THE LAST METRO – THE CRITERION COLLECTION #462 (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)
March 24, 2009 by Dennis Amith
“A romantic and beautiful film from one of the founders of the French new wave of films, iconic director Francois Truffaut’s award winning film “THE LAST METRO” is given THE CRITERION COLLECTION treatment showcasing the well-thought and well-planned script of Truffaut but also the beautiful cinematography by Nestor Almendros. But the film is much more beautiful thanks to the outstanding performances by Catherine Deneuve and Gerard Depardieu. The Blu-ray picture quality for a film made in 1980 is vibrant and beautiful! Another awesome release from THE CRITERION COLLECTION!”
Images courtesy of © 2009 The Criterion Collection. 1980 Les Films du Carrosse. All Rights Reserved.
TITLE: THE LAST METRO – THE CRITERION COLLECTION #462
DURATION: 131 Minutes
BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: Color, Monaural, In French with English Subtitles, 1:66:1 Aspect Ratio
COMPANY: The Criterion Collection
RELEASE DATE: March 24, 2009
Directed by Francois Truffaut
Written by Francois Truffaut and Suzanne Schiffman
Cinematography by Nestor Almendros
Produced by Francois Truffaut
Original Music by Georges Delerue
Film Editing by Martine Barraque
Production Design by Jean-Pierre Kohut-Svelko
Costume Design by Lisele Roos
Catherine Deneuve as Marion Steiner
Gerard Depardieu as Bernard Granger
Jean Poiret as Jean-Loup Cottins
Andrea Ferreol as Arlette Guillaume
Sabine Haudepin as Nadine Marsac
Jean-Louis Richard as Daxiat
Rene Dupre as Valentin
Maurice Risch as Raymond Boursier
Heinz Bennent as Lucas Steiner
Jean-Pierre Klein as Christian Leglise
Renata as Greta Borg
Laszlo Szabo as Lieutenant Bergen
Richard Bohringer as Gestapo Officer
Gerard Depardieu and Catherine Deneuve star as members of a French theater company living under German occupation during World War II in Francois Truffaut’s gripping, humanist character study. Against all odds-a Jewish theater manager in hiding, an actor who is in the Resistance, increasingly restrictive Nazi oversight – the troupe believes the show must go on. Equal parts romance, historical tragedy and even comedy, The Last Metro is Truffaut’s ultimate tribute to art overcoming adversity.
A romantic and beautiful film from one of the founders of the French new wave of films, iconic director Francois Truffaut’s award winning film “THE LAST METRO” is given THE CRITERION COLLECTION treatment showcasing the well-thought and well-planned script of Truffaut but also the beautiful cinematography by Nestor Almendros. But the film is much more beautiful thanks to the outstanding performances by Catherine Deneuve and Gerard Depardieu.
The film takes place during World War II, Nazi Germany has occupied Northern France and the French are barraged with air raids and with electricity going on and off, many seek refuge at theaters for warmth and entertainment.
At the Montmarte Theatre, which plays were written, directed and owned by a well-known Jewish man named Lucas Steiner (Heinz Bennent) who is married to Marion Steiner (Catherine Deneuve). Marion continues her husband’s business and activities since he had to flee from France to South Africa because of his Jewish ethnicity and to avoid being placed in a concentration camp.
Marion and her director Jean-Loup Cottins (Jean Poiret) are currently hiring actors and actresses for their upcoming play titled “The Vanishing Woman”. One of the new men who has is to be the lead man in the play is Bernard Granger (Gerard Depardieu) who is a flirt who tries to get some action from set designer Arlette Guillaume (Andrea Ferreol) but to no avail.
Joining Granger on stage is the starstruck young actress Nadine Marsac (Sabine Haudepin) who is so busy auditioning for other roles while doing her role for the play, costume designer Germaine Fabre (Paulette Dubost) who likes to talk about her past romantic adventures and young child actor Christian Leglise (Jean-Pierre Klein) who joins the colorful cast.
Everyone is busy with preparing for their roles, especially Marion who must deal with multitasking as acting director, stage manager and more. But what many people do not know is that in the cellar of MonteMarte Theatre is where her husband Lucas is living.
Pretending that he has fled the country, at first, Marion tries to find a way for her husband to escape France but with the Nazi Germans everywhere, their plans are dashed. So, to keep busy, Lucas finds a way to listen to the rehearsals and also the acting and thus direct “The Vanishing Woman” from the cellar.
