Criterion’s edition of François Truffaut’s The Last Metro is presented in its original aspect ratio of approximately 1.66:1 on the first dual-layer disc of this two-disc set. The image has been enhanced for widescreen televisions.
I’ve seen quite a few of Truffaut’s films but hadn’t managed to get around to this film until now so I can’t comment on how it’s been presented before and can’t say if this is a completely true representation of how the film is supposed to look. The image on this release is quite “warm” with a heavy yellow-red tinge to it. Considering the colours used in the film (mostly warn reds, oranges and yellows) I assume this is what the filmmakers intended, and interviews found on the disc suggest the director of photography, Nestor Almendros, was going for a red monochrome look. But this yellow tinge does affect skin colours, which can make the actors look a little jaundice at times.
Past that, though, the image is very impressive. It’s consistently sharp with an amazing amount of detail (that I’m sure will only be enhanced on the simultaneous Blu-ray release.) Colours, are bright and bold, with very strong reds and no smearing. There are occasional issues with noise and artifacts, though. The reds are quite strong in some sequences and it can be the reds that are the biggest offender in this regard, presenting a bit of noise and some distortion around the edges. The opening title sequence, which has a bright red background is where it’s at its worst, with a blocky effect surrounding the titles. Thankfully this is the worst it gets and the rest of the film isn’t as noticeable.
The print, on the other hand, is in perfect shape. Other than sequences where stock footage was used I cannot say I noticed a single instance of damage. There is some grain, but there are no bits of debris, not blotches, no scratches, not even a vertical line. Released in 1980 the film can probably be considered somewhat new (when placed alongside other titles released by the DVD company,) but the print used for this DVD appears vastly superior in comparison to some of their releases of films made in the past few years.
Despite some issues with artifacts related to the rather bold reds (and again I suspect the yellow tinge is intentional but felt I should mention it,) it’s a great looking image much better than I was expecting (some of Truffaut’s other colour films can come off a little muted and I was expecting that here as well.) I have not received the Blu-ray release but based on the picture here it should look outstanding. As it stands on DVD, though, the video presentation is incredible. 8/10
All DVD screen captures are presented in their original size from the source disc. Images have been compressed slightly to conserve space. While they are not exact representations they should offer a general idea of overall video quality.
Criterion has put together a rather loaded two-disc set for the film, spreading features over both discs.
The first disc contains the film and then two audio commentaries. The first commentary presents film scholar Annette Insdorf, who has written about Truffaut and (as she constantly reminds us) acted as translator for Truffaut, even translating for him after a screening of this film in New York. I know I’ve listened to solo tracks by her before but can’t recall if I enjoyed them but the one presented here is simply okay. I realize that with scholarly tracks I usually only enjoy them if I’ve felt I’ve actually learned something rather intriguing, found something in the film I wouldn’t have otherwise noticed, gained a new appreciation for it, or it convinced me that a film I used to loathe was actually something special. I actually enjoyed the film so the last two don’t really count, but I can’t say the track exposed anything new. She places the film in its historical context, explaining some details about France during the German occupation and the meaning of the title. Since she worked with Truffaut personally during the period of this film she does have a lot of details about his intentions and influences (other than Lubitsch and Hitchcock being influential directors, some of their techniques even appearing in the film, it turns out the film The Sorrow and the Pity was what pushed Truffaut to make The Last Metro) and she also points out some of the more personal elements Truffaut injected into the film or just helped him make the film. I guess I’m a little mixed on the track as a whole. It’s not bad and is thankfully not dull, but I don’t feel I took all that much from it.
The second audio commentary presents actor Gerard Depardieu and historian Jean-Pierre Azema (and Truffaut biographer Serge Toubiana.) The track is presented in French with English subtitles. This one I was actually looking forward to and in the end I have mixed feelings about it. First the grouping is rather odd. While Toubiana makes sense as a moderator, the pairing of Depardieu and Azema doesn’t make sense. I’m not sure if Azema and Depardieu were recorded together but it doesn’t matter much. Azema and Toubiana actually take up most of the track, and Depardieu only rings in once in a while, mainly during the last half of the track. Depardieu only chimes in about certain sequences in the film, working with Truffaut, and some of the other performers. Azema seems to only be there to confirm that the film is fairly accurate in its representation of its subject matter. He does expand on a lot of things, though, getting into more detail about the laws for theaters, film, and media in general, talks about the newspapers mentioned in the film, the resistance, and also gets into the fashions of the period, even hair styles. I’m a history buff so I did enjoy some of the content, but it is weak, filled with dead spots, and should have had more Depardieu (his opening, where he talks about Truffaut’s films being too “bourgeois” and that The 400 Blows was overblown, made me hope for more from him.)
