8 Films de Jean Paul Civeyrac Review

One of the most interesting of a new generation French directors that includes the likes of Eugène Green and Alain Guiraudie, the films of Jean Paul Civeyrac operate on a different level from conventional narrative films. Blurring the lines between material world and physical manifestations of spiritual or mental states, his films tend to go against the grain of the Cartesian rationalism of more typical examples of French cinema. Often using non-professional actors, shooting on Digital Video using natural light in very dark locations, Civeyrac’s films seek to explore and identify incorporeal realms and emotions beyond the surface narrative of their deceptively simple storylines.

A student of philosophy at the University of Lyon, Civeyrac presented a thesis on the rapport between opera and cinema, and classical music would be one of the important factors he would use in his films to explore intangible emotions and states of mind of his characters – François Couperin in Les Solitaires, Max Reger in Le Doux Amour Des Hommes, Felix Mendelssohn in Toutes Ces Belles Promesses and John Cage in À Travers La Forêt. His work then is characterised between the otherworldly spiritual dimension of his characters suggested by the haunting music that captures their dreams, their memories, their grief, their losses, and the intense physicality that is evident in the naked bodies of his actors, their lonely characters grappling with each other and the ghosts of their torments in a limbo world of dark, murky interiors.

Currently a lecturer in film directing at Fémis, the French National School of Moving Image and Sound, Civeyrac graduated from Fémis himself in 1991 with a short graduation film La Vie Selon Luc, but wouldn’t make his first feature film until 1996 with the highly-charged Ni D’Ève Ni D’Adam, the story of a young boy with learning difficulties who is forced to fend for himself on the streets. Although the film would characteristically make use of non-professional actors, including the amazing Guillaume Verdier who would go on to appear at least in cameo roles in many of Civeyrac’s subsequent films, it would not be until Les Solitaires (1999) and Fantômes (2000) that the director’s familiar style and themes would become fully apparent. This new direction would coincide with the move to Digital Video, enabling Civeyrac to work more freely with his non-professional actors, filming handheld in darkened rooms and bringing in the dimension of the pervasive use of music to reach other intangible elements beyond the surface. In these darkened rooms, his lonely characters would twist around in their beds, haunted by the memories of old lovers who have left or died, the distinction between what is real and memory blurred through the intensity of the emotional sense of loss which give the apparitions a very real and solid form.

With the following films Le Doux Amour Des Hommes (2002) and Toutes Ces Belles Promesses (winner of the Prix Jean Vigo 2003), Civeyrac would align these techniques and themes to a more conventional narrative structure, adapting the films from the writings of Jean de Tinan and Anne Wiazemsky, and bringing in professional actors, albeit ones of a certain quirkiness and unconventionality like Jeanne Balibar. The films however lose none of their poetic musings, slipping effortlessly between past and present, the living struggling to escape from the bonds placed on them by the memories of those now dead. The same Orphic qualities suffuse the more recent films, the beautifully titled short Tristesse Beau Visage (2004) and À Travers La Forêt (2005).

8 Films de Jean Paul Civeyrac is released in France by Blaq Out as a three DVD set. The films are presented over three DVDs, each dual-layer, in PAL format, without any region coding. A fourth disc contains the extra feature, a DVD-ROM creation Jean Paul Civeyrac: Interstices. The set is in hardcover booklet format, each of the discs contained in cardboard sleeves. The films included in the set are:

Disc 1
La Vie Selon Luc (1991) (short)
Ni d'Ève, Ni d'Adam (1996)
Les Solitaires (2000)

Disc 2
Fantômes (2001)
Le Doux Amour Des Hommes (2002)

Disc 3
Toutes Ces Belles Promesses (2003)
À Travers La Forêt (2005)
Tristesse Beau Visage (2004) (short)

Each of the films are presented in their original aspect ratios, clearly using the best elements available and under the personal supervision of the director. The earliest short film La Vie Selon Luc is presented letterboxed at its original 1.66:1 aspect ratio, but the other films in the set, apart from Les Solitaires which was shot in 1.33:1, are all anamorphically enhanced. Although nearly all the films were shot on Digital Video, the transfers themselves would appear to be taken from 35mm prints rather than transferred directly from digital. I would imagine that this is essential in preserving the intended tone of the films as they would have been presented theatrically. Few of the films exhibit any marks or have any compression artefact problems at all. They show excellent detail in the frequently dark, low-lit locations, with perfect balance in tone and colour. Specific details on each of the films can be found in the more detailed reviews that follow on the other pages of the review.

