The Eric Rohmer Collections from Arrow, Part 1

In 2005, Arrow released an 8-disc DVD boxed set called The Eric Rohmer Collection, which consisted mostly of his Comedies & Proverbs films, plus one or two others.  Now Arrow has just come out with their new limited edition (2000 copies pressed) 9-disc Eric Rohmer Collection.  A few of the films are different, all of the extras are ported over, and more have been added.  Certainly of note to Eric Rohmer fans is that this set follows the famous French set from Potemkine, which I discussed a bit in my Triple Agent piece.  This set sports new restorations that weren't in that set (and has all 1080p transfers, where much of that set was 1080i), and where Potemkine only subtitled the main features, and not the shorts or extras, Arrow a wealth of fully subtitled special features.  Of course, Arrow's new set doesn't include all of the films in the Potemkine set, but for the ten it does, I'd say these are pretty much the definitive releases, especially for English-language fans.

Update 1/19/18 - 9/19/21: Last year, Criterion finally upgraded their Six Moral Tales box to blu-ray, so I'm adding their new Love In the Afternoon BD to the mix.  ...Also, as Update Week 2020 marches on, I added the screener DVD of Sofia Coppola's On the Rocks to my FYC disc page.
So let's start with the one film that's in the 2005 set but absent from the 2017 one: the oldest feature in either set, 1972's Love In the Afternoon (a.k.a. Chloe In the Afternoon).  It kind of makes sense it wasn't carried over, as it was sort of the odd man out in the old box.  See, Love In the Afternoon is one of the films in Rohmer's famous Six Moral Tales series.  On DVD, these films have typically been boxed together, by Criterion in the US and by Artificial Eye in the UK.  I guess it was just a film Arrow had the rights to and so stuck in the box, but it did feel a little out of place by itself.  I mean, the opening credits even label the film as part 6, so viewers would be wondering "well, where's parts 1-5?"  And the popular theory is that Criterion has plans to release the Six Moral Tales on blu at some point.  The theory proved correct!  So now, here's all three versions.
2005 Arrow DVD on top; 2006 Criterion DVD mid; 2020 Criterion blu below.

Okay, usually I only retain the negative space around a film for a single set of comparison shots when I do it at all, but I left it around both because I want you guys to notice something.  Compare the two Arrow shots, and you'll see it has a curious, shifting aspect ratio.  The Criterion disc is always slightly letterboxed to 1.32:1, while the Arrow shifts around from 1.32 to 1.36:1, although it has less picture information - mainly along the bottom - than Criterion either way.  And no, neither of those shots are from the credits or anything.  It's just an arbitrary shift.  Anyway, that's the least of Arrow's problems.  Look how much more natural the colors are on the Criterion DVD, let alone the blu, compared to Arrow's, which seems to have a sickly green hue cast over the whole thing (admittedly, even the blu looks a bit overcast in the first set of shots, but I think that's meant to be the ugly halogen lights of the shop they're in).  Criterion had a much cleaner, more defined look in 2006.

And now, in 2020, it's so much more attractive to finally see it in HD, scanned in 2k from the original 35mm OCN.  Grain is robust and natural.  It's a bit pixelated when you zoom in, so the compression could maybe be slightly better, but you can't ask for much better without a UHD.  And the film's finally in a consistent 1.37:1 with no windowboxing.  All three discs include the original French mono in 2.0 with optional English subtitles, but the BD is now naturally lossless with an LPCM track.
2005 Arrow DVD on top; 2006 Criterion DVD mid; 2020 Criterion blu below.

