L’Appartement Review

Mark Boydell has reviewed the French Region 2 release of L’Appartement which features English subtitles and the first on-screen pairing of Vincent Cassel (La Haine, The Brotherhood of the wolf ) and Monica Bellucci (Malèna, Under suspicion).

The Story:
Max (Vincent Cassel) seems to have found happiness – he’s got a well paid job and is soon to be married. But as he’s in the toilets of a crowded Parisian café he overhears the dulcet tones of a former lover – Lisa (Monica Belluci). As memories come streaming back to him, he feels the emotional turmoil of his situation: is he really happy in his current position or was Lisa his real true love? For better or worse he decides to try to meet her once again…This quest will take him scouring through his past seeking for a love that he still doesn’t fully understand or fathom.

Gilles Mimouni in this admirable debut manages to mix into this film a great deal of evident influences with the French tradition of “film d’auteur” (he also wrote the script). The result is quite impressive: the cinematography is beautiful and the story manages to capture your attention and keep you guessing throughout much in the same way Hitchcock did at his best. Thankfully, L’appartment doesn’t fall into the easy trap of parody – Hitch’s influence is clear (it was filmed almost entirely on set and the soundtrack is as enthralling as Bernard Hermann’s) but doesn’t impede on Mimouni’s very Gallic storytelling. The choice of cast must have raised a few eyebrows originally (Cassel’s only major bit of limelight up to then was as the angry Vinz in La Haine) but with Romane Bohringer and Jean-Phillipe Ecoffey acting as counterpoints they manage to carry the film throughout with perfect cohesion.

Despite having to open against ID:4 the film did remarkably well with the BAFTA awarding it Best Foreign language film award in 1998.

The DVD:
As we have now come to expect from French DVDs the transfer is anamorphic – despite the orignal ratio of 1.66:1. This does mean that we have to put up with black bars on the side of the image though – a mild sacrifice to make considering that the transfer is absolutely splendid. No artifacts were visible even in the dark scenes and the colours came out as vividly as they did when I originally saw it in the cinema. At times we can see some typical celluloid grain but nothing major.

This DVD was also the first French DVD ever to feature a seperate DTS track – one would have thought that a more action type movie would have suited it better but on closer inspection the DTS really does offer something more to this film. The few scenes that would warrant it are clearly more powerful and precise on the DTS track. More subtle scenes also come out the better through the DTS – one scene containing a crackling fire comes out amazingly vivid under DTS.

The menus are quite stylish but not animated. Nothing to write home about but they do what they’re intended for. The extras on the other hand are rather dissapointing – a video of the casting was promised pre-release but failed to materialise , We do get a montage of 100 photos from the film along to the Peter Chase’s soundtrack – a photographic version of a behind the scenes (minus the actors waxing on about how great the director is!) – and a bizarre film called “cruelle melopée” by Gilles Mimouni. It’s quite unclear what this is: a short? a trailer? What is clear is the image is not too great and the sound is awful(and definately not DTS!). If it’s a short it jumps around like a trailer but if it’s a trailer it’s rather long. I remain baffled for the reasons for its inclusion; some explanatory text or audio commentary would have been appreciated. The inclusion of the trailer although standard nowadays is always something I appreciate mostly to see how the marketing directors chose to sell it – this one is of course the French trailer and the quality of the picture shows you how badly you can transfer films. A nice contrast to the film!

Unusually, l’Appartment comes with good English subtitles which are not compulsory (as it’s a French DVD) and should come in useful for those who don’t speak French especially as Cassel’s speech is fast and not always clear. Bizarrely, no French subtitles are featured – a shame for those who’s French is good but not great and of course for France’s community of deaf and hard of hearing.

Altogether, a great DVD transfer of a fantastic film – a little dissapointing on the extras but the excellent use of the DTS soundtrack easily compensate that domain. The question that remains is it more worth while buying this DVD than the Artificial Eye one? Well as I discussed above the DTS soundtrack is a huge selling point in favour of the French release as the AE release only offers us a 2.0 DD mix. So I would highly recommend opting for the French release if you don’t mind paying a bit more for it.

Mark Boydell

Updated: Apr 03, 2005

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