Each of the films comes with the original mixes, which varies from film to film – from the Dolby Digital 1.0 on the early films to the surround mixes for the later films, which also have alternative Dolby Digital 2.0 mixes. The sound quality on all the films is beyond reproach, conveying the important elements of sounds, creaks and, of course, the warm music scores that are a vital aspect of the films. More details about the mixes provided are included in the reviews of each the films.

English menus are provided throughout, and each of the films are exceptionally well subtitled with optional English subtitles in a clear white font. Bilingual options are also provided throughout the enclosed booklet and on the packaging of the set.

There are no extra features on any of the discs relating to the films themselves - no interviews, no commentaries, nothing. Disc 4 however contains a multimedia art piece by artist Grégory Chatonsky - Jean Paul Civeyrac: Intersitices, a generative programme which, on a DVD-ROM drive edits scenes from Civeyrac’s films in real-time, presenting a different viewing of their interconnecting themes and imagery. How good this is I can't say, since it wouldn't run on any PC I tried it in. On a standard DVD player, it will however play a pre-recorded version of the programme, running to 30 minutes in length.

Corporeality and spirituality both co-exist in the films of Jean Paul Civeyrac and both are treated as real in the lives of his characters, with no distinction being made between their physical and mental presence. The themes and techniques Civeyrac employs in his films are very evident and consistent, but the director manages to further explore various aspects of his character’s inner lives and their impact on the relationships with the people around them over the course of the 8 films included here. With each film, Civeyrac appears to increasingly refine and simplify his method without losing any of the poetry or complexity of connections and contradictions that exist in the web of relationships his characters have with the living and the dead.
Blaq Out should be congratulated for bringing together this complete set of films from one of the most interesting of a new generation of progressive modern French filmmakers. As a three-disc set, the 8 Films de Jean Paul Civeyrac collection is perhaps a little too expensive to attract anyone with only a passing interest in the films, but gathering these difficult-to-find films together is essential, the watching of these films back-to-back allowing their richness to be fully experienced. The lack of any substantial extra features, essays, interviews, commentaries or even contextual or biographical information about the director is unfortunate, but the films themselves are very well presented, with English subtitles, and fascinating enough on their own to make this package well worth investigating.

Each of the films are reviewed in more detail on the following pages of this review, which cover the full content of each of the three discs.

Jean Paul Civeyrac Collection - Disc 1

La Vie Selon Luc (1991)
14 mins, 1.85:1 letterbox, Dolby Digital 1.0

Few of the characteristics that can be associated with Jean Paul Civyrac can be seen in his first film, a 14 minute short feature. Inevitably, considering its short length, the film is necessarily very much a character study, since there is little room to develop much in the way of a plot. Luc (Jean Descanvelle) is a young man who is determined to do things his own way and consequently conflicts with everyone he meets. He doesn’t give a damn what anyone thinks, isn’t interested in any advice they might have to give and is not interested in assistance from friends or family. He is going to do things his way, and do whatever it takes to make money, which is mainly performing sexual favours for any man who is willing to pay for it.

The film suffers a little from being compressed down into 14 minutes and the dialogue is often over-expository and over-dramatised, with little in the way of light and shade. The film moves relentlessly from one scene of conflict to another, Luc confrontationally rubbing up against strangers, friends and family alike, even making love angrily. Quite what he is so angry about and just why he needs the money he is so determined to obtain and methodically place into a tin box isn’t exactly clear. There is a suggestion that he might be wishing to escape from the drab banlieue suburban area he lives in - but this is not specified and neither does it really need to be. While the one-note tone of the film and the lack of a conventional purpose might make it seems inconsequential, it actually comes across as all the more sharp, intense and, inevitably, confrontational.

