Anne and Muriel (Two English Girls) (Deux anglaises et le continent) Review
Early in the twentieth century, Claude Roc (Jean-Pierre Léaud) meets Anne Brown (Kika Markham), a young Englishwoman with ambitions to be a sculptor. They soon become friends and he spends time at her family home in Wales, with her mother and her sister Muriel (Stacey Tendeter). Following an accident, he recuperates there and soon falls in love with Muriel. Concerned by this, both her family and his cause them to separate for a year, to see if they still wish to marry afterwards...
First, a word on titles. The original French is usually given as Les deux anglaises et le continent, but as the actual on-screen title is the cover of Henri-Pierre Roché’s novel, it is in fact minus the opening definite article. The film was released as Anne and Muriel in the UK and Two English Girls in the USA and this edition has both: the packaging has the British title while the disc menu and subtitles have the American one. The French title has a double meaning: “le continent” is Anne and Muriel’s nickname for Claude, though suggesting that the film is an allegory of Great Britain (specifically Wales, despite the title) versus Europe is more than a bit of a stretch. From this point onwards, I’ll refer to the novel by the French title and the film as Anne and Muriel.
François Truffaut met Roché in the 1950s, after reading his novel Jules et Jim. Roché was by then in his seventies and he died while Truffaut was preparing his film adaptation of that novel. It was always a great regret to Truffaut that Roché did not leave to see the finished work, and nine years and eight films later he set about making a film of Roché’s only other novel, which was published in 1956.
Both novels were autobiographically inspired, and set in the early decades of the twentieth century. In terms of subject matter, the two novels and their film versions are mirror-images of each other. In Jules et Jim, two men, fast friends and brothers in spirit if not in fact, both love the same woman. Deux anglaises et le continent explores the relationships of two women, actual sisters, with the same man. There are further correspondences: at one point, Anne is in a sexual relationship with both Claude and Diurka (Philippe Léotard) and this ménage forms the basis of a novel Claude writes called Julien et Jérôme, so autobiography (at least from Roché’s perspective) begets fiction which begets autobiography. Also, both stories resolve with bittersweet endings.
Roché’s novel gives time to all three lead characters, each providing his or her narrative by means of letters, diary entries and the like. We see pages from the novel – often with Truffaut’s notes on them to his co-screenwriter Jean Gruault – during the opening credits. For their time – not specified, but sometime before the start of the Great War – the two sisters are quite emancipated and free-spirited, something the film doesn’t make heavy weather of. It's a film which seems fascinatingly in conflict with itself. It's a novel written by a man, about a man, adapted for the screen by two men, one of whom directs, and the storyline favours a male viewpoint: there are very few scenes with the sisters away from Claude. It also seems to be of significant import that Claude gets to be the one to take both Anne and Muriel's virginity. (And Truffaut's longtime assistant Suzanne Schiffman pointed out to him that there wouldn't be so much blood involved.) Yet, as it plays out on screen, Anne and Muriel do take the film over from Claude, largely because of the performances from Markham and Tendeter, and in part because Léaud – in one of two non-Antoine Doinel roles for Truffaut – never seems entirely comfortable. Kika Markham, two years older than Léaud, has had a long and distinguished career, on stage as well as large and small screen, which continues to this day, though in anglophone cinema her best-known role is as Sean Connery's wife in Outland. Born into an acting family (her father David plays the palm-reader Anne and Muriel visit), she became known for marrying into one: she was the wife and now widow of Corin Redgrave. This is one of only three cinema films Stacey Tendeter made, and the only one of which she played a leading role. That was the cinema's loss, on this evidence, but television and the stage's gain. She died in 2008 of breast cancer, aged fifty-nine.
Several of Truffaut's regular collaborators are present here. I've mentioned Jean Gruault (just turned ninety and still with us, as of this writing), who had previously co-written Jules et Jim and who worked with Truffaut five times in all. Georges Delerue provides a fine score, and also makes a brief acting appearance. Nestor Almendros had been hired by Truffaut to shoot The Wild Child because of his black-and-white work on Rohmer's My Night at Maud's and had become Truffaut's regular cinematographer, shooting all but four of the director's films from Bed and Board onwards, ten in total. While Jules et Jim had been shot by another great DP, Raoul Coutard, in black and white Scope, Anne and Muriel was in colour and in the 1.66:1 ratio Almendros and Truffaut used for all their films together. While some of the more overt New Wave-isms of the earlier film are absent, Anne and Muriel does draw on early cinema in its use of irises and some use of superimpositions that Gruault points out are straight out of Abel Gance. Taking inspiration of the impressionist paintings of the time when the film is set, Almendros uses a muted colour palette, and had the costume department dip clothes in tea to reduce the harshness of their whites. Normandy stood in for Wales.
Anne and Muriel has claims to be amongst Truffaut's best films, and it was certainly a project close to his heart. However, it was not a commercial or critical success. Truffaut shortened the film after its premiere, and that version (sometimes given as 108 minutes, but according to the BBFC 105:15) is the one that played in the UK and elsewhere. Shortly before his death in 1984, Truffaut worked with one of the film's editors, Martine Barraqué, to restore it to full length, and that is the version that has always been available on DVD and now Blu-ray, running 124:33 on this disc with PAL speed-up. (That would translate to around 130 minutes at 24fps, though the full version is often given as 132 minutes. It's not impossible that the longer running-times involve play-out music not present on this disc.)
Anne and Muriel is one of twelve Truffaut films reissued on Blu-ray and DVD by Artificial Eye. A DVD checkdisc was provided for review, and it is dual-layered and encoded for Region 2 only. Comments and affiliate links refer to this edition. For affiliate links for the Blu-ray, go here.
The disc is in the correct ratio of 1.66:1 and anamorphically enhanced on the DVD. The benefits of a HD master are clear in this presentation, which showcases some of Almendros's best work for Truffaut, and coping well with the darker scenes. Almendros as ever uses natural light or light that can be justified on screen.
The soundtrack is the original mono in a mix of French and English. English subtitles are optionally available for the French dialogue. The soundtrack is clear and well-balanced, with Delerue's score coming over well.
Eleven out of Artificial Eye's twelve Truffaut releases were originally issued on DVD in France by MK2 in 2002, and some of the extras from those editions have been brought over. These begin with an introduction by Serge Toubiana (2:48) in the form of his voice over stills and film clips. Toubiana also moderates a commentary with Jean Gruault, who has a lot to say over the two hours, not just about Roché and his novels but also his long collaboration with Truffaut and the making of the film, especially Almendros's contribution. Both of these items are in French with optional English subtitles. You can only access the commentary subtitles if you select the commentary from the extras menu, and as with the other Truffaut releases, you can't mix commentary sound with feature subtitles, or vice versa.
Also on the disc is the trailer (2:14) which appears to be from the 1984 release of the version intégrale, which played in French cinemas but not British ones. This also adds yet another title to the mix, given that it calls the film Les deux anglaises.
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