Six Moral Tales
I. The Bakery Girl of Monceau
The multifaceted, deeply personal work of Eric Rohmer has had an effect on cinema unlike any other. One of the founding critics of the history-making Cahiers du cinéma, Rohmer began translating his written manifestos to film in the 1960s, standing apart from his New Wave contemporaries with his patented brand of gently existential, hyperarticulate character studies set against vivid seasonal landscapes. This near genre unto itself was established with the audacious and wildly influential series Six Moral Tales. A succession of encounters between fragile men and the women who tempt them, Six Moral Tales unleashed on the film world a new voice, one that was at once sexy, philosophical, modern, daring, nonjudgmental, and liberating.
The Criterion Collection upgrades their previous DVD box set for Eric Rohmer’s Six Moral Tales to Blu-ray, presenting all six films over three dual-layer discs. The first Moral Tale, the 23-minute The Bakery Girl of Monceau, is presented on the first dual-layer disc, which is shares with Suzanne’s Career. The film is presented in the aspect ratio of 1.37:1.
Criterion sources this presentation from a new 2K restoration scanned from the 16mm original camera negative, where the DVD’s presentation was sourced from an older high-definition restoration scanned from a 35mm duplicate negative. The improvements over the old DVD are rather drastic and I was stunned by the finished results. The source print still shows pesky tram lines, but they don’t appear to be as obtrusive and they are managed where they can be. The fading at the bottom of the frame is also gone and the image has been further stabilized so we no longer get the jumping frames that plagued the DVD. The restoration has been far more thorough in this case, no doubt thanks to the improved technology all these years later.
The digital presentation itself is also quite a bit better. The image is still fairly soft but I have a feeling this just comes down to the original photography and not the restoration or encode on the disc. Film grain is there, though surprisingly it’s not too heavy. It’s rendered well and looks clean. I think the DVD handled the black-and-white photography rather well, though contrast is better here, the image looking less blown out, and the grayscale is better defined. Black levels are decent and whites are also better managed.
It’s a lovely upgrade over the previous DVD’s presentation.
The film’s French audio is presented in lossless PCM. It sounds a bit cleaner, less noisy, than the DVD, but dialogue and sound effects are still pretty weak overall. In the included interview on this disc Rohmer explains the first couple of films were dubbed afterwards (the other films used live sound) so that might play into it. But otherwise it is fine enough and there are no serious issues with damage like pops or drops.
Criterion’s box set presents all six of the films on their own individual discs and presents special features on each one, and though as of this writing I haven’t gone through everything in the set just yet, it does look as though Criterion has carried everything over.
Throughout the set Criterion includes a number of interviews and short films directed by Rohmer, and they’ve been divided between the films on each disc. For The Bakery Girl of Monceau the supplements (found under the respective sub-menu for the film) starts off yet again with the 9-minute short Presentation, or Charlotte and Her Steak, which “stars” a super young Jean-Luc Godard. It’s similar to the Moral films in the set in that it features a man (Godard) and issues that arise involving two women. The young man in this case is attempting to make the woman he is currently with, Charlotte, jealous over another woman they meet earlier, all while she eats a steak because, you know, what’s a better snack than a full-on steak? It’s narrative is simple and it’s not the most visually arresting film, with it composed primarily of the two in a room while Charlotte cooks a steak. But there’s something about it that makes it arresting in its own way. I’m not sure what makes it arresting exactly, and it could be just the playful nature between the two characters, but the film feels more like Rohmer just messing around, making a film, using themes that interest him.
Unfortunately Criterion is reusing the same master used for the DVD edition and looks to be an upscale, but it looks fine.
Criterion also includes a new interview between Barbet Schroeder and Eric Rohmer, recorded by Criterion for this edition. This proves to be one of the most invaluable and lengthy features found in the set, running a staggering 84-minutes! It opens with Schroeder, speaking in English, giving a history of his company Les films du losange, and then cuts to him and Rohmer talking about their work together, which is conducted in French. Though there are no spoilers per se, I would recommend maybe watching it after you’ve seen all six films only because they do go over some structural choices in some of the films. At any rate, the two discuss in detail how each film came to be, explain why they were technically filmed out of order (the third film, My Night at Maud’s, was filmed after the fourth), talk about the original written stories (which were modified and adjusted) and the book, Six Moral Tales, the common themes that link the stories (which Rohmer claims he never really noticed while originally writing the stories), and what Rohmer means when he calls them moral tales. They also talk about the visual language, the cinematic techniques employed, the use of sound, the voice-over narration (where Schroeder asks Rohmer why he had Bertrand Tavernier do the voice-over for his character in the film), and more. The one drawback here is that it’s not the most dynamic interview to sit through for 84-minutes: it’s comprised primarily of long shots of the two at a table edited in with back and forth shots of the two. But the two seem excited to be talking about the films, leading to, at the very least, an engaging conversation that thoroughly covers the production of the films and the shared themes between them.
It doesn’t look like a lot, but that interview, all on its own, makes this batch of features a strong one within the set.
Starting the box set off with promise, The Bakery Girl of Monceau shows off a sharp looking new presentation and carries over the same excellent supplements.