Les dames du Bois de Boulogne
This unique love story, based on a novelette by Denis Diderot and with dialogue written by Jean Cocteau, follows the maneuverings of a society lady as she connives to initiate a scandalous affair between her aristocratic ex-lover and a prostitute. With his second feature film, director Robert Bresson was already forging his singularly brilliant filmmaking technique as he created a moving study of the power of revenge and the strength of true love.
An odd choice for introducing Robert Bresson to the collection (not in any way a pan against the film, but more a surprise they would save his better known films like Diary of a Country Priest and Pickpocket for later), Criterion presents Bresson’s second film, Les Dames du Bois de Boulogne in its original aspect ratio of 1.33:1 on this single-layered DVD.
I’m not going to lie or sugar coat it, but the picture does look pretty bad. Not Salo bad, but bad, the only thing going for it being the transfer is not interlaced.
The problems with this image have to do with the source used, which is in incredibly rough shape. The film has a dream-like quality to it, a soft glow seeming to cover most everything in the film. I’m assuming this is purposely done, but the image still has a fuzzy look to it that doesn’t seem planned and looks more to be an issue with the source. The print has its fair share of grain, scratches, bits of dirt and debris, as well as hairs and tears. Vertical lines constantly appear, and the image jumps around every so often. As the film progresses it seems to get better, but not by much. The film looks worse during transition sequences, where the tears, marks and scratches become very evident, and it seems the film is about to fade away to a white nothing at moments. (I tried to capture some of these issues in the screen grabs but it was pretty hard as a most of the issues are really only noticeable as the film is playing.) Black levels are decent, though not great, and contrast varies throughout.
The film has had a rough history and to my understanding the negative is long gone, so I can’t say I’m too surprised by the image, but I’m not going to give anyone the idea the image quality is up to Criterion’s usual standards (even in 2003, the time of this DVD’s release) because it’s not. But the unfortunate thing is that this may be about as good as the film will ever look.
Audio really varies throughout. Right off there is an odd intermittent noise on the track, a scratch that goes in and out. Eventually it clears up and then the track sounds pretty good, but then every once in a while another crackly, scratchy noise will show up in the background of the track. Voices sound a tad distorted and the music that does appear in the film also sounds a little off. Again, this may have been the best that could have been mustered.
Unfortunately not much has been included in the way of supplements other than a stills gallery. You can scroll through the gallery using the arrows on your remote. It has poster art, pictures of various members of the cast and crew, behind-the-scenes photos, publicity photos, and also contains shots from deleted scenes. There are also descriptions for sets of photos. It’s a short gallery with a few good shots.
And then you do get an insert with an essay by Francois Truffaut (who writes about the film’s commercial failure and then success later on, as well as write a bit about Cocteau and Bresson) and another by David Thomson (giving a decent analysis of the film.) Both make for excellent reads.
But that’s it. A bit disappointing.
This disc isn’t an easy recommendation, unfortunately. For those that love this film or Bresson’s work in general it’s really the only way you can go (other DVDs from other regions don’t seem to be really any better from what my research can tell me) but it’s disappointing video and audio along with the lack of supplements make this release somewhat of a bust and one I can’t fully endorse.