The only extra Arrow's disc has is Rohmer's unrelated 1958 short film, Veronique and Her Dunce.  It's a charming, 17-minute comedy about a tutor struggling to teach a young boy determined not to learn.  And, no, it hasn't been included in the 2017 blu-ray box either.  However, coincidentally, it was also included on Criterion's Love In the Afternoon DVD and blu in their Moral Tales boxes. And here, the differences are much more subtle.  Both DVDs are fullscreen at 1.32:1 and seem to be using the same master.  The Criterion is a tiny bit smoother, with the Arrow hinting slightly at the film's original grain.  But it's so slight, the distinction is beyond trivial.  The blu-ray tweaks the AR to 1.33:1 but otherwise seems to be using the same SD master for a not much improved transfer.  In fact, the edge enhancement seems a little more pronounced on the blu, though maybe that's just the higher resolution preserving the flaws of the master a little better.  Anyway, for all intents and purposes, they're all interchangeable.  All three editions feature the original French mono in lossy 2.0 with optional English subtitles.
Both discs also have the trailer.  Now again, Criterion's discs are part of their big Moral Tales boxed sets, so it has a whole bunch of stuff.  But in terms of what's directly related to Love In the Afternoon, the only thing they really have is a 12-minute "video afterword" by Neil LaBute.  Unfortunately, it's non-anamorphic and interlaced (yes, on the blu, too), but it's interesting for LaBute fans to hear how Rohmer influenced his work.  So okay, now let's get into all the films that are in the 2017 set, including three that weren't in the 2005 one.
1976's The Marquis of O is a fascinating little film.  Usually Eric Rohmer writes and directs his own original screenplays, but this time he's adapted the 1808 novella by Heinrich von Kleist, with almost word-for-for dialogue and on-screen title cards.  It's a fascinating little story, a mystery with an obvious solution everyone will have solved before they've even finished setting it up.  The marquise is rescued from some ruffian soldiers by a Russian officer who defeats her father's army in Italy during the Napoleonic Wars.  Soon after, she becomes pregnant, but insists she never had any kind of sexual relations to have caused it.  Again, there's really no mystery as far as the audience is concerned, but it becomes an alluring comedy of manners and gripping moral debate as all of the characters puzzle over the case, concocting theories and accusations, falling in and out of love.  It's also Rohmer's only film spoken in German, rather than his native French, presumably a nod of extra faithfulness to the source material.
2005 Arrow DVD on top; 2017 Arrow blu below.
This is one of 2005 Arrow's best DVDs and therefore one of the closest to its 2017 blu-ray upgrade.  The framing is the same (although the DVD is slightly squeezed, showing the same information in 1.33:1 instead of the blu's 1.37:1) and the detail is strong.  I mean, sure, it's somewhat softer by virtue of being an SD DVD instead of an HD blu-ray, but as we move through this set, you're going to see this gulf is rarely so narrow.  The biggest difference here is the coloring.  This film has a yellowish, candlelit look to it for sure, but the DVD seems to have helped that along excessively by putting a yellow filter over everything, while the blu-ray lets the actual colors shot on film speak for themselves.  Look how the blu in the fire of the second shot has been completely washed away on the DVD, but restored on the blu.  And I don't mean to downplay the HD upgrade in terms of clarity and detail, look how natural the grain is on the blue wall in the first shot, as opposed to the random smudginess of the DVD.  The blu is beautiful, but this is a case where the DVD wasn't so bad either.  That wasn't always the case in the 2005 set.

Both discs feature the original German mono track in 2.0, though the blu is in uncompressed LPCM.  And both discs have optional English subtitles.
The only extra on the DVD is a non-anamorphic trailer, which disappointingly has no subtitles.  It's a strange, amusing trailer, so I was happy to see it translated (and anamorphic) on the blu.  Besides that, the blu gives us a nice but brief archived television with star Bruno Ganz (the internet's famously memed Hitler from Downfall).  It's about four minutes long, and that includes clips from the film, so it's pretty superficial, but better to have it than not.  And on the opposite end of the spectrum, we also get a long and in-depth television documentary on cinematographer Nestor Almendros.  An interviewer asks him about his life, but things get more interesting as he then provides a sort of audio commentary for clips of many of his films, from early student works to Kramer Vs. Kramer.  And yes, it comes near the end, but there's a decent chunk on The Marquis of O, so things don't feel too disconnected.  It's a fascinating piece, but I do wish Arrow had included at least some little thing, even if it was just one of their own employees getting in front of the camera for three or four minutes, just to talk about the original novel and how Rohmer's film relates to it.  Because that's both a very interesting story and kind of essential to fully understanding and relating to the film.  Yes, this film comes with a book; but something on the topic on video would've been great.  Still, compared to previous editions that gave us nothing, it's hard to justify griping, so I'll just move on.
Onto 1976, with another of Rohmer's adaptations, again quite faithful, this time of Chrétien de Troyes' unfinished 12th century romance, Perceval, the Story Of the Grail.  Take a look at my site's banner and take a guess if I like this film.  😉  It's got a fascinating look, based on the look of the more two dimensional art from that period, like Laurence Olivier's technicolor adaptation of Richard III, but taken even further.  Like with Marquis, Rohmer's faithfulness to centuries' old writing without updating it for modern sensibilities gives it a strangely enchanting appeal.  Even the film's score was played live alongside the camera during filming using authentic medieval instruments.  And as far as the basic story, hey, you can't go wrong with an Arthurian classic.

