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.

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