Vestron Recovers Ken Russell's Gothic (DVD/ Blu-ray Comparison)

Now here's a Ken Russell film you don't have to be a completist to enjoy. Though from his later, and most would say lesser, period, Gothic actually holds up quite well. I think it would probably be better appreciated by audiences today, in fact, than it was originally received in the 80s. It's certainly one of his wilder movies, so there's no risk of being bored at the very least. Russell lets loose with extreme, over the top imagery, this time specifically within the realm of - as its title implies - classic gothic literature and art, oftentimes replicating famous paintings of the 18th and 19th century. Imagine Northanger Abbey on acid, with a orchestral score by Thomas Dolby. It's had a tortured history on DVD though, with only a late-coming import version even being in the correct aspect ratio. Allow me to point you in its direction.

Update 8/26/15 - 1/31/18: The new blu-ray is here, the new blu-ray is here!  After all the junk DVDs (and the one admittedly decent import), it took until 2018, but thanks to Vestron, we finally have a worthy home video release of this mad-cap masterpiece of demented gothic horror.
Gothic tells the story of the famous, real summer of 1816, when Mary Shelley (Natasha Richardson), Percy Shelley (Julian Sands) and Claire Clairmont (Miriam Cyr) visited Lord Byron (Gabriel Byrne) and his physician (Timothy Spall) at his villa in Switzerland, and two classic novels, Frankenstein and Dracula, were conceived. If this premise sounds familiar, it's because two different films: Rowing With the Wind, starring Hugh Grant and Elizabeth Hurley and Haunted Summer, starring Eric Stoltz, Laura Dern and Alex Winter, both remade the same story in 1988. But 1986's Gothic came first and remains infinitely more memorable. Not a lot of detail is known for sure about what went on in that villa, so of course Russell is left to speculate and extrapolate; and he of course came up with the most colorful and feverish supposition of the three films. But on the other hand, the film is largely interior, showing us the visions they concocted in their minds, and strictly in terms of plot events, very little happens besides "they got inebriated and held a seance." It's a story of mass hallucination and collective imagination, depicting the birth of only fictional characters and artistic inspiration. And there aren't many filmmakers as suited to that sort of ambitious task as Ken Russell.
This is one of those films I picked up a couple of times over the years. I first had the original 2000 DVD from Artisan, which was full frame and barebones, so I was immediately on the look out for an upgrade. I optimistically and naively bought the 2001 DVD from Front Row, hoping for something better, but it was possibly even worse. In 2002, Artisan reissued the film with a slightly improved, but still fullscreen and barebones disc. Then word finally came in 2003 of an upcoming import that was widescreen and anamorphic from MGM itself, which was free to release it overseas where it hadn't already been licensed by these cheaper companies. Now, I've long since sold off my 2000 Artisan and Front Row discs, but in addition to the Artisan re-release and MGM, I just so happen to have a 2005 Mill Creek DVD from their Chilling Classics collection, which is as at least ugly as any that came before it.  Anyway, it's all obsolete now, thanks to Vestron's new 2018 blu-ray special edition!
1) 2002 Artisan DVD; 2) 2003 MGM DVD; 3) 2005 Mill Creek DVD; 4) 2018 Vestron blu-ray
Wow, now that is a huge difference. To be fair, while fullscreen, Artisan's 2002 re-release is clearly better than Mill Creek's transfer newer here, but it still pales in comparison to MGM's lovely widescreen (slightly letterboxed to 1.85:1) picture. And that in turns, pales in comparison to Vestron's much more vivid (also 1.85), distinctly detailed blu.  Sure, the fullscreen versions are largely open matte - and Artisan's fullscreen is slightly superior to Mill Creek's with a little extra info on all four sides - so they have more picture.  But look at 'em; it's just a sea of empty head-space. "Oh look, 20% more blank ceiling... but it's so dark, you can't make it out anyway!" The film looks far, far superior in its proper framing, and this is a film where the painterly image and its composition are hugely important. Plus, despite having less picture on the top and bottom, MGM's disc still manages to find a good chunk of horizontal information unique to their transfer.  And then Vestron tops that, by unveiling even more from all four sides.
1) 2002 Artisan DVD; 2) 2003 MGM DVD; 3) 2005 Mill Creek DVD; 4) 2018 Vestron blu-ray
As you can see, Mill Creek's DVD is also plagued with interlacing and some kind of awful edge enhancement, which Artisan's and MGM's discs are not.  But both Mill Creek and Artisan appear drained of color and so dark and murky, with Mill Creek apparently cranking some sort of clarify tool just so you can make out what's going on in the picture.  And even MGM's DVD is covered in compression artifacts.  But that's all irrelevant now, as all of those problems are happily done away with on the blu.  Vestron's known for relying on HD masters already in their library rather than striking up fancy, new ones, and they seem to have done that again here.  This isn't the fresh, 4k scan Arrow would've given it.  But how can you look at this film's history on disc and not be grateful for how far its come.  And even strictly by the latest standards, the colors are beautiful and it's quite an attractive picture to look at even on a very large screen.

