The Films of Maurice Pialat Vol. 1 – Blu-ray Review

The Films of Maruice Pialat Vol. 1 – The Movies:

The Mouth Agape (La Guele Ouverte):

The Mouth Agape is the story of an elderly woman who has been diagnosed with a terminal illness, seen through the lens of her adult son and husband, who take care of her as she deteriorates. Her two men, as she becomes more of a burden, begin to take up with other women, and try their best to live their lives as if they are not waiting for her to die.

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The Mouth Agape, the first film in the Pialat collection from Cohen Media Group, is a cold, unfeeling movie. Throughout its 80+ minute runtime, we essentially observe the behavior of two men as they get bored and tired of taking care of their wife/mother. In their fits of boredom, they go off and form other relationships with the women in their small French town, as they figure out what to do with themselves. The son spends most of his time wandering about, ignoring his wife, and picking up girls off the street, while the husband forms a relationship with a woman he’s always had in the back of his mind throughout his entire marriage. They both seem impatient and anxious to move on with their lives.

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The film is shot in a very indulgent style, one which favors long takes. And by long takes, I mean REALLY long takes, some of which start to feel agonizingly slow after about a minute. And yet, in some ways, it is fitting, as it slows the pace of the film down, so that we too get to feel the slow creep of death as it consumes this family, albeit in a cold, unsympathetic tone and narrative style. The Mouth Agape is a tough movie, and doesn’t exactly make it easy to connect with any of its characters, making it an exercise in sadness, but not really a sad movie. I found it difficult to pull much out of this film as a viewer.

2.5/5

Graduate First (Passe Ton Bac D’Abord):

Graduate First to me, feels like the Post- French New Wave’s answer to George Lucas’s smash success from the early 1970s, American Grafitti – in terms of telling a similar story about high school students cherishing their last moments as kids while planning their futures, but with a traditional sense of French cynicism and artistic style. Released and set in 1978, the film follows a group of 18 and 19 year olds as they struggle to find an identity as their equivalent to high school comes to a conclusion, thrusting them into the real world for the first time.

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The film, which follows an ensemble cast of young French actors and actresses who live in the small French town of Lens, is essentially split into two acts. The first act is this crazy, sexually charged sprint, where many of our characters struggle to figure out whether or not they are going to graduate from school, and where and who they’ll end up with as they attempt to escape the confines of their small town. Many of the characters intertwine, sharing quick bursts of lovemaking, and occasionally moving as far as sex for a few of the couples. Most of the men play musical chairs with the ladies they associate, with only a few settling on one woman. These kids move about freely, antagonizing their parents and wasting their nights drinking and doing drugs. The film’s 2nd act, which happens rather abruptly, revisits our cast of characters after they’ve settled on their futures, many of them feeling unsatisfied with their choices. It shows many of them changing their directions, and dealing with the consequences of their rash decisions from earlier in the film.

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Unlike The Mouth Agape, which was a cold, unfeeling take on a woman’s end of life, Graduate First is a coming of age film that is absolutely overflowing with sexual energy and teenage angst. The film, coming in at just under 90 minutes, is briskly paced, and although its written to emulate the speaking style of young adults, the script is smart, thought provoking, and at times even humorous. The film’s cinematography itself acts like an anxious 19 year old, moving all around, hardly ever sitting still. The film features Pialat’s traditional long takes, but they are far and few between, and are used almost to create a comedic effect. Graduate First is a touching, yet slightly disorienting film about teens coming of age, with so many characters going in so many directions, that it at times is difficult to keep track of who is who. That being said, I found it to be a smart, engaging film, with many truths to be explored. This one comes with a hearty recommendation.

4.5/5

Loulou:

Loulou, with was nominated for the prestigious Palm D’Or at the Cannes film festival, is by far the most prestigious release from volume 1 of Cohen’s Pialat collection. This time, our film follows an adult woman, Nelly, who after getting fed up with being pushed around and belittled by her husband of three years, leaves him to hang around with a freeloading, lazy younger guy named Loulou. Over the next hour and forty five minutes, we follow this couple as they interact with each other’s families and friends, and go through a series of growing pains as they butt heads over their own behaviors and desires, which often come into conflict.

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Following in the realistic style of The Mouth Agape and Graduate First, Loulou is an incredibly down to Earth film. Much like our cast of characters in Graduate First, Nelly and Loulou don’t exactly know what they want out of their lives, and more importantly, each other. Loulou spends much of the film learning how to settle down, as he lazily and unsuccessfully attempts to tame his unquenchable thirst for booze and hanging out with his buddies, who are as equally as freeloading and irresponsible as him. Nelly serves as a perfect foil to Loulou, attempting to ground him in reality, while also struggling to make ends meet financially, and trying to fight off her lingering feelings for her former husband, who drifts in and out of the film, causing trouble whenever he does.