The Transfer – There are quite a few marks on an old looking print – possibly 16mm - which is presented non-anamorphically at 1.85:1. It’s also quite dark, using quite a lot of low lighting, and filmed in rather drab colours, but there are no major problems with either the print or the transfer. The audio, presented in Dolby Digital 1.0 mono, is relatively clear. Optional English subtitles are included.

Ni D’Ève Ni D’Adam (1996)
87 mins, 1.66:1 anamorphic, Dolby Digital 1.0

Civeyrac’s first feature film expands on some of the themes proposed in his earlier short film La Vie Selon Luc (1991). Once again the main character of the film is an angry young man who has a problem with the world and is determined to get by on his own. Gilles (Guillaume Verdier) is about 16 years old and has a lot of problems – behavioural, educational and familial. Although on the surface he is as hard as nails, he’s prone to narcoleptic episodes, has a mild stutter and doesn’t seem to have basic reading and writing skills. When challenged to write something down by the owner of a factory where the schoolboys are sent on work experience, Gilles reacts by head-butting the man in the face. Again, earning money is an issue and, as it can’t be earned by usual means, Gilles steals from friends and even his baby sister’s moneybox, using it to get laid by a local prostitute. Word of his suspension from school reaches his father, who reacts violently, and after another incident where he nearly kills his sister, he finds himself thrown out on the streets. Getting into even greater trouble, he is forced to flee, taking off with his young girlfriend Gabrielle (Morgane Hainaux).

Although it resembles Olivier Assayas’s powerful 1994 film of teenage disaffection L’Eau Froide in a number of very obvious parallels, the way Civeyrac approaches story and characterisation in his first feature film is truly unique and astonishingly compelling. Rather like his earlier short film, the film depicts a very dark, bleak and frightening environment, swapping a Parisian banlieue of La Vie Selon Luc for a small provincial town with a heavy immigrant population in a deprived region of France. This is a place where gangs of teenagers roam the streets, throwing stones at passers-by and threatening shop owners with knives, young girls proudly boast of giving head at 11 years of age, and the closing of a school for the day because “a guy hanged himself” is greeted with unbridled joy by the pupils. This grotesque and bleak situation reaches such levels of absurdity that it seems almost caricatured and even grimly amusing. This is particularly evident in the character of the wild-child Gilles, who stands out as an exceptional character even in such an environment. A sixteen year old, he tries it on with young girls his own age, sleeps with prostitutes, smokes dope, chomps on cigars and flips the bird to everyone as he walks down the street, head-butts his teacher, drinks himself into oblivion, frequently sleeps out on benches and fishes porn magazines out of bins.

Yet however comically absurd it might seem, the impact is no less powerful, attaining an air of almost poetic realism, depicting an impoverished environment of abject misery with some very serious social problems. The film’s title Ni D’Ève Ni D’Adam also points to the inhuman conditions and deprivation that these people live in, being offspring of “neither Adam nor Eve”, with no outlook or opportunities. It helps considerably that the performances, relying almost entirely on very young non-professional actors, is also astonishingly realistic and full of naturalism.

The Transfer – Again, the film seems to be shot on 16mm and contains a fair bit of grain, with interiors in particularly looking quite murky – but, presented anamorphically at 1.66:1, the print is often very clear, sharp and detailed, with cool but natural colour tones. There are a few little specks, but overall the transfer is clear and stable, with no real marks or digital artefacts. The audio, in Dolby Digital 1.0 mono, is also quite clear and accurate, with no flaws. Optional English subtitles are included.

Les Solitaires (1999)
71 mins, 1.33:1 original aspect ratio, Dolby Digital 2.0

Civeyrac moved to making films in Digital Video in 1999, with Les Solitaires, a small, almost theatrical chamber piece that was well suited to the medium, making the use of one main location and a handful of actors. The film takes place in a small Parisian apartment that Pierre (Jean-Claude Montheil) hasn’t left since the death of his wife Madeleine (Mireille Roussel). Wallowing in his solitary misery, without even a phone in the apartment, Pierre is unable to get thoughts of his wife out of his head, seeing her in his restless dreams, where he contemplates suicide in order to rejoin her.