MGM's European DVD also came with a host of language options, including the original English plus German, French, Spanish and Italian dubs, as well as English, German, French, Italian, Dutch, Spanish and Greek subtitles. Mill Creek's DVD of course had none of that, and neither did Artisan's or Front Row's.  Now, Vestron gives us the original mono track in 2.0 in lossless DTS-HD, and includes optional English and Spanish (a first for Vestron?) subtitles.
To their slight credit, Artisan's older disc at least had the trailer, which none of the other DVDs do, including MGM's or Artisan's own reissue. The reissue does have an amusing animated menu, though, I must say.  But until Vestron came along, we never got beyond the barebones Gothic release.  However, we're well beyond it now.  Let's start with the commentary.  I stated in my 2015 write-up of the DVDs that unfortunately we'd wasted so much time giving this film a special edition it was no longer possible to secure a Ken Russell commentary.  And that was a real shame, because he'd made great ones for so many of his films and Gothic really cried out for one.  Well, obviously Vestron couldn't perform a miracle, but they did the next best thing, pairing up his wife Lisi Russell with film historian Matthew Melia.  Between the pair of them, they bring the combination of expertise and personal insight that you'd hope for from an actual director commentary.  And thankfully, Lisi seems to have had a genuine interest in Ken's films, so she really brings something to the table.

So that's a great, insightful listen, but almost as essential is the interview with screenwriter, Stephen Volk, who tells us this film depicts the world just as he sees it.  He also has a lot of critical insight into this film from its origins to why this film is the way it is, including some details you'd never have guessed really did originate from Shelly's account of the real events.  Fans will probably be drawn more to the Julian Sands interview, which of course is good fun as well, and there's another on-camera interview with the DoP Mike Southon, who has some great anecdotes about working with Russell's temper and bringing to life his off-beat vision.  Vestron also includes their usual separate soundtrack audio which concludes with an interview with the composer.  And in this case, it's Thomas Dolby, so even fans who typically skip these might check this one out.  Additionally, yes, the trailer's back, as well as a TV spot and an image gallery.  And like all Vestron titles, it comes in a slipcover.
MGM's disc was essential in 2003, a must import.  But looking at it today, it's not even a very good DVD. Vestron's blu is the film's first special edition, and the extras are great.  But even if it were barebones, it would be the only serious option for this film.  Is it going to win blu-ray of the year and stand-up against Arrow's 4k remasters or the latest Transformers movie?  No, it's a little soft and there's room for technical improvement.  But for an 80s catalog title, this is well above satisfactory already, and then when you take into account the serious deficit that is this movie's home video situation, especially in the states, this is massive.  Finally, Gothic is nice to look at.  ...Except maybe, you know, for the scenes where the characters are all smeared in blood, sweat and feces.

