousins: Criterion are again faithful with a mono track rendered in a linear PCM in original French at 1152 kbps. There is the perception of some depth but the film is essentially dialogue-driven without much to spark anything dynamic in the soundstage via uncompressed. There are optional English subtitles and my Momitsu has identified it as being a region 'A'-locked like all Criterions to date.

Again, too similar to get picky. Both offer a clean, lossless linear PCM mono track. The subtitle translation is slightly different (font, size etc.) - see sample above - and the Masters of Cinema disc is region 'B'-locked.

 

Extras :

On Le Beau Serge we get a new audio commentary featuring Newcastle University professor Guy Austin, author of Claude Chabrol. It is professional, detailed and educational. Also included is Claude Chabrol: Mon premier film, a 2003 documentary by Francis Girod on the making of Le beau Serge, featuring interviews with Chabrol and actor Jean-Claude Brialy. We also get a rough-looking 10-minute segment from a 1969 episode of the French television series L’invité du dimanche in which Chabrol revisits Sardent, the town he grew up in and Le beau Serge’s location - 11 years after the production. The segment was directed by Roger Kahane and Daniel Georgeot. There is also a theatrical trailer and a liner notes booklet featuring an essay by film critic Terrence Rafferty.

 

Eric Cotenas has covered the MoC extras: Chabrol Launches the Wave” is the first part of a thus far two-part documentary split between the Gaumont (and now Masters of Cinema) releases of LE BEAU SERGE and LES COUSINS framing the director’s early works in the context of the French New Wave. Chabrol wrote LE BEAU SERGE initially when Roberto Rossellini came to France looking for young directors to make films in 16mm (Rossellini did not like Chabrol’s script). While other New Wave filmmakers started out with short films, Chabrol decided to plunge headlong into feature filmmaking. Rather than going the route of assisting a director for a number of years and finding a producer willing to take a risk, Chabrol decided to be his own producer utilizing his first wife Agnès Goute’s inheritance (Goute is also interviewed in this featurette and does not seem to regret the risk). Some parallels are drawn between the film and the shooting: tension with Blain over Lafont’s playful flirtation with Charles Bitsch had the latter leaving the production early, and Blain came to blows with replacement assistant director Philippe de Broca, who has a small role in the film as “Jacques Rivette” (the story intercut with the fight between Serge and Francois, although ruminations on the contrasting dispositions of Blain and Brialy are saved for the second part of the documentary on LES COUSINS). Discussion of the contrast between the metaphysical subject matter and realism of the mise-en-scene – a number of locals were incorporated into the film as extras and the settings were largely untouched – is illustrated with footage of the town of Sardent as it is today (with shots from LE BEAU SERGE superimposed over and resized as the older footage pans across the same locations).

L’Avarice” was Chabrol’s contribution to the 1962 French/Italian omnibus film LES SEPT PÉCHÉS CAPITAUX (which also featured contributions from de Broca, Jacques Demy, Sylvain Dhomme, Max Douy, Jean-Luc Godard, Eugène Ionesco, Edouard Molinaro, and Roger Vadim) in which a group of twenty-five engineering students put hold a lottery to pick who gets to spend a 50,000 franc evening with a beautiful prostitute. The film was photographed in Franscope by Jean Rabier (Henri Decae’s camera operator on LE BEAU SERGE and LES COUSINS.) The disc also includes the trailer for LE BEAU SERGE (seemingly also digitally remastered).

The accompanying thirty-one-page booklet features a 1958 essay by Chabrol following his completion of LE BEAU SERGE titled “Flesh, Air, and the Subconscious” in which he describes the film’s structure as actually two juxtaposed films in which either Serge or Francois is the subject and the other the object. Also included is a page-long 1958 statement on the film by Francois Truffaut in which he describes it as beginning with psychology and ending with metaphysics. Jean Douchet’s 1959 “Ariel’s Sunglasses” applies psychoanalytic analysis to LE BEAU SERGE. Finally, in the 1984 essay “The Centre Man”, Jean-Claude Biette contrasts the conventions of Chabrol’s filmic subjects with the idiosyncrasies of his chosen mise-en-scene.

 

Criterion - Region 'A' - Blu-ray LEFT vs. Masters of Cinema - Region 'B' - Blu-ray RIGHT

 

 

BOTTOM LINE:
I watched Le Beau Serge a second time (3rd including commentary) before reviewing to dispel my suspicions of moiring in the forest snow-scene and to try to improve my appreciation. I believe it was successful on both counts. I feel this I a more nuanced film than Les cousins and I believe that I like it even more than the director's second effort. There is a simplicity and suspense that runs under the surface - the Criterion Blu-ray package is a impressive and fans of French cinema or Claude Chabrol should be keen to pick this up.

Differences boil down to the supplements - Criterion with the commentary takes a slight advantage but we still suggest obtaining the edition closest to your geographic region code. Both releases are strongly recommended! 

Gary Tooze

September 5th, 2011

Gary Tooze (and Eric Cotenas)

March 26th, 2013

 

   


 

About the Reviewer: Hello, fellow Beavers! I have been interested in film since I viewed a Chaplin festival on PBS when I was around 9 years old. I credit DVD with expanding my horizons to fill an almost ravenous desire to seek out new film experiences. I currently own approximately 9500 DVDs and have reviewed over 3500 myself. I appreciate my discussion Listserv for furthering my film education and inspiring me to continue running DVDBeaver. Plus a healthy thanks to those who donate and use our Amazon links.

Although I never wanted to become one of those guys who focused 'too much' on image and sound quality - I find HD is swiftly pushing me in that direction.

Gary's Home Theatre:

60-Inch Class (59.58” Diagonal) 1080p Pioneer KURO Plasma Flat Panel HDTV PDP6020-FD

Oppo Digital BDP-83 Universal Region FREE Blu-ray/SACD Player
Momitsu - BDP-899 Region FREE Blu-ray player
Marantz SA8001 Super Audio CD Player
Marantz SR7002 THX Select2 Surround Receiver
Tannoy DC6-T (fronts) + Energy (centre, rear, subwoofer) speakers (5.1)

APC AV 1.5 kVA H Type Power Conditioner 120V

Gary W. Tooze

 

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