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Loulou is by far the most traditional film included in this set, following a more traditional romantic narrative structure, with a little bit of that dry cynicism that Pialat is known for. The film, even though it is the longest in this set, is paced well, and the translated script is excellent, matching the emotions and body language presented on the screen. The cinematic style, while still full of Pialat’s signature long takes, is by far the most formulaic of the three films included. Overall, Loulou to me is the least experimental, but the easiest of three film to digest of this collection, with a strong script, and some excellent acting to help carry the weight of this tough story. The influence of this one can be seen in many independent romances that have followed, and as a result, I feel obligated to recommend this one.

4/5

The Video:

The Mouth Agape:

Shot on 4-perf 35mm Eastman Kodak negative, The Mouth Agape was cropped to the 1.66:1 flat aspect ratio, as was common with features out of Europe during the 60s and the 70s. The film has been restored in high definition, and is presented here in 1080p, maintaining the 1.66:1 aspect ratio for this Blu-ray.

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The film, being shot on 70s color film stock, looks healthy. The colors are well saturated, in a realistic way, as Pialat pushed for extreme aspects of realism in his filmmaking. The film’s contrast sometimes falters under the veil of night time, with many night time scenes being buried under a layer of murky grain that makes things difficult. Other than that, the film maintains a fairly consistent grain level in daytime exposures, and detail is excellent. The print used to restore this film is immaculate, with no apparent damage to be found.

4/5

Graduate First:

Much like The Mouth Agape, Graduate First was shot on 4-perf 35mm film, and cropped to the European Flat Widescreen standard aspect ratio of 1.66:1. Presented here in 1080p, this Blu-ray from Cohen Media Group retains the theatrical aspect ratio of 1.66:1

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Graduate First, in stark contrast to the film it shares a disc with, The Mouth Agape, is a colorful film. The film’s first act is set mostly at night, and even though it was shot on 70s color film stock, I found the grain to be mostly consistent, and contrast to be excellent throughout. Grain spikes in a few select sequences, most notably during a soccer match, where the footage of the soccer game from the ground level almost looks like 16mm footage in terms of color, detail, and grain structure. The 2nd act, which mostly takes place at a local beach, and in the town of Lens, is full of well saturated colors and rock solid grain structure. Print damage is nowhere to be found. Graduate First, aside from a few select night exposures, looks excellent in this new 1080p transfer of the film.

4.5/5

Loulou:

Much like the other two films in this collection, Loulou was shot on 4-perf 35mm film, and framed using the 1.66:1 European Flat aspect ratio. The film is presented in 1080p on this Blu-ray, maintaining the 1.66:1 theatrical aspect ratio.

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Although it is the most prestigious release of the collection, Loulou holds up the worst in high definition presentation. The film is erratically grainy, especially during night time exposures, and is generally incredibly soft. The detail in the print used is fairly muted for the most part, although I suspect this dates back to the source that was used to create the print from which this transfer was created. Colors are fairly muted as well, and during the film’s many night time exposures, contrast and detail get lost in the shadows. On the plus side, the print, like the other two, is in impeccable shape, with no damage in sight. Loulou was never going to be a reference quality film in HD, but especially when the other two films in the collection are so rock solid in the visual department, it comes off as a mild disappointment.

3/5

The Audio:

The Mouth Agape:

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Presented in Mono LPCM, The Mouth Agape sounds appropriate for a film of its age. The sound isn’t exactly crazy in terms of innovation, but the sound has a good balance to it. Dialogue is never buried underneath sound effects or music, but overall, this film isn’t any sort of achievement on the sound front.

4/5

Graduate First:

Much like The Mouth Agape, Graduate First is presented in LPCM mono sound. A far more lively film than Agape, Graduate sounds excellent, all limitations considered. The film features many overlapping conversational sequences which are handled with expertise. The film’s use of sound effects and music is rather limited, reflecting Pialat’s realistic filmmaking style. Overall, the soundtrack is adequate for viewing the film.

4/5

Loulou:

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Loulou is presented in LPCM mono. Much like the other two films in the set, it is mixed well for a film of its age. Dialogue comes off loud and clear, never getting buried under the other sound effects present throughout the film. There is no distortion to be heard through the runtime of the feature. It sounds good, but is limited by the minimalistic sound design of the film, as it is meant to imitate reality. That could easily be said for all three films in this collection, honestly.