Finally, A Worthy Election (DVD/ Blu-ray Comparison)

Unfortunately, I think a lot of people write Election off as being a "teen movie," like Clueless, or at best one with slightly more edge like Mean Girls.  And then they don't watch it for the same reason they don't browse the YA section of their local library.  And it's certainly understandable why anyone would walk away from the marketing feeling that way.  Not only are more than half the stars break-out teenage actors making their early marks, most of the story takes place in a high school, and it was distributed by MTV Productions, who don't exactly have a strong track record of mature output.  So I don't knock anyone who got that impression; but I'm hoping now that Criterion's putting it out, more grown-up film watchers will discover it.
There's a reason this is an R-rated movie, which probably took a nasty bite out of this film's box office returns.  Strictly financially, at least in the short term, letting it go out R was probably a bad decision.  But thankfully they looked at the long-tail view of artistic credibility.  Because Alexander Payne has some very adult sensibilities that are on full view here; and I mean that both in the high-minded, sentiments-too-complex-for-developing-young-viewers-to-appreciate sense, and in the more guttural naughty-stuff-younger-audiences-shouldn't-be-exposed-to-yet sense.  I mean, this story is set in the aftermath of a teacher forced to resign because he was having sex with an underage student.  So hopefully that alone signals potential viewers that maybe this isn't one to put on the TV in front of their kids and walk out of the room, but also a hand-wave to more serious cinephiles to suggest, hey maybe something is going on in this film besides just the formulaic platitudes of the typical Hollywood fodder this film initially appears to be.
A lot of the extras talk about what a keen political satire this film is, and how the microcosm of the high school election this film centers around is such a great send-up of our country's parties and candidates.  And I guess that's here to some degree.  But I really think this film is so much stronger on a genuine, human story.  Election is based (on an then unpublished novel by Tom Perrotta about) a real life incident where a school principal wound up fired and disgraced because he a pregnant girl was elected prom queen and he tried to deny it and cover it up, even to the point of setting all the ballots on fire.  Like wow, how does a man get to that stage in his life?  Sure, it might be fun to extrapolate that Chris Klein's character might have a bit of a George Bush hot take in it.  But it's utterly fascinating to explore the utterly unromantic desperate lives in small town Omaha.  The sociopathic ambition of student Reese Witherspoon crossing paths with the spiraling surrender of teacher Matthew Broderick at the absurd crossroads of an utterly meaningless student council.  It's brilliant.
Paramount originally released on DVD in 1999, the rather early days of DVD and when this film was brand new to home video.  But it still holds up fairly well as an anamorphic, widescreen edition with a commentary.  I've still got it, so we'll delve further into it below.  In 2009, Paramount reissued it on blu; but since I was fine with the DVD and utterly convinced this film deserved a proper special edition that would one day come, I held out.  And finally, just last month, Criterion brought that vision to life with a proper special edition blu-ray with an all new 4k scan of the original 35mm camera negatives and some great extras.
1999 Paramount US DVD on top; 2017 Criterion US blu-ray below.
So, like I said, even the old DVD is anamorphic (and no, not interlaced), giving us just a slightly window-boxed 2.29:1 picture.  Criterion makes the minor correction of re-framing it to exactly 2.35:1, revealing slivers more around the edges, especially the top and left.  Nice start, but the real improvement naturally comes down to the fine picture quality.  The Paramount DVD really shows its age when you get in close and see all those ugly compression artifacts, which are made perfectly crisp and clear in Criterion's new scan, which clarifies every speck of film grain.  The one flaw, which I'll preface by saying is not really all that bad, and only obvious in a side-by-side comparison like this, is the color timing.  It's Criterion, so say it with me, "it has a green push."  Now, to be fair, Paramount's DVD here has a bit of a red push, so making the colors absolutely perfect would result in the film leaning a little more towards the green side.  But the pendulum has swung too far, and the fact that Criterion keeps making all of their films green these days makes me think their colorist needs to get his eyes checked, and that's not me being snarky.  I sincerely believe that.  I mean, look at the second set of shots above.  I'll concede that the principal (right)'s shirt is up for debate, but surely Matt Malloy (of In the Company of Men fame, on the left)'s shirt is meant to be white, not cyan.  Anyway, it's a small flaw of an otherwise fantastic transfer... but come on, Criterion.