His friend Alice (Lucia Sanchez) has feelings for Pierre and tries to help out and bring him back to normal life, but he is not very responsive or appreciative, constantly longing to be alone in the dark of his room, waiting for the next ghostly visitation of his wife. When his brother Baptiste (Philippe Garziano) arrives to stay while he attends an interview, he finds a similarly unwelcoming reception. In reality however, Philippe’s wife Eva (Margot Abascal) has left him. Although they have never been close as brothers and each have their own way of dealing with their loneliness - Pierre locking himself away, Philippe trying to pick up women – their common predicament, and the presence of Alice, brings them closer together.

Such contradictions abound in Les Solitaires, in the storyline, in the characters and in the method in which the film is made. Taking place largely in a single room, the dialogues and walk-on appearances of the characters take on a very theatrical aspect, the script very straightforward and self-explanatory – often quite literally, since Philippe’s wife Eva even has a manner of explaining her situation and feelings to herself in a mirror. The unnaturalness of the situation is of course further heightened by the ghostly presence of Pierre’s dead wife from time to time. Yet everything about the way the film is made - a straightforward dramatic piece, shot on Digital Video, often in close-up, in an almost permanently darkened room using natural light - is very naturalistic. It’s somewhere in between the levels of physicality - as when Pierre and Philippe wrestle naked together - and the unearthly presence of the dead, that the heart of the film lies, as a mediation on the very real yet intangible feelings of grief and loneliness that lie within a person (the title would seem to refer to all of the characters in the film) which cannot be reached or shared.

The Transfer – Filmed naturalistically on Digital Video in very low light, most of the film takes place in darkness and shadow. I’m not sure whether it is a direct digital transfer as there appear to be the occasional, very rare white dustspots visible. The transfer may therefore be taken from a 35mm print of the film, perhaps to create – as I believe the film is trying to achieve – some intermediary level between a clinical digital image and the grittiness of film stock. The quality is consequently as good as could be expected. Colours and tones are therefore affected by the filming medium and the dark interiors, giving the image a natural softness, but they are clear and accurate. There are no digital artefacts of any kind. The sound, presented in Dolby Digital 2.0, is clear and natural. Optional English subtitles are included.

Jean Paul Civeyrac Collection - Disc 2

Fantômes (2000)
89 mins, 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen, Dolby Digital 2.0

The same sense of suffocating loss and loneliness with a vaguely supernatural element that lies at the heart of Les Solitaires carries through into Civeyrac’s next feature film, the dark and moody Fantômes. Subtitled “Contes d’Amour Pour Aujourd’hui” (Modern Day Love Stories), the film indeed shows a number of people in typical relationships – some ending, others starting relationships, others still trying to cram as much contact with other people into their lives as possible. They are all very, very, lonely people or deeply afraid of being alone.

This, in effect, is the theme of the film, though again, it doesn’t exactly use a conventional means of expressing it. Nearly all of the relationships seen in the film come into contact in some way with Antoine (Guillaume Verdier, the young star of Civeyrac’s Ni D’Ève Ni D’Adam). Antoine has reached the end of his relationship with his first love (Emilie Lelouch), and leaves to stay in Paris with his cousin Mathieu (Serge Buzon) to explore life further. Along the way he is given a lift by a man who disappears by the roadside while making a phone call to his girlfriend, one of many disappearances that appear to be happening according to rumours that Mathieu has heard. Mathieu and Antoine do everything they can not to similarly vanish, seeking out love, sleeping with as many women as possible. Antoine seeks to explore a career in acting, but never gets to feel he belongs to anything or anyone and continues his searching. Along the way they meet various lost and lonely people including Mouche (Dina Ferreira) who has conjured back her lover who died in a motorcycle accident.

