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Picks of the Week
Le Beau Serge / Les Cousins (Criterion) — It was a smart move for Criterion to release these beautifully cleaned-up new editions of Claude Chabrol’s first two features simultaneously: while each is terrific individually, they’re even more fascinating when considered as a pair, forming a kind of diptych. Le Beau Serge (1958) is the tale of a sophisticated but sensitive city-dweller who returns to the provincial village where he grew up. His closest friend from childhood is now a bitter failure who torments his pregnant wife and drinks himself into a stupor daily. The city boy tries to help his friend, but the friend may be beyond saving. In Les Cousins, made a year later, characters and situation are nearly reversed: a shy young student from the provinces visits his decadent playboy
cousin in Paris. Country cousin finds himself sucked into city cousin’s wild lifestyle, with disastrous results. Chabrol flipped the casting of the lead actors in the two films: Gérard Blain plays the tough drunk in Serge and the nerdy introvert in Cousins, while Jean-Claude Brialy is the gentle-souled good Samaritan from the former and the slick-talking libertine of the latter.
Le Beau Serge doesn’t flinch from showing the meanness of blighted lives, but it’s also, surprisingly, close to Bresson in its depiction of the search for spiritual redemption. Les Cousins marks the full emergence of Chabrol’s distinctive sensibility: a tragedian who disguised himself as a mocking social satirist and (in his later work) a maker of coolly elegant thrillers. The director grins from behind the curtain as he maneuvers his characters into a spring-loaded deathtrap. Serge is an impressive debut, and it’s still highly watchable today. Cousins is something more—a great film, the first of several that Chabrol would grace us with over the course of his very long career (he died a year ago this month, at 80). Available in the following formats: Le Beau Serge (DVD/Blu-ray) and Les Cousins (DVD/Blu-ray). (Nelson Kim)
The Strange Case of Angelica (Cinema Guild) — Another wisp of a film from 100-something director de Oliveira, The Strange Case of Angelica casts a truly dreamlike spell. With rich, painterly cinematography and ghostly interludes in which the film’s main character, Isaac, is visited by the deceased young woman he was hired to photograph, de Oliveira brings this otherwise small story to impressively full life. Combine that with a hokey, almost winking sense of humor, and you have another worthy addition to this filmmaker’s ongoing (and ongoing, and ongoing) canon. Available on DVD or Blu-ray.
4th and Goal (First Run Features) — As football season begins, unleashing the annual party that consists of well-paid, muscular brutes donning their helmets and padded uniforms in order to hut-hut-hike! the autumn away, Nina Gilden Seavey’s documentary about six young men trying to make it into the NFL under the tutelage of City College of San Francisco’s legendary coach George Rush is yours for the VOD taking. Likely, this film will only appeal to the sportiest of sports heads, though it does capture the struggle to succeed in a rarefied profession quite well. Available on DVD or at Amazon Instant (BUY/RENT).
New/Old to Blu-ray Picks of the Week
Have Not Seen Yet But Really/Kinda/Sorta/Maybe Wanna
Bridesmaids (Universal) — Available in the following formats: DVD, 2-Disc Blu-ray/DVD Combo + Digital Copy in DVD Packaging, 2-Disc Blu-ray/DVD Combo + Digital Copy in Blu-ray Packaging, or at Amazon Instant (RENT).