The DVD gave us a choice between a Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo Surround mix and a 5.1, plus optional English subtitles.  Interestingly, Criterion only gives us the 5.1, now in DTS-HD, with optional English subtitles.
The DVD gave us a great audio commentary by director Payne.  He has a lot to say, on everything from the locations to the terrific soundtrack, and only occasionally pausing briefly towards the end of the film.  But that's all Paramount ever gave us (this is true of their 2009 blu, too); no trailer, no nothin'.  Well, Criterion really picks up the slack here.  First of all, yes, they carry over Paramount's commentary.  Then they add a terrific 40+ minute documentary, which shows behind-the-scenes footage, an original alternate ending, and interviews everybody from the cast and crew, drawing in the experiences of the big stars, the novelist, some of the teens who only had bit parts, and even several different critics.  Only one key person is really missing: Reese Witherspoon.  But then, hey, the next thing they give us is a nice, on-screen interview with Reese Witherspoon!  So really, we get everything you could want.  They even include a local newscast about the film shoot taking place in their operational high school (yes, shooting went on as real classes were taking place).  And yes, finally the trailer.
But that's still not all, because Criterion has also remastered and included Payne's student film, The Passion of Martin (a 4k scan of the original 16mm negatives, presented in 1.32:1).  Now, it's a student film, so it's definitely flawed and unpolished compared to a professional production like Election.  But once you get past that, it gets pretty compelling and genuinely funny, thanks in no small part to being based on a strong novel.  An on-screen text director's statement addresses most of the issues I had initially had with it, so I recommend doing what I didn't and reading that first.  Then Payne also gives a good on-camera interview talking about the early days of his career, the making of Martin, and how it all lead and connects to Election.  Also included is a 10-page fold-out insert with notes by Slate film critic Dana Stevens.
Alexander Payne's gone on to become pretty well recognized as a quality filmmaker, regularly working with people like George Clooney these days.  But I still don't think he's ever topped this, his masterpiece, which certainly has its devotees but ironically, is still broadly overlooked.  We all know that entrance into the Criterion Collection isn't 100% purely an artistic meritocracy (cough cough, Armageddon), but Election lives up to the every definition that a Criterion title is and should be.  And at the same time, it's accessible and funny enough to play right alongside something like Christmas Vacation or Raising Arizona.  So you should absolutely own this one, and the Criterion blu is unquestionably the one you should own.

The Eric Rohmer Collections from Arrow, Part 2 (DVD/ Blu-ray Comparisons)

...Continuing from Part 1, feeling revitalized, let's just jump right into our next feature, Comedies and Proverbs #3, Pauline At the Beach!  Our proverb for 1983 is, "a wagging tongue bites itself."  Pauline is a young teenage girl who goes on vacation with her older cousin, who tries to teach her about love and men, but doesn't seem to have a very firm grasp of those things herself.  In fact, everybody in this film is constantly dispensing advice or pontificating on the way of things, while their own relationships stumble from one disaster to the next.  And Pauline, of course, is left to try and sift the truth out of everybody's contradictory words and examples.

Update 7/12/18: I've added the 2003 US MGM DVD release to the comparisons; and further down the page, I've also added coverage of the original, 1999 For Lorber DVD of Boyfriends and Girlfriends.
2003 MGM DVD on top; 2005 Arrow DVD mid; 2017 Arrow blu below.

Now, the aspect ratios here are pretty close: 1.60:1 v. 1.62:1 v. 1.67:1, respectively.  The big distinction for the MGM DVD, unfortunately, is that it's non-anamorphic.  But there's still a great disparity between the Arrows, as the DVD is zoomed in, cropping off information on all four sides that has been restored on the blu.  It's interesting that the differences between the films in these two sets are so strong.  You'd think each one comparison between an Arrow DVD and an Arrow blu would more or less describe them all, but no.  Each film has its own unique set of issues.  For Pauline, it's mainly the cropping.  The DVD also has some ugly digital compression when you get in close, and the blu-ray gives another crisp boost, with some extra, very welcome color dynamic, but no dramatic shifts in hue or anything.  The dramatic shift in hue, in fact, comes between the MGM and Arrows, particularly obvious in the second set of shots, where the oldest DVD actually looks the most true to life.  In terms of color, only, of course.  And just for being anamorphic, the subsequent releases already left it in the dust.

