La peau douce

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Synopsis

A successful academic’s life is changed forever when a whirlwind affair throws his life into disarray, in François Truffaut’s celebrated romantic drama.

Strongly influenced by the work of Jean Renoir and Alfred Hitchcock, La Peau douce is one of Truffaut’s most subtle and engaging films - an exhilarating and suspenseful vision of masculinity in crisis.

Featuring a trio of exceptional lead performances and bold Raoul Coutard camerawork, this underrated masterpiece thrills and beguiles all the way until its shocking conclusion.

Picture 8/10

BFI's new Blu-ray edition for François Truffaut’s Le peau douce (The Soft Skin) offers the film on a dual-layer disc in its original aspect ratio of 1.66:1. The presentation has been encoded at 1080p/24hz and is sourced from a 2K restoration performed by MK2 and scanned from the 35mm original negative. The disc is a UK release and locked to region B.

BFI is using the same high-definition master most previous Blu-ray editions have used, including Criterion’s own region A edition. Though this one may be encoded in a slightly better manner in comparison to Criterion’s, the improvement ends up being negligible onscreen and the end results end up looking about the same.

The restoration work is still impressive and outside of some very faint tramlines—scratches going up and down the frame across multiple frames—and minor specs and scratches, nothing stands out, the film looking incredibly clean. Contrast is still excellent and range in the grayscale is still rather wide. Blacks look good, shadow detail being mostly strong, while whites still look bright without blooming.

The digital presentation is also still good, though shows its age a bit more. Despite this, the end image shows an incredible level of detail where the film allows, but there can be a slight softness at times, a softness that I think is intentional and inherent to the photography. Grain is rendered well enough, though can look a bit noisy in the sky at times, and clumpy in a few other areas. Criterion’s presentation shows the same thing.

In all it’s still a sharp presentation all these years later but doesn’t offer what I would call any sort of real improvement over Criterion’s own edition.

Audio 6/10

BFI’s edition presents a 2-channel PCM monaural soundtrack. As with the video I can’t say the audio here shows a notable improvement, but for what it is it sounds perfectly fine. Dialogue and music offer adequate range, though with a slight edge when it reaches for higher moments. Damage isn’t an issue, no pops or cracks apparent. It also doesn’t sound as though heavy filtering has been applied.

Extras 6/10

Criterion’s special edition left some room for improvement, but it ends up feeling stacked compared to BFI’s. BFI does include the same French-language audio commentary, featuring screenwriter Jean-Louis Richard and Truffaut scholar Serge Toubiana, presented again with optional English subtitles. The track is essentially a conversation between the two participants, Toubiana asking Richard questions around Truffaut’s intentions and how the director went about filming certain sequences, while also sharing his thoughts around the film’s flow, its changes in tempo and tone, and what he sees as the influence Hitchcock’s work had over Truffaut, at least at the time. To this point Richard mentions there was a period where they watched a Hitchcock film every day, so it's clear Hitchcock was almost certainly on his mind. The track tapers off a little as it gets closer to the end, but Richard does share some good stories about the production, one story in particular focusing on his small role as the womanizer that approaches Nelly Benedetti’s character, and he recalls how someone off screen ended up coming to her aid when they saw him harassing her. I still wanted a more academic track but this one is a bit of fun and covers the film’s production nicely.

BFI's edition then includes a handful of features exclusive to their edition, including early footage of locations that would be used in the film, filmed during the early 20th century and stored in the BFI archives. This material includes around 53-seconds worth of footage taken off of the coast of Lisbon, along with 8-minutes' worth of footage filmed in Paris. In the case of the latter the footage is divided between material filmed on the streets and material filmed from a small airship. Also exclusive to this edition is a video essay created by Pasquale Iannone, which "was originally screened [remotely] as a part of a Truffaut study day, held at BFI Southbank, London, on 29 January2022." The 18-minute piece focuses on how both Roberto Rossellini (representing realism) and Alfred Hitchcock (representing Hollywood) had influenced Truffaut's work, Iannone referencing writings by Truffaut (and others) as well as interviews with the director. He even looks at a few sequences, including a couple from The 400 Blows, pointing out how they play out or how they are framed, and how it all calls back to those filmmakers. I found it a rather interesting piece, especially since I've seen The 400 Blows so many times and must confess that, in the one sequence, I never really paid much attention to how the camera moves or how specific characters are framed, all in an attempt to build suspense.

The disc then closes with a trailer.

The included booklet then features two essays: an excellent and lengthy one on the film written by Catherine Wheatley, and another about Truffaut's work as a critic and writer on film, written by Kieron McCormack. The booklet also features notes on the supplements found on this release. The disc isn't packed by any means but the booklet and its academic essays do make up a little for it.

Closing

The presentation still holds up well enough all these years later, but the film would greatly benefit from an all-new scan and restoration.

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Directed by: François Truffaut
Year: 1964
Time: 117 min.
 
Series: BFI
Licensor: MK2
Release Date: June 06 2022
MSRP: £16.99
 
Blu-ray
1 Disc | BD-50
1.66:1 ratio
French 2.0 PCM Mono
Subtitles: English
Region B
 
 Feature commentary by La Peau douce co-writer Jean-Louis Richard, with contributions from film critic and journalist Serge Toubiana   Between Masters at War: Truffaut and the Lessons of Alfred Hitchcock and Roberto Rossellini (2022, 18 mins): film academic Pasquale Iannone considers how the work of Truffaut was influenced by two great directors   Paris Through the Lens (1900-1910, 9 mins): precious glimpses of the sprawling city Truffaut loved from the BFI National Archive   Old Portugal at the Ocean’s Edge (1986, 1 min): mesmerising early film fragments, shot near Lisbon long before it provided the setting for illicit love in La Peau douce   Original theatrical trailer   **FIRST PRESSING ONLY** Illustrated booklet including essays by Catherine Wheatley and Kieron McCormack and notes on Old Portugal at the Ocean’s Edge by BFI curator William Fowler