Alice et Martin Review

At the age of ten, Martin – born illegitimately – left his mother and moved in with his father and three half-brothers. Ten years later, Martin (Alexis Loret) flees the house after his father dies and turns up at the Paris flat of his half-brother Benjamin (Mathieu Amalric). Benjamin, who is gay, shares his flat with music student Alice (Juliette Binoche). Martin finds work as a model and soon falls in love with Alice. But there are secrets that will soon come to light and put their relationship in jeopardy...

Juliette Binoche is the biggest name in the cast, and the face on the poster and DVD sleeve, but Alice et Martin is more even-handed in its sympathy, as the title suggests. The viewer begins with Martin, but gradually the focus shifts to Alice. She has her share of problems too: she hasn’t quite got over the death of her sister in childhood. Her platonic relationship with Benjamin is a stabilising force in her life, and is threatened by her sexual relationship with Martin. If some of the turns the plot takes teeter on the edge of melodrama, director Techiné and his cast keep it under control. Binoche worked with Techiné before in the 1985 film Rendez-vous early in her career. Now of course, she’s an actress of considerable stature and multiple awards, particularly in dramatic roles. Her performance here is remarkable for its naturalistic unshowiness – it's by no means a star turn. It’s a tribute to the much less experienced Loret that he’s not put in the shade. Former Pedro Almódovar leading lady Carmen Maura has a small role as Martin’s mother.

Artificial Eye’s DVD has an anamorphic transfer, correctly framed at 1.85:1. There is very little I can say about the picture except that it is all but flawless: sharp, colourful, with solid blacks and no artefacting that I could detect. Soundwise, Alice et Martin is like every Artificial Eye DVD released to date: plain 2.0 Stereo. This is a dialogue-driven film, which uses the centre speaker. The dialogue is clearly recorded, though non-Francophones will no doubt be relying on the (optional) English subtitles. The left and right speakers are used for ambient sound effects. I didn’t see this film in the cinema, so I don’t know how much the surrounds were used there. Even so, I have to ask why this distributor can’t provide a Dolby Digital 5.1 or DTS one – particularly as, according to the end credits, such soundtracks exist for this film. Artificial Eye’s commitment to picture quality, and accurate aspect ratios, is to be commended, but let’s not forget that films are auditory experiences as well as visual ones.

The extras are as usual for this distributor: a trailer (16:9 non-anamorphic, running 1:37) which is visually quite washed out. Unlike the feature, its subtitles are burnt-in rather than electronic. There are filmographies of Techiné and the four lead actors. For a minority-audience film such as this, I can’t complain about the rather basic extras. Commentaries in foreign languages would need to be subtitled, and I’d rather arthouse distributors spend their money on the film itself. There are twenty chapter stops, adequate for a two-hour film.

As a film Alice et Martin is certainly worth your time. As a DVD, it’s worthwhile but with room for improvement in certain areas, notably the soundtrack. It may be churlish to complain, as arthouse distributors have smaller budgets and considerably tinier audiences than their mainstream counterparts. In the end, it’s better the film be available than not.

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