Both DVDs and the blu present the original French mono in 2.0, but it's in LPCM on the blu; and there are optional English subtitles on all three.  The MGM disc also throws in Spanish and French subs.
Apart from the trailer and a couple bonus trailers, Pauline is barebones on the US DVD, however it received a small but nice little collection of special features once it fell into Arrow's hands.  In fact, here is actually the single instance where something from the DVD set was left behind.  It's somewhat minor, but still, one hates to lose anything in an upgrade.  So here's what the DVD gave us: another great Rohmer intro, which in this case is presented as an on-camera interview rather than commentary over footage from the film, plus the original theatrical trailer, and a six and a half audio-only interview with Rohmer [right].  Arrow's blu gave us the intro/ interview and the trailer, but lost the little audio interview.  It's not all backwards movement, though, because they added another one of those brief French TV interview clips, this time with Arielle Dombasile, who played Marion.  Again, it's always a bummer to lose anything in the course of an upgrade.
We'll be hitting all these Comedies and Proverbs, now, in complete succession, so say hello to 1984's Full Moon In Paris.  "He who has two women, loses his soul," we're told, and "he who has two houses loses his mind."  And we're shown this in the story of Louise, who lives with her boyfriend but insists on getting a second apartment for herself in the heart of Paris.  When he wants to get married, she is of course not ready and reacts instead by striking out on her own and embracing the single life.  But she's just too social and out-going to stay alone for long, and her new suitors - particularly Fabrice Luchini - cause her far more troubles than she was trying to escape from in the first place.
2005 Arrow DVD on top; 2017 Arrow blu below.
At first glance, this might seem like one of the slimmest upgrades in the collection.  The 1.33:1 aspect ratio's the same, framing's the same, colors are just about the same (though the saturation's a bit over-cranked on the sky in that third shot, huh?)... about the only difference is the fundamental jump to HD; they might even be using the same master.  But when you get in close, despite being in 16mm, there's a serious decrease in detail and sharpness on the DVD.  The HD is actually a very welcome and substantial jump forward.  And while print damage is minimal on any of these films in either set, we can use what little there is to determine that these transfers must have been taken from different masters.  Notice the white smudge left of the actress's head in the last shot that isn't there on the DVD?  The book with this set only gives us a general statement that "[t]he films of this collection were restored from the original film and audio elements by Les Films du Losange," but it's evidenced here that different elements were used across the two sets.  In fact, an on-screen logo tacked onto the front of this film tells us they used the original 16mm negatives for the blu.  Not every film has that logo, though, so the book may be vague because the stories vary behind each film's restoration.

Anyway, again, both editions provide the original French mono in 2.0, but in LPCM on the blu, with optional French subtitles.
This is a good one for special features.  Arrow provided some nice stuff the first time around, including another Rohmer introduction commentary, the trailer, and a roughly hour-long audio interview with Rohmer about his films, which plays over a gallery of stills from the film.  Well, all of that is on the blu, except now the audio interview plays as a partial audio commentary over the film.  And the new set also adds some stuff, including another super brief, three minute archived French TV interview, this time with actress Pascale Ogier.  Then there is a somewhat strange and very 80s, hour long French TV special (pictured above) on actor Tchéky Karyo.  So this one really feels like a special edition.
The Comedies and Proverbs then skip a year and come back in 1986 with The Green Ray, which is a reference to the Jules Verne book, yes; but this is not an adaptation.  Instead we're taught about a line of Arthur Rimbaud poetry which reads, "ah!  The times come where the hearts fall in love."  In this film, our heroine is Marie Rivière (The Aviator's Wife), a single woman can't abide the dating scene and whose best friend leaves her in the middle of their travel vacation to run off with a new beau.  So she winds up in the Alps on her own, where Verne's ray can perhaps guide her through her troubles.
2005 Arrow DVD on top; 2017 Arrow blu below.
And we're back to alternate aspect ratios again!  Frankly, I'm just going to trust that the blu-rays have it right, this time matting the DVD's 1.33:1 to 1.67:1, which unveiling slivers along each side.  Besides that, you'll notice the colors are much deeper and richer on the blu, as opposed to the DVD, which appears rather washed out in comparison.  A large part of that seems to just come down to the DVD being decidedly brighter... over-bright I would say, although that's admittedly a subjective call.  But everything definitely "pops" more on the blu, while the actresses positioned in the foreground almost fade into the DVD's background.  And while a lot of the additional clarity just comes from the boosted clarity, a close look at the sign work in the background shows that it's a nice boost in definition, too.