Again, you have to approach a Civeyrac film quite differently from any other kind of film. The script, flitting between supernatural and the everyday, is quite bizarre and unnatural, with the acting, performed by what appear to be “real people” you would see on the street, feeling forced and semi-theatrical. Filmed in a haze of yellowish sepia early winter colours, it further captures their suffocating lives in dark, still, lonely Parisian apartments to a soundtrack of creaks and rustlings and the sparse soundtrack of a string quartet. Through this however, Civeyrac finds a new, fresh and rather poetic way to describe what people long for from relationships. For some it is a sense of remaining forever youthful and alive, the only thing that gives meaning to their lives, for others it is the belonging, a sense of protection and security, a means of keeping death and loneliness at bay. The director also manages to capture the whole networking nature of relationships, through the people Antoine encounters and all the people that they have come into contact with, each of them clinging onto someone desperately, yet eventually and inevitably watching them slip out of their lives and “disappear”.

The Transfer – Like Les Solitaires, Fantômes appears to be shot on DV and transferred to DVD here from a 35mm print, filled with dark tones and a murky colouration which gives the film an unusual otherworldly quality. It’s highly effective, conveying incredible mood, and it transfers well to DVD. Again, apart from a very rare dustspot – only visible because of the pervasive darkness of the film – there is not a flaw on the print and not a flicker of compression artefacts. Even in the darkest scenes however, there is adequate detail, and well-balanced tones. The Dolby Digital 2.0 audio track is likewise highly effective, capturing the particular sparse ambience of the film to perfection.

Le Doux Amour Des Hommes (2002)
74 mins, 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen, Dolby Digital 4.0/Dolby Digital 2.0

The dichotomy between dreams and reality is looked at from a different angle in Civeyrac’s 2002 film Le Doux Amour Des Hommes. The person caught between these two states is, somewhat appropriately, a writer and a poet – caught between the shallowness of a free and easy lifestyle and the desire for greater depth and meeting.

After an absence of 5 or 6 years, while walking down a street, Raoul (Renaud Bécard) meets his first love Mariette (Maî David). She has moved on, living in St. Etienne and is married with a child, while Raoul is still in Paris, hanging around with his friends in his regular café, sleeping with as many women as he can, writing a line or two of poetry when the inspiration takes him. He doesn’t know if he is looking for love or even if he has ever been in love, but his encounter with Mariette leaves him with the realisation that his life is empty and shallow.

Soon after he rescues a girl who appears to be drowning in a swimming pool and recognises her as Jeanne (Claire Perot), a girl from the café who has the reputation of being a junkie. Raoul is hopelessly attracted to Jeanne, but although they make love now and again, she keeps him at a distance. Reckless, flighty, unpredictable, impulsive, self-destructive and in love with someone else, Jeanne would appear to be the worst person for Raoul to fall in love with, but she touches a part of him that no other woman has – or so he believes.

Filmed in the now customary poetic manner, often in low light, lingering over naked bodies, Civeyrac takes his themes a step further in Le Doux Amour Des Hommes, searching to find some sense of meaning in Raoul’s longing for human physical contact. Consequently, the film is slightly less diaphanous and ethereal, returning to a more narrative format inspired by the writings of Jean de Tinan, yet remaining poetic in its search for some kind of tangible sense of meaning. The use of music by the German composer Max Reger, serves to underscore the romanticism of the film’s balancing act between poetry and realism, and the film leaves a great deal of ambiguity in whether Raoul consequently finds what he is looking for, and whether the cost is worth it.

The Transfer – There are no marks or flaws on the transfer of the 2.35:1 digital image. A little motion blur is evident, but nothing more than would be expected in a film photographed using the digital medium. There are two audio tracks – a standard Dolby Digital 2.0 mix and a Dolby Digital 4.0 mix. The 4.0 mix is beautiful, giving a wider mix on the music, separating it from the centre channel dialogue. As with the other films, optional English subtitles are included.

Jean Paul Civeyrac Collection - Disc 3

Toutes Ces Belles Promesses (2003)
81 mins, 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen, Dolby Digital 5.1/Dolby Digital 2.0

In Toutes Ces Belles Promesses, Civeyrac again slips between the invisible line that divides the living and the dead, the past and the present, dreams and reality. With a cast of professional actors, including a particularly fine performance from Jeanne Balibar, the director seems however to achieve his exploration of the intangible with ever more ease and facility through a simple situation that nevertheless is layered with emotional resonances and reminiscences.