Now Perceval is one of the films added to Arrow's 2017 set that wasn't in their original 2005 box.  But if you want to see how far we've come with this film, I've got the old Fox Lorber DVD from 2000 [left].  It's what I've lived with all these years until this set, now long out of print, rare and still the only DVD edition of this film ever to be released in the USA.  Consequently, it goes for a lot of money used online.  You figure somebody state-side's gotta rescue this film eventually, right?  Especially now that these new masters are out there.  With the decline of physical media, though, maybe not...  But, hey.  Pretty much all of Rohmer's films are fullscreen and shot on 16mm, so maybe it's still good enough if you're not a hardcore AV nerd, right?
2000 Fox Lorber DVD on top; 2017 Arrow blu below.
Oh boy, no, wrong!  Yes, both films are fullscreen at about 1.33:1 (the DVD's a bit more like 1.31:1); but the DVD is still cropped around all four sides.  But that's nothing compared to the soft, fuzzy hue of the DVD's transfer.  It looks like it was taken from video tape (seriously, it may well have been), and one that had turned puke green at that.  Ugh.  In comparison, the blu looks immaculate, with so much sharp detail brought back to the picture.  That's partially due to the fact that this is one of the few films Rohmer actually shot in 35mm (so was The Marquis now that I think about it...), so there's a lot more to zero in on.  And this is a film where the colors and creative look are really central to its reputation, so it's a relief to see this new restoration (although to be fair, I've seen shots from the Potemkine set, and there's was pretty close to Arrow's, too).

Both films have the original French mono track in 2.0, with the blu's in LPCM.  But hey, why are the subtitles on the Fox Lorber screenshots?  Oh yeah, because they're burnt in on that disc, while they're removable on the blu.  One more point for them.
Unsurprisingly, Fox Lorber's disc is barebones.  But Arrow's come up with two, fantastic French TV docs made during the filming of Perceval that give fantastic, deep looks into the making of this movie.  Each one comes in at just under half an hour.  One focuses more on long interviews with Rohmer and the cast, while the other gets into the filming behind the scenes, showing us everything from the musical rehearsals, set building, even training the horses. And that one talks to more of the crew at the end.  It's awesome that all of this was recorded and preserved, and finally now subtitled into English (that's right, Potemkine, I want you guys to feel bad).
Now with The Aviator's Wife in 1981, we step into the first of the six Comedies and Proverbs films.  All six of these are in both sets, and settle in for a lot of 16mm now, and Rohmer's original scripts.  These are comedies more in the lighthearted classical sense of films that end happily rather than the modern Mike Myers getting kicked in the balls six times style, and each one opens with an actual on-screen proverb that sets up the themes of the story.  In this case, it's "one can't think of nothing."  The story is of a young philosophy student who sleeps days and is up nights, making it difficult for him to spend time with his girlfriend.  He becomes suspicious that she's cheating on him with her ex, a pilot, and he begins to follow him around the city, making a new friend along the way.
2005 Arrow DVD on top; 2017 Arrow blu below.
Here's another case where the aspect ratio is rather interesting.  We've gone from a standard (for classic Rohmer flicks) 1.33:1 on the DVD, to a wider 1.67:1 for the blu.  It crops the film vertically somewhat, but also restores some picture along the sides.  And watching the film, it really looks like that extra horizontal information is meant to be in the picture, and DVD has a lot of headroom, so I presume the blu's AR is correct.  The colors are definitely more natural on the blu, and while 16mm is never going to yield a heap more detail, it looks a lot better defined on the blu than the DVD, which has a slightly muddy, somewhat video-tape look to it.  All in all, it's quite a pleasing upgrade.