Meanwhile, bigoted critic Daxiat (Jean Louis Richard) tries to get closed to Marion in trying to find out where her husband Lucas really is. Using his own way of trying to push Marion over the edge of showing that without Lucas, the Germans can take over the theatre, unless she helps him.
Of course, Marion doesn’t believe him. Meanwhile, Granger also has some secrets.
He is helping the resistance by building bombs such as one created from a record player in the theatre and giving it to resistance members to cause some destruction.
But all is not good as Daxiat writes a scathing review of “The Vanishing Woman” and the Gestapo want to search the cellar of the Theatre. Meanwhile, Steiner becomes obsessive towards the play and wanting to change it but having to be confined in the cellar without sharing his wife’s happiness is starting to drive a wedge into their relationship, especially when Steiner becomes more interested in writing a new play, Marion starts to grow a bit lonely.
“THE LAST METRO” showcases Deneuve and Depardieu’s great chemistry and acting. Both talents were just magnificent in the way they portrayed their characters. Deneuve moreso, as the emotions on her face shows us strength, compassion but also elegance and sexiness. This in combination with the variety of the characters but the way the film was written and how the film was shot. Everything came together as Francois Truffaut pays his homage to the theatre but showing how things were at that time in France during the occupation.
VIDEO & AUDIO:
“THE LAST METRO” is a film that has been digitally remastered for “THE CRITERION COLLECTION” release. The film is now 30-years-old is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1:66:1. The high-definition digital transfer was created on a Spirit Datacine from a 35 mm interpositive from the original negative. Thousands of instances of dirt, debris and scratches were removed using the MTI Digital Restoration System.
As Truffaut was an iconic director for his well-planned ideas up to its overall execution, his partnership with cinematographer Nestor Almendros brought beautiful imagery. “THE LAST METRO” featured a monochrome red. In fact, the film does not utilize so many colors. It was Almendros who knew what he wanted on camera, indoors to focus on monochrome reds, lighting to be natural, thus trying to capture the flame of candle reflecting on a person’s face. The colors are vibrant for a 1980 film. Some parts with grain but nothing to be alarmed about it. The film looks absolutely gorgeous in the Blu-ray release.
As for the audio, the soundtrack was mastered at 24-bit from a 35 mm magnetic soundtrack. The audio is an uncompressed monaural soundtrack. Audio restoration helped reduce the amount of clicks, pops, hiss and crackle. Audio is primarily dialogue but overall audio is clear.
The film also features a new and improved English subtitle translation.
For the special features included in the Blu-ray disc version for “THE LAST METRO – THE CRITERION COLLECTION” are:
- TWO AUDIO COMMENTARY TRACKS – The new 2008 audio commentary by Annette Insdorf (author of “Francois Truffaut”) is a very good commentary. Insdorf comments on each scene with no pausing and literally knowing what she is talking about. Informative and definitely giving the viewer a chance to see things through the eyes of Truffaut. A wonderful commentary track. The second commentary track features by actor Gerard Depardieu, historian Jean-Pierre Azema and Truffaut biographer Serge Troubiana. Another wonderful commentary track. Another informative and wonderful commentary track as we are able to get some good insight through Depardieu but also get a Truffaut perspective from Troubiana but also the occupation of France through historian Jean-Pierre Azema.
- Deleted Scene – The sole deleted scene included on this Blu-ray features a five minute scene with Valentin. The scene was cut because it made the film too long but it goes into Valentin wanting Marion to be in his final film since he is dying. But because her obligation to the play, the crew and also her husband (trying to hide him), as much as she would like to be part of his film, she can not.
- Les Nouveaux Rendez-vous – A near 11-minute interview from a French television show “Les Nouveaux Rendez-vous” with Francois Truffaut, Catherine Deneuve, Gerard Depardieu. A very interesting featurette as Depardieu talked and smoked and just feeling great to be part of a film that would depict theatre of that time. Very informative.
- Passez Donc Me Voir – A six minute featurette featuring Francois Truffaut and Jean Poiret excerpted from the television show “Passez Donc Me Voir”. Another informative film, more-so for Jean Poiret and him working with Truffaut.
