This masterful adaptation of Prévost's 1731 novel Manon Lescaut marks quite a departure for Henri-Georges Clouzot, the French director lauded for his acclaimed thrillers The Wages of Fear and Les Diaboliques. A classical tragic romance transposed to a World War II setting, Clouzot's film follows the travails of Manon (Cécile Aubry), a village girl accused of collaborating with the Nazis who is rescued from imminent execution by a former French Resistance fighter (Michel Auclair). The couple move to Paris, but their relationship turns stormy as they struggle to survive, resorting to profiteering, prostitution and even murder. Eventually escaping to Palestine, the pair attempt a treacherous desert crossing in search of the happiness which seems to forever elude them... Clouzot's astute portrayal of doomed young lovers caught in the disarray of post-war France wowed the jury of the 1949 Venice Film Festival, where it won the Golden Lion award. Unjustly overshadowed ever since by the director's suspense films, Manon now returns to screens in glorious High Definition with a selection of elucidating extras.
Arrow Academy presents Henri-Georges Clouzot’s Manon on Blu-ray in its original aspect ratio of 1.37:1. It is encoded at 1080p/24hz on this dual-layer. The master was supplied by Les Films du Jeudi.
In general the image is very pleasing but it has a few shortcomings. The restoration notes found in Arrow’s booklet don’t offer up any details as to where it has been sourced but it doesn’t look to be from the negative. In general the digital presentation is clean and clear, does render grain well (when it looks like the source allows it), delivers details as well as it can, all while retaining a photographic look with excellent contrast and gray tones. Throughout most of the film’s running time the image never comes off razor-sharp, and the finer details and textures (like cross hatching on a jacket) get lost in the mix, leading to a slight haze over everything. It’s only during the last portion of the film, which takes place in the desert, where clarity improves, and the finer details of the landscape leap off of the screen.
Other little things pop up, as well. There are noticeable issues when scenes transition, the source print showing more obvious wear, contrast dropping, and grain looking a bit messier. There are other slight shifts in quality throughout the rest of the film as well, and frames appear to be missing in a handful of spots. But, having said that, for most of its running time the image is very clean, free of damage outside of what has already been mentioned.
In the end the image looks good, looking to be held back more by source materials than much else. The restoration has generously cleaned up what could be and the digital encode is excellent, leading to what is at least a very film-like image in the end.
Arrow offers the films original French soundtrack in lossless PCM. It’s age shows a bit (it’s flat and lacks fidelity) but it’s clean, free of severe background noise and damage.
Arrow throws a couple of supplements on. There’s an interview with Henri-Georges Clouzot, conducted around 1969 or so, for an episode for the French television program Bibliothèque de poche, filmed as the director stopped over in Saint-Tropez to visit the set of Terrence Young’s The Christmas Tree. The segment, running about 46-minutes, heavily focuses on literature, Clouzot and the interviewers discussing what he’s currently reading, share thoughts on a number of works, Clouzot’s many adaptations, and his thoughts maybe making a film out of something regarded as “a masterpiece” (which the director doesn’t seem all that keen on). It’s a bit long-winded but interesting enough, though I liked the change of pace when the crew go visit the set of <I>The Christmas Tree</I>, where the interviewers then ask actor William Holden what he likes to read (unsurprisingly it’s new articles and history books).
Geoff Andrew also offers his own 22-minute appreciation for the film, talking about the original story and Clouzot’s adaptation (which updates the story to WWII), with a focus on its structure and the final act. Arrow then includes an image gallery, which is self-playing, presenting around 63 images and running 10-minutes if you let it run, though it offers chapter stops so you can quickly skip through it. The included booklet then features a short essay on the film by Ginette Vincendeau, who offers an analysis of the film and some of its aspects that haven’t aged all that well.
Altogether the material is fine but nothing stands out all that much.
With the film having limited availability before this edition, Arrow's Blu-ray saves the film from obscurity and offers a nice looking picture, limited more by source, but leaves one wanting in the supplement department.