Original French mono in 2.0 on both discs, check.  LPCM on the blu, check.  Optional French subtitles on both discs, check.
The DVD set gave us another Rohmer intro commentary and the original trailer, which the blu-ray dutifully carries over.  The new goodies include another one of these tiny French TV clips, this time with actress Marie Rivière and for the first time in this set, something new created by Arrow for their box.  British actor Richard Aoyade from The IT Crowd provides a substantial - almost 45 minute long - on-camera interview/ "appreciation" of The Green Ray and Rohmer's work in general.  Bet you didn't see that one coming!
The sixth and final film in the Comedies and Proverbs series is 1987's My Girlfriend's Boyfriend.  This year's proverb is a philosophy just asking for trouble" "my friends' friends are my friends."  The title tells you the basic framework of the plot rather directly.  A young woman makes a new friend, but soon becomes attracted to her boyfriend.  Fortunately(?), she's not the only one with thoughts of infidelity, and soon everyone is forced to reassess their relationships with each other.  Apparently, this film was very loosely remade in America starring Alyssa Milano in 2010.  And while this is one of Rohmer's lighter, more traditionally comically plotted efforts, I still can't imagine that version could touch the refined nuances of this original.

Oh, and by the way, I've also got the original US DVD of this one, which came out all the way back in 1999 from Fox Lorber.
1999 Fox Lorber DVD top; 2005 Arrow DVD mid; 2017 Arrow blu below.
After Perceval, I'm probably the most happy to get this film upgraded, because it really was the weak link in Arrow's DVD set.  Soft, fuzzy, light colors, pink hue, it looked like it was taken from a tape.  It's the only film in the set, too, with interlace combing.  Just yuck.  Interestingly, the even older US DVD isn't interlaced.  But otherwise, it's virtually identical, which suggests Arrow just ported over the old 1999 master, and the interlacing comes from the NTSC > PAL conversion.  But now we have the DVDs' 1.33:1 image very slightly tightened to a 1.37:1 image with substantially stronger clarity, depth of color, etc.  It's like a veil has finally been lifted, it looks so much better.  What a relief!

