The final film in Criterion’s The Essential Jacques Demy box set, Une chambre en ville is presented in the aspect ratio of 1.66:1 in this dual-format edition. The dual-layer Blu-ray disc presents a new 1080p/24hz high-definition transfer while the first dual-layer DVD presents a standard-definition version enhanced for widescreen televisions.
Arguably the darkest film tonally it’s also oddly a rather bright film aesthetically. It has a rather bleak looking black and white opening but then quickly moves to colour. The colour scheme is playful, similar to what was in Umbrellas of Cherbourg, with brightly decorated backgrounds (usually thanks to some vibrant wall paper) with complimentary foreground colours found in costumes and objects. Colours are again brilliantly rendered, looking vibrant without any bleeding. Blacks are decent though some shadows can crush out details.
Detail is again exceptional, and the image remains perfectly sharp throughout. Film grain is present and looks good, and artifacts are not an issue at all. The print has a few minor marks and some minor pulsating present, but otherwise the source is in near-perfect condition. The DVD’s transfer is, expectedly, not as crisp and clean and the colours don’t have the exact same effect, but it still looks sharp and presents a fairly high amount of detail.
Altogether it’s another exceptional transfer, probably the biggest surprise for me in the set. 9/10
All Blu-ray screen captures come from the source disc and have been shrunk from 1920x1080 to 900x506 and slightly compressed to conserve space. While they are not exact representations they should offer a general idea of overall video quality.
The supplements here nicely round out the set, offering more of an all-encompassing look at Demy’s career as a whole.
First James Quandt provides a 61-minute visual essay entitled Jacques Demy A to Z, going over the director’s work and influences using the letters of the alphabet (for example: “B” for “Bresson,” “G” for “Godard”, “H” for “Happy Endings”, “J” for “Johnny Guitar”, and so on). He of course covers Demy’s love for Hollywood musicals, his use of colour and similar use of black and white. He also addresses a few other random subjects from his films, like who was the “Lola” murdered in The Young Girls of Rochefort and also talks a bit about the English version of that film, which there seems to be very little material on. What was actually most interesting about the feature, though, is clips used from his films: Lengthy clips from an obviously restored A Slightly Pregnant Man are scattered throughout fairly liberally and mentioned a lot, almost making me wonder if it was maybe considered a possible inclusion in the set. Model Shop is also mentioned extensively but it’s only presented in film stills.
A nice companion to this overview of Demy’s career are excerpts from a 1987 Q&A session with Jacques Demy at the Midnight Sun Film Festival in Finland. After he mentions trying to sleep when the sun is still out he talks about the stories that interest them and why he’s fascinated with them. He then talks about a few of his films individually and what attracted him to make them, as well as the difficulty he had getting Une chambre en ville made. It’s clearly edited with quite a few obvious gaps but it’s still a great inclusion with the director looking back over his career.
We then get another film by Agnès Varda from 1993, this one an all-encompassing look at the man’s work and life, this one called The World of Jacques Demy. I feel like I’ve seen so many of these types of documentaries lately, primarily in DVD/Blu-ray features and it can get a little tiresome. They all usually follow a certain pattern, chronicling the subject’s life from their rise to their fall, then maybe some comeback and then concluding maybe with their death. Though as a whole this 91-minute film does that it somehow feels rather refreshing. For starters Varda actually doesn’t chronicle his work and life in chronological order and instead jumps around in time to suit a more thematic purpose. I found this aspect made the film a bit more energetic than what I was expecting. It has a couple of great surprises in it as well, the biggest possibly being Varda was able to talk to Harrison Ford about his brief work with Demy: Ford was who Demy wanted for Model Shop (the role went to 2001’s Gary Lockwood instead) but the studio thought Ford would never make it in Hollywood. He shares a wonderful story about actually visiting a sex shop, possibly for some sort of inspiration, and the two were unaware of what to do. Though I think it’s hard overall for Varda to separate herself from the subject (there’s a feeling of “rose coloured glasses” at times) I found it a rather enjoyable and loving portrait of Demy, nicely mixed with new interviews, archival ones, and footage from his films. And as a bonus the film has been meticulously restored itself and the transfer is a solid one.
Criterion then includes another restoration demonstration, this one running about 6-minutes. Restorer Thierry Delannoy comments on how a digital restoration shouldn’t look digital, that it should look like a 35mm projection, because otherwise it would betray the film. (Really wish he had some say on Lola.) It’s a similar presentation to the ones one Cherbourg and Rochefort, showing us some quick fixes to the film, removing scratches and marks, making it look oh-so-easy. Except for an example where missing frames are “replaced”, which can take a half day’s worth of work, but seeing them work you can see they have a real respect for the film and do not want to show they’ve tampered with anything. There’s also a little bit on the sound work and some before-and-after shots for the colour correction. This proves to be one of the more fascinating restorations found in the set as a whole.
The supplements then close with the film’s theatrical trailer.
Two DVDs are also included here. The first dual-layer disc of course includes the film plus the visual essay, restoration, trailer, and Demy interview. The second-dual layer disc is dedicated solely to the two Varda films found in the set. While it of course includes The World of Jacques Demy it also includes Varda’s 1993 documentary The Young Girls Turn 25, which was also found on the Blu-ray disc for The Young Girls of Rochefort. The 66-minute documentary revisits Rochefort during a festival celebrating the 25th anniversary of the film. She captures plenty of the festivities while also getting interviews with many of the locals and members of the cast and crew (including Deneuve) who all recall the experience. It also shows more English footage from a musical number. It had a profound impact on the town and the documentary really captures that and is all the more fun because of it. As a nice bonus it has also been beautifully restored, where even the production footage looks amazing. A great inclusion.
Though the supplements for this title are strong the big dissatisfaction is that there is actually very little about Une chambre en ville itself, which is incredibly disappointing. In the set this film really sticks out: though the other films do deal with issues, from social to political, this one is the most upfront about it and its tone greatly differs. I found it a rather fascinating film and to have more about it, even some scholarly material, would have been most welcome. In this regard the supplements disappoint but separating them from that they do manage to offer the strongest examination of the director within the set. 8/10