4/5

Special Features and Packaging:

The Films of Maurice Pialat: Volume 1 comes packaged in a standard keepcase from Cohen Media Group. The front artwork features a collage of shots from the three films that are included in the set, with the red and black border that traditionally accompanies Cohen releases. The pack cover features a paragraph that describes the film, and then credits, features, and technical information for each of the films, as well as the feature documentary that is included on disc 3. The release features inside artwork based around the two leads of Loulou, the signature film included in this collection. Also included is a booklet with chapters, and casts for the films, as well as some pictures, and a pamphlet advertising other Cohen releases. As far as Cohen releases, this one is par for the course, and is adequate.

Now, onto the features, which are split across two discs, with all of Loulou’s special features included on its own disc, and Graduate First and The Mouth Agape’s features on the third disc, alongside a feature length documentary.

Disc 2: Loulou

Interview with Dominique Maillet – an interview with a director and former journalist, who once interviewed Pialat during the production of the film, whose interview presented some controversial statements from Pialat that created tension between him and the star of the this film.

Interview with Isabelle Huppert – an interview with one of the stars of the film on the making of the film, and how it came to be.

Interview with Patrick Grandperret – an interview with the assistant director who worked with Pialat for five years, on various films, including Loulou. His discusses his relationship with Pialat, and what it was like to work with him.

Interview with Pierre-William Glenn – an interview with the film’s director of photography, who discusses the film, and the difficult time that he had working with Pialat on the two films he shot for him.

Interview with Yann Dedet – an interview with the film’s editor, who discusses working on the film, and his relationship with Maurice Pialat.

Original trailer – the film’s original French theatrical trailer

2016 Re-Release Trailer – a brand new trailer for the film, prepared by Cohen for their release of the movie

Disc 3:

Feature Length Documentary Maurice Pialat: Love Exists – an hour and a half long feature length documentary about the life and career of our featured director. Discussed at length are his childhood, his hobbies, and cinematic influences, as well as the themes he chose to bring to the table as a filmmaker. Also covered is his reputation as a director, and some insight into how he designed the visual style of his films. The documentary is comprehensive, and is sure to please those who are fans of the director.

Graduate First:

Interview with Patrick Grandperret and Arlette Langmann – a dual interview between the film editor and assistant director in which they discuss the context under which the film was made, and various other topics regarding the production of the film

Original Trailer – the film’s original French theatrical trailer

2016 Re-Release Trailer – a brand new trailer for the film, prepared by Cohen for their release of the movie

The Mouth Agape:

Deleted Scenes – an entire sequence that was cut out of the film during editing, in which several characters were eliminated from the film. The sequence is narrated by one of the actors who was present in this footage, as the original recorded dialogue has since been lost.

Interview with Micheline Pialat – a lengthy interview with Pialat’s wife, who discusses the context under which they met, and lived together while he had his career.

Interview with Natalie Baye – an interview with one of the actresses featured in the film, who discusses what it was like to work on The Mouth Agape.

Original Trailer – the film’s original French theatrical trailer.

2016 Re-Release Trailer – a brand new trailer, prepared by Cohen for their brand new release of the film.

Overall, there is a wealth of interviews here to complement the selection of films pulled from Maurice Pialat’s filmography. The interviews are honest, and incredibly valuable in terms of understanding who Pialat was as a filmmaker, and how the world around him viewed him. The trailers are standard fare, but the included feature length documentary is comprehensive, and a must watch for fans of the director. The packaging is standard fare from Cohen Media Group, and neither dazzles nor disappoints.

4/5

Overall:

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Maurice Pialat made films that were dark, unsympathetic, and rather cynical in nature. As a result, these three films that are included in Cohen Media Group’s The Films of Maurice Pialat Vol. 1 are sometimes tougher to crack than most others. They require patience, and a different perspective in order to truly dig deep enough to figure what he and his crew are trying to say. These films represent an incredible range in terms of overall plot, but feature very similar visual palettes and cinematic style, with a level of consistency that most directors do not bring to the table throughout their entire career. Pialat’s films are not for everyone, but I feel that the films here, especially Graduate First, are worth the price of admission for most cinephiles. The visual and audio transfers of each film are, for the most part, decent, and the special features are both large in quantity and quality. The packaging is adequate, but standard for Cohen Media Group Blu-ray releases. Overall, this collection is decent, but not incredible.

4/5

Please note: This film was sent to us for review, that has in no way affected the review process or opinion on the film or product presented.