That closes off the first disc. The second dual-layer disc contains the remainder of the supplements.
The first extra is a deleted scene running about 5-minutes. The notes state that Truffaut removed the scene just before the film was released since he felt the film was too long. It was apparently re-inserted in a 1982 home video release. Criterion has kept it separate from the film. Unfortunately the scene, in French, has no subtitles. It looks to have been restored (it looks pretty close to the picture on the feature) and is presented in anamorphic widescreen, but for whatever reason, whether a glitch or they simply didn’t feel like translating it, there are no subtitles. The sequence involves the screenwriter, Valentin, that pops up during the film.
Interviews take up a majority of the second disc. First up is an 11-minute excerpt from a 1980 interview with Truffaut, Depardieu, and Catherine Deneuve on a French television program called Les nouveaux rendez-vous. It appears to be a promotional bit for the film. There’s discussion about research done on the film, Truffaut’s childhood, but a majority of the interview focuses on the two stars.
The next interview, again from 1980, runs 6-and-a-half minutes from a program called Passez donc me voir and features Truffaut and actor Jean Poiret, talking about the film and their memories of the occupation. The interview was done just before the film’s opening (and has an odd café setting) and might be a promotional bit but I found their reminisces, though short, worth viewing.
Performing The Last Metro presents interviews with some of the actors that play smaller roles in the film, including Andrea Ferreol, Sabine Haudepin, Paulette Dubost, and Alain Tasma (who was actually an assistant director but was cast in the film for “economic reasons”.) There’s nothing really illuminating here but the four fondly recall actually being cast for the film and the working with Truffaut. Tasma has the most humourous comments as he recalls his performance, which he says was so bad that not only did Truffaut cut out some of his scenes, he also cut out some of his scenes before they were actually filmed.
Visualizing The Last Metro presents the two assistants to director of photography Nestor Almendros, Florent Bazin and Tessa Racine. During this 9-and-a-half minute interview the two discuss his intended look for the film. It sounds as though Truffaut had something closer to a black-and-white film in mind, but Almendros went with a red monochrome look, having a majority of the sets painted warm yellows and reds. They also talk about the lighting, some of which was done by candle light. They mention they were unsure about how it was going to look while filming, but the dailies always looked amazing. They also share some funny anecdotes about Almendros’ absent-minded nature. I liked this feature, and it was a nice intro to the next feature.
Working with Truffaut: Nestor Almendros is a 28-minute interview with the director of photography taken in 1986 for a documentary. Apparently only excerpts were used for the documentary but Criterion has put the remaining source materials together for this release. It presents Almendros quickly going over his career in France (having moved there from Cuba after seeing The 400 Blows) having worked with Eric Rohmer and then François Truffaut. He talks about filming The Wild Child in black and white (something Almendros wasn’t fond of) and then moving on to colour films such as Two English Girls and The Green Room. He talks about his techniques, working with Truffaut, and tricks of the trade. I rather liked this interview and I was quite pleased that Criterion went to the trouble to put this together.
A 12-minute short film by Truffaut and Jean-Luc Godard called Une histoire d’eau is surprisingly also included. While it doesn’t really have much to do with The Last Metro it’s a nice addition, showing off the two directors’ early style. The film, which is of course rather playful, follows a couple trying to escape a flooded France.
The disc then closes with a theatrical trailer. Oddly the colours look a little more natural in the trailer.
A slim booklet is also included in the digipak packaging, containing an essay on the film by Armond White, which isn’t that bad a read.
It’s loaded with material but it’s all pretty middling in quality. The commentaries do have some good material but as a whole could have been more and the deleted scene is missing subtitles. The interview thankfully offer some excellent information about the making of the film. 7/10