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Le beau Serge [Criterion Collection] Blu-ray Review

  • Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
  • Video Codec: AVC/MPEG-4
  • Resolution: 1080p/24 (23.976Hz)
  • Audio Codec: French LPCM Mono (48kHz/24-bit)
  • Subtitles: English
  • Region: A (Region-Locked)
  • Rating: Not Rated
  • Run Time: 94 Mins.
  • Discs: 1 (1 x Blu-ray)
  • Studio: Criterion Collection
  • Blu-ray Release Date: September 20, 2011
  • List Price: $39.95

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Le Beau Serge - Fullscreen Subtitle

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Overall
[Rating:4/5]
The Film
[Rating:5/5]
Video Quality
[Rating:5/5]
Audio Quality
[Rating:4.5/5]
Supplemental Materials
[Rating:3/5]

Click thumbnails for high-resolution 1920X1080p screen captures

(Screen captures are lightly compressed with lossy JPEG  thus are meant as a general representation of the content and do not fully reveal the capabilities of the Blu-ray format)

The Film

[Rating:5/5]

Claude Chabrol would launch the nouvelle vague with his 1958 feature-length debut, Le beau Serge becoming the first of the famous Cathiers du cinéma critics to step behind the lens and direct a feature-length film. His vision for his freshman outing would hardly seem as progressive or energetic as the films of the movement that were to follow, such as Truffaut’s The 400 Blows only a few months later or Godard’s Breathless, but it is an innovative and provocative piece nonetheless.

Chabrol would show he was a more than adept director behind the lens with Le beau Serge, a poignant look at the struggles of the working class, far from the glitz and glamor of the big city, shot in stark black and white and natural light. It focuses on François (Jean-Claude Brialy), a successful twenty-something man on break from university who returns to the small village of his boyhood after over a decade away to recover from illness, possibly tuberculosis, only to find not much has changed, but his once dear friend Serge (Gérard Blain) has become a pitiful, self-loathing alcoholic. François takes it upon himself to help Serge’s lot in life, but his presence only aggravates Serge’s realization that he his stuck in his marriage and the same sleepy town of his birth with no way out which he can see. In fact, François’ presence rakes up the muck that has been percolating beneath the surface of the town and as the film progresses François slowly turns from heralded returning hero to the outsider he truly was even from the outset.

Through Chabrol’s inherent understanding of the quiet and isolated nature of small village life (the director himself was from Sardent where Le beau Serge was filmed) he sculpted a melancholic look at the lives of the desperate swathed in seemingly insignificant moments of realism – schoolchildren at play, or a man in the background peeking into a tavern to see what a commotion is – that would come to define the nouvelle vague. These moments of minutiae would also help Le beau Serge carry a sense of almost documentary style at times, not unlike the voyeuristic reality shows that so fascinate the public today.

Video Quality

[Rating:5/5]

This new digital transfer was created in 2K resolution on an ARRISCAN film scanner from the original camera negative. Thousands of instances of dirt, debris, scratches, splices, warps, jitter, and flicker were manually removed using Revival, Flame, and Smoke, while Digital Vision’s DVNR system was used for small dirt, grain, and noise reduction.

Showing up on this Blu-ray edition from the Criterion Collection in its original 1.33:1 aspect ratio with an AVC/MPEG-4 1080p/2 encodement, Le beau Serge looks splendid. The Criterion magic is absolutely at work here. Yes, there are a few places where some scratches can be seen, but on the whole, given its age, this is an incredible transfer with a steady and tight grain structure, solid and consistently deep blacks, lots of extended detail and high frequency information and strong shadow delineation.

Audio Quality

[Rating:4.5/5]

The original monaural soundtrack was remastered at 24-bit from a 35mm soundtrack print. Clicks, thumps, hiss, and hum were manually removed using Pro Tools HD. Crackle was attenuated using AudioCube’s integrated workstation.

There’s very little crackle to be heard and a good sense of spatial depth in the monaural soundtrack, which, surprisingly, shows little of the limitations of its age and era.

Supplemental Materials

[Rating:3/5]

This is an unusually thin release from Criterion that has little extras on the disc and a rather abbreviated booklet as well. Still, one can take comfort in the fact that what little is offered is of a high caliber and is worth watching, reading, or listening to. The audio commentary by Guy Austin is particularly revealing, pointing out many of the hidden symbolism in the film.

The supplements provided with this release are:

  • Commentary recorded for the Criterion Collection in 2011 featuring Newcastle University professor Guy Austin, author of Claude Chabrol.
  • Claude Chabrol: Mon Premier Film (1.33:1; 1080i/60; 00:51:36) – This 2003 documentary by Francis Girod revisits the town of Sardent, the location for Le beau Serge as well as the site of director Claude Chabrol’s introduction to cinema as a young man. It features interviews with Chabrol and actors Jean-Claude Brialy and Bernadette Lafont.
  • L’invité du dimanche (1.33:1; 00:10:00) – In this segment from the January 6, 1969 episode of the French television series L’invité du dimanche, director Claude Chabrol and journalist Bertrand Jérȏme return to the town where Le beau Serge was shot, eleven years after the release of the film. The segment was directed by Roger Kahane and Daniel Georgeot.
  • Trailer (1.33:1; 1080p/24; 00:02:54)
  • Booklet: This booklet is uncharacteristically thin, containing only one essay on the film, “Homecomings” by Terrence Rafferty, author of The Thing Happens: Ten Years of Writing About the Movies and a frequent contributor to The New York Times. Additionally, the booklet contains the usual film and cast credits plus information on the transfer.

The Definitive Word

Overall:

[Rating:4/5]

Anyway one approaches Le beau Serge, it is a stunning debut feature film that more than anticipates Claude Chabrol’s lengthy and well regarded career as a filmmaker. It is beautifully sad, real, and visually stunning. Although far less obvious in its experimentalism than his fellow members of the the nouvelle vague or “French New Wave,” Le beau Serge was every bit a leap forward for French cinema at the time and helped to ignite a movement. This Criterion release does is a great service as well, looking absolutely gorgeous.

Additional Screen Captures

[amazon-product]B0056ANHR2[/amazon-product]

BestBuy.com:
Le Beau Serge - Fullscreen Subtitle

Purchase Le beau Serge on Blu-ray at CD Universe

Shop for more Blu-ray titles at Amazon.com

Overall
[Rating:4/5]
The Film
[Rating:5/5]
Video Quality
[Rating:5/5]
Audio Quality
[Rating:4.5/5]
Supplemental Materials
[Rating:3/5]

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