As we'll see is pretty consistently the case across these sets, both discs feature the original French mono track in 2.0, with the blu being presented in uncompressed LPCM.  And both discs have optional English subtitles.
In terms of extras, we get to one of the cooler features of Arrow's 2005 set: Eric Rohmer himself gives us a 10+ minute "introduction" to the film.  He does this for a bunch of these movies.  They're essentially mini-audio commentaries where he talks over footage from the film, and they're pretty great.  Also included is the original theatrical trailer, and yes, both of these have been carried over to the 2017 blu.

Now, on this same blu-ray they also include Rohmer's 1964 short film, Changing Landscape.  This is almost an industrial film, except at its heart, it's really Rohmer philosophically musing about the naturalism of man-made constructions.  It's mostly of interest for Rohmer devotees to not only see what else he's made, but to find the themes and echoes of this in his other work, and vice versa.  You wouldn't show it to your buddies for some casual entertainment.  This short was also in the 2005 set, but on their My Boyfriend's Girlfriend disc.  I suppose it's an arbitrary distinction, since it has no connection to either feature besides being made by the same filmmaker.  But it's on this blu, so let's compare them here.
2005 Arrow DVD on top; 2017 Arrow blu below.
This is clearly not a new restoration, and the two versions look downright identical.  It's anamorphic on the DVD and in HD on the blu, but I think it's safe to assume they just upscaled the same master.  And that's fine... an updated scan would've been nice, but considering it's just being presented as an extra and didn't look too bad to begin with, I can't say I'm disappointed.  It's a bonus; it looks fine.
Comedies & Proverbs #2 is 1982's A Good Marriage.  The proverb this time is "can any of us refrain from building castles in Spain?" a quote from one of Jean de La Fontaine's fables.  Béatrice Romand, who played the young girl in Rohmer's 1970 Moral Tale, Claire’s Knee, returns as an adult woman in an affair with a married man.  She ends it, resolving to put such caprices behind her and settle into a proper married life.  She and her best friend find an ideal candidate, a wealthy lawyer; but of course, plans have a way of going awry.  Can we create the realities we imagine through sheer determination, or is that just being stubborn and foolish?
2005 Arrow DVD on top; 2017 Arrow blu below.
Again, we go from fullframe (1.30:1) to widescreen (1.67:1), trading vertical information for horizontal.  Still 16mm, but the DVD definitely has a messy, low quality look to it that's really cleared up on the blu.  In terms of color, though, you'll notice this blu leans pretty green, though, which strikes me as a little dubious.  The saturation might be a bit heavy on the DVD, but otherwise its colors actually look more authentic for the most part.  Still, I wouldn't trade the color difference for the serious boost in HD quality, and it's not as noticeable when you're not standing them right next to screenshots from the warmer DVD; but we might've found the one visual weak spot in Arrow's killer set here.

And yup, original French mono track in 2.0, uncompressed on the blu, and optional English subtitles on both discs.
Once again, the 2005 disc gave us a nice Rohmer "introduction" commentary, plus the trailer, and again the 2017 blu-ray ported them both over.  The blu-ray has given us one more addition, a brief interview with star Andre Doussollier.  By brief, I mean very brief - it's less than three and a half minutes long, including a clip from the film.  It's another little archival clip from French television, like the Ganz one with The Marquis of O.  Not exactly a boatload of content, but a happy inclusion none the less.

And hoo, boy.  I'm starting to run out of steam here, and we're only about halfway through this impressive collection of films.  So I think we'll break this up into two parts, ending the first part here, and to be continued in Part 2 coming in the immediate future...

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