Memories of the past, of her parents and her childhood, come flooding back to Marianne (Jeanne Balibar), a cellist in an orchestra, when she comes back to sell the apartment of her recently deceased mother. Sorting through old documents and photographs, she discovers that her father, also dead, once had a mistress. Assailed by doubts about the past and suffering from a lack of self confidence brought about by the break-up of her relationship with a young violinist Etienne (Renaud Bécard), she sets out on a trip to meet the mysterious woman in her father’s life, hoping perhaps to discover how she managed to survive in an inequitable relationship.

The difficulties in Marianne’s own romantic life however become intertwined with her memories of her mother and father’s infidelities, her reminiscences of her childhood babysitter Ghislaine (Valérie Crunchant) and her affair with a young sailor Roland, and her father’s mistress Béatrice (Bulle Ogier), living alone and getting old. As she returns to the location of her parents’ holiday home, Marianne own troubles come to a head as she identifies with her parents. Too caught up in their own little worlds to notice the harm that was being done to those around them, Marianne likewise finds it difficult to notice that a handsome local doctor is clearly attracted to her. Béatrice and Ghislaine are also women who have all been abused to some extent by the men in their lives, and through them Marianne learns how to cherish the moments and the memories but to be strong enough to move on.

The situation in Tous Ces Belles Promesses is a deceptively simple one, a relatively straightforward story of the break-up of a one-sided relationship, and the difficulty it causes the person who loves too much. The reminiscences towards parallel situations seem a little contrived, ordinary and, in a relatively short film, somewhat precipitated, but there is a lot of emotional ground covered here, and it is successfully achieved. Through Marianne, particularly through Balibar’s performance, and another superb choice of appropriate music from Mendelssohn, Civeyrac manages not only to make subtle points about the characters and the connections between them, but he draws on the inner lives of the characters, their dreams and fears, the connections between parents and children, the persistence of memory and the relationship between the past and the present. It’s an all-encompassing viewpoint, an expansive look at life and love, achieved simply and unpretentiously.

The Transfer – The picture quality is again excellent. The fine HD-DV image, perhaps transferred via a 35mm print, never has that clinical digital feel. Apart from the minor limitations of that come with DV resolution, this is just about a flawless transfer. There is a slight hint of grain that looks like it is a consequence of compression, the image is slightly soft and blacks are inevitably rather flat, but the colours are strong, the image is clear and the transfer quite stable. There are two audio tracks – a standard Dolby Digital 2.0 mix and a Dolby Digital 5.1 mix. The 5.1 mix is the most effective. It’s mainly centre-channel based, rarely appearing to stretch beyond that, but there is a subtle enveloping sense of ambience conveyed through the other channels. Optional English subtitles are included.

À Travers La Forêt (2005)
60 mins, 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen, Dolby Digital 5.0/Dolby Digital 2.0

Armelle, Renaud is dead. It’s been three months.” So why then does Armelle still see her boyfriend, killed in a motorcycle accident, still have conversations with him and still spend long mornings in bed making love with him? The subject of À Travers La Forêt is a familiar one for Civeyrac. Returning to original script writing after the adaptations of Le Doux Amour Des Hommes and Toutes Ces Belles Promesses, the director’s most recent film falls back on the abstract treatment of loss and bereavement of Les Solitaires and Fantômes, of characters caught in a limbo state between life and the bonds they cannot break with a person now dead.

Armelle (Camille Bertomier) has two sisters Roxane and Bérénice who wish to help her, but they are both on opposite sides of the divide. Bérénice (Alice Dubuisson) wants her to forget Renaud and get on with living her life. Roxane (Morgane Hainaux) on the other hand tries to help her establish contact with the other side, buying her books on supernatural experiences and taking her to see a medium. While visiting the medium, where Armelle is told that Renaud wants to return, she sees Hippolyte (Aurélian Wiik), a young man who resembles Renaud, and believes she can make contact with her dead boyfriend through him.