- Performing “THE LAST METRO” – A 15-minute featurette that features actors Andrea Ferreol, Sabine Haudepin and Paulette Dubost along with second assistant director Alain Tasma (who played the character of Marc). The talent talk about working with Truffaut and being part of his past films and how wonderful it was to work with him and the freedom they had to be their character for the film. Also, how Ferreol helped cast Heinz Bennent (who played Lucas Steiner) for the film by recommending him to Truffaut. Tasma talked about how he tried out for Jean-Loup’s character but he was too short. Sabine gave good insight since she was in several Truffaut films.
- Visualizing “THE LAST METRO” – A near 10-minute featurette with interviews with camera assistants Forent Bazin and Tessa Racine in which they discuss working on the film especially working with cinematographer Nestor Almendros. What was interesting is that with all the color and beauty of the film, when Nestor was filming, he lost his contacts several times and was essentially blind. Without using a light meter, his staff was just amazed how he was able to get the lighting right in the final cut. A very informative featurette.
- Working with Truffaut: Nestor Almendros – A near half-hour featurette that was filmed for Rainier Gansera’s 1986 documentary “Arbeiten mit Francois Truffaut”. Truffaut expert Robert Fischer pieced together all elements from the actual interview by Gansera into one featurette for THE CRITERION COLLECTION. This featurette is about how Nestor Almendros became friends with Truffaut, why he moved to France. Almendros talked about Truffaut’s style which includes his concern of shooting the film a certain way because he knew his International fans watch his films with subtitles, so Truffaut and Almendros worked together in making sure the background below where the subtitles would be shown can be readable. But what is more special is how Almendros enjoyed working with Truffaut from the beginning and to be there for Truffaut who died in 1984. Informative and just a very special insight to Truffaut and being a cinematographer for several of his films. A wonderful featurette!
- Une Histoire d’Eau – “The Story of Water”, a 1958 short film (almost 13 minutes) co-directed by Truffaut and Jean-Luc Godard. An enjoyable B&W short about a woman who wants to get to France but because the place has been flooded, she has quite an adventure in getting from her home to Paris and get near the Eiffel Tower.
- Theatrical Trailer – The trailer for the film
And similar to other releases from “THE CRITERION COLLECTION”, a booklet including an essay by critic Armond White is included. White’s essay on “THE LAST METRO” is well-written and a great addition to the release.
“THE LAST METRO” is among the several award-winning films from Francois Truffaut. The film meant to be a trilogy of paying homage to theatre is literally a beautiful film capturing the occupation of France and the secrets held by the various characters involved in the play.
The term “Last Metro” is about the 11:00 p.m. curfew that French had to abide during the German occupation and for those who went to watch a film or watch a play at the theatre, they needed to get to the final boarding of the train (metro) during the curfew or else…
Catherine Deneuve was simply stunning as Marion Steiner. Her performance was just magnificent as body language and facial expressions really made her character seem real. As for Gerard Depardieu, despite being a man who wants to have some fun with the women, he’s able to showcase himself in a variety of levels as an actor. Both had magnificent performances that really carried the film quite far.
Truffaut films…early to few of his later works are just wonderful. “THE LAST METRO”is all about the layers of the characters, small complexities and details are included and you have to credit his partnership with cinematographer Nestor Almendros for successfully achieving the transition of Truffaut’s perspective into film.
From the use of colors of the monochrome red for the interiors to the bluish hues outdoors, the use of natural lighting and keeping things dark to make sure that the film shared that sense of ambiance as people who were living during the occupation can probably relate to.
Despite the bombshell dropped at the ending of the film (something that I was not really expecting), as I watched the film again, especially listening to both commentaries, it helped give me an understanding of the characters. Lucas and his love for the theatre. Was his love for Marion genuine, could he see beyond her being just a well-known actress who is now running his theatre or was it because she is epitomizes the female actress who lives for the theatre (who is essentially doing it for him). I started to see how both characters have grown lonely.
But the bombshell of the film is just one layer to “THE LAST METRO”. The storyline is about secrets but also people living during a time where it was important for them to entertain because “World War II” and occupation by Nazi Germans and having to worry about air raids and being accused of being German or something anti-Nazi at that time. These people lived for the theatre, lived for entertaining and Truffaut wanted to celebrate that in this film and eventually succeeds.
“THE LAST METRO” is a beautiful French film that deserved THE CRITERION COLLECTION treatment. It’s beauty as a well-told and well shot film has won plenty of awards but now with the CRITERION treatment, giving cinema fans a chance to discover one of the treasures of Francois Truffaut.
This Blu-ray release of “THE LAST METRO” looks absolutely magnificent and overall, this film is highly recommended!
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