French 2.0 in mono, LPCM on the blu, optional English subs.  Oh, except on the Fox Lorber disc.  The subtitles are burnt in there.  👎
Arrow just had no love for My Boyfriend's Girlfriend, I guess.  It's the only entry in Comedies and Proverbs they didn't get a Rohmer intro for.  They just gave gave us the trailer (and remember, this was the disc they slapped Changing Landscape on), though that's more than the US DVD could say, which is so barebones it doesn't even have that.  Well, the blu-ray doesn't give us much more.  It has the trailer and another one of those tiny French TV clips, this time with Emmanuelle Chaulet, Sophie Renoir, and François-Eric Gendron.  Despite featuring the three of them, it still only runs three minutes and twenty seconds.  Hey, I'm grateful to have these things; they're fun little additions.  But "little" is definitely the operative word.
Created the same year as The Green Ray is the film 4 Adventures of Reinette and Mirabelle.  It was actually released on DVD here in the US in 2015 by a company called Kimstim; but I'm happy now that I missed it because it's just another double-dip I'd be replacing with this set.  Like it's title suggests, this film is broken up into four stories, each centered around the fast friendship formed when Mirabelle, a Parisian college student, runs into Reinette, an uncultured teenage painter out in the country.  They're faced with a small series of moral and ethical quandaries, two similar minds sculpted by two very different environments, at times frustrated by each other and yet drawn together.  This is perhaps a comedy without the proverb, but Rohmer's philosophic musings are as present as ever.
2017 Arrow blu.
Presented in 1.37:1, I don't have the DVD to compare this to, but the blu-ray restoration here looks consistent with the other blu-ray restorations in this box.  That's something you certainly couldn't say for the DVDs in the old box.  Grain is distinct and natural looking, even in the very dark scenes.  It's another 16mm film, so there's only so much detail, but this blu-ray reveals all there is to see, in a crisp, pleasing image.  Sometimes this film does look a bit on the soft side, but I suspect that's more to do with the original film itself than the transfer.  The audio is the original French mono presented in LPCM 2.0 with optional French titles.  The only special feature is one of those brief TV clips, this time with actress Joëlle Miquel, who not only starred (she's Reinette) but inspired the film.
4 Adventures shares a disc with 1993's The Tree, the Mayor and the Mediatheque, or The Seven Chances.  This is a lesser known Rohmer film, that got little release outside of his home country, and indeed, until the big French set from Potemkine, this film had never even been released on DVD or blu before.  So for many of us, Arrow's box will have been our first encounter with the film.  But this is no less smart or engaging than Rohmer's usual standard, a thoroughly enjoyable story about a mayor (Pascal Greggory from Pauline At the Beach) who struggles against seven conditions, including his own wife, to build a cultural center in a small, country village.

Apparently, this film was barely released outside of France because distributors were worried audiences would get lost in all the talk about specific France political parties, but in actuality, the issues are so universal, you can be completely ignorant of France's political system (and I'm speaking from experience here), and easily follow the story and relate to the characters.  If anything, this is a perfect illustration of how politics is really all about people and our day to day lives.  And like all these Rohmer's, it's an utterly charming and absorbing experience.  Barely a single exchange between characters in this entire movie takes place without them smiling or laughing in it.  Look for the welcome return of Rohmer regular Fabrice Luchini.  And if you think this movie holds no surprises for you, just wait until you find out what the music they play during the interstitials is building to!
2017 Arrow blu.
This is another 16mm film, shot handheld on various, often outdoor locations, so it's only going to look as detailed and sharp as it can.  But again, the grain is distinct, so it feels like a very clear, detailed transfer.  It's presented in the slightly unusual aspect ratio of 1.41:1; and again, I'm really just trusting that Arrow and Les Films du Losange are getting it 100% right on each of these films.  But certainly the framing never feels troubled or problematic, unlike, say, that old Fox Lorber DVD of Perceval, which always felt too tight.  Skin tones and natural colors look authentic.  The French mono track is presented in 2.0 LPCM with optional English subtitles and there are absolutely no special features for this film at all, not even a trailer.
The original Arrow DVD set came in two fold-out digipacks housed in an outer cardboard slip-cover, and contained just a single sheet insert. Their new blu-ray boxed set comes in a thick, sturdy slip-box (not unlike their recent House set), housing five clear amaray cases and an impressive, 124 page full-color book.  It features writing on each film by Jonathan Romney, Sophie Monks Kaufman, Geoffrey Macnab, David Jenkins, Geoff Andrew, Tara Judah, Philip Lopate, Andy Miller, Justine Smith and Brad Stevens, respectively.  It's also full of glossy photos and lengthy excerpts from cinematographer Nestor Almendros's book, A Man With a Camera.  And, as usual, it included a card for another of Arrow's upcoming releases: this time I got Robert Altman's Images.

Arrow's new Collection is a pretty terrific box that's hard to criticize, outside of tiny nitpicks (where'd that audio interview go?).  With all its translated special features and 1080p transfers, it's easily the definitive release for the films it includes and has taken the super expensive Potemkine set off my wish-list.  At least for these ten films.  And until some of Rohmer's other films get released on blu, it's great to know most of Potemkine's other blus (i.e. the four seasons films) can be bought separately.  So you can get this ideal box, and still use Potemkine to fill in the blanks.