Running to only an hour in length and covering ground that has been explored exhaustively in his previous films, À Travers La Forêt rather disappointingly doesn’t bring anything new to the subject. It’s not just Armelle who exists in a state of limbo longing for an impossible lost love, her sisters are also unsure of the direction they want their own lives to take. Bérénice has been seeing her boyfriend for seven and a half years, unable to commit to marriage, while Roxane has many boyfriends, unwilling to settle for just one. Even when they do take the decision to commit, they are aware of the sense that they are just clinging onto someone, desperately grasping anything that will give their life meaning. This is not really anything different from the various relationships delineated in Fantômes.

The abstract formal elements Civeyrac employs in the film however, from the filming style to the acting performances he obtains, remain fascinating. Made up of just 10 chapters, each scene a long flowing unedited take, the film captures the restless sense of fluidity in each of the characters lives, seeing them moving around within the frame of the film, but never getting very far beyond it until the very final scene where Armelle disappears into the metaphorical forest of the film’s title. This technique is particularly effective in the typically Civeyrac scenes where physical and spiritual worlds coexist – in the familiar opening sequence where the naked Armelle communes with the dead Reanud, in the scene with Armelle and Roxane visit the medium, and in the Cocteau-esque scene where Armelle wakes in the night and sees her own reflection transformed in a mirror. Inevitably then, much rests on the performance of Camille Bertomier, and she is a remarkable presence in the film, Civeyrac indeed building the film around her.

The Transfer – The Digital Video image, transferred to DVD via 35mm print is almost flawless. There is a slight softness inherent in the medium, but it is appropriate for the tone of the film. Colours are wonderful, capturing the range of cool tones in interior shots and the richness of the bright exteriors, often looking simply striking. There is a choice of Dolby Digital 5.0 and Dolby Digital 2.0 audio tracks. The surround mix is most impressive, the sound designed to make full and effective use of the surrounds, coming across with clarity and appropriate resonance. Optional English subtitles are included for all French dialogue. Some phrases and songs sung in English are not subtitled in English, and curiously not even in French.

Tristesse Beau Visage (2004)
17 mins, 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen, Dolby Digital 2.0

The myth of Orpheus and Eurydice evidently fits in perfectly with Civeyrac’s own meditations on the bonds between living and the dead, so it’s perhaps not surprising that they both appear in his short film Tristesse Beau Visage.

Surprisingly however, Civeyrac doesn’t follow the traditional story of Orpheus’ descent into Hades in search of his lost love but, subtitled “How Orpheus Seduced Eurydice”, it explores another aspect of the director’s work, namely music and its ability to enchant and reach out to touch another person, speaking to them on a level beyond the rational. In Civeyrac’s story, an original one that seems to draw on and bring together various mythological elements and characters, Eurydice (Mélanie Decroix) has withdrawn into darkness and silence, unable to endure the pain of the loss of her lover Acis to Galatea. Her friends are unable to reach through to ease her suffering, but Orpheus (Thomas Durand) is able to speak to her through his music. Where words fail to express the mysterious recesses of another person’s heart and the way love can be ignited and extinguished, Orpheus’ lyre touches the inner depths of her torment, understanding and speaking to her of her love, her pain and her loss.

A short, simple film, taking place entirely in a modern-day café, Tristesse Beau Visage is nevertheless lushly photographed, mainly in black-and-white, composed like a Pre-Raphaelite painting (Millais and Rossetti frame the film in the opening and closing credits). Supported by the romantic sweep of Chausson, Monteverdi and Gluck, the film more than effectively illustrates its purpose.

The Transfer – There is little to fault with the transfer here. Shot mostly in black-and-white, the film explodes into colour at the end and both show strong tones and a clear, flawless image. There is some minor flicker, perhaps due to macro compression, but it scarcely registers. The audio, in Dolby Digital 2.0 mix is perfectly clear with strong stereo separation, picking up the murmur of choruses of whispering voices. Impressive.

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