Sunday 3 December 2017

On Blu-ray - David Hare finds a copy of Jacques Demy's final film TROIS PLACES POUR LE 26 and discusses other Demy titles on DVD and Blu-ray

Yves Montand and a flotilla of chorus boys in a shot looking more like something from Fassbinder's Querelle than a clip from a musical with Yves, playing himself, within a movie about Yves, with Yves also playing himself for the movie. Demy's film is probably the giddiest work of self-referentiality in his whole oeuvre and it serves as both the inspiration for the film's best moments, and the picture's near downfall from its less successful stretches of fancy. 
The movie is - for those who might not already have guessed - Demy's farewell to cinema in 1988, Trois Places pour le 26, two years before he died from complications arising from AIDS in 1990. The typically contorted narrative here invoves incestuous sex of all things with his own daughter Marion (Mathilda May), from a long-ago relationship with old flame Marie-Helene (Francoise Fabian.) This is as far as Demy will permit transgression, although the near all-male chorus lends the film an unmistakable background referencing Tom of FInland out of Michel Legrand's uneven but occasionally charming score.
The palimpsest of invocations in this last film is undermined I fear by the assignment of entirely new personae to the three leads. Far more successful both narratively and formally is Une Chambre en Ville in 1982 with Darrieux maintaining the physical and spiritual link to Les Demoiselles and beyond it, back to the sublime beginnings of Demy's cinema with Lola. 
This 2K restoration from 2012 is in all respects bar one very fine, but the transfer has a milky bias to the otherwise brilliant color design, always a giveaway for yet another slightly misguided color transfer from Lab Eclair. In motion the image is very attractive but in more competent hands it would have been brilliant. The Blu-ray disc was released by Pathé earlier this year and includes English subs. It's also region free. As far as I am aware this is the first appearance of the movie on disc anywhere. 
The movie is for me and at this time a work for further research. Much as I found great slabs of it unconvincing or even unengaging the execution of the numbers and the drama itself is beautifully handled. I was in tears by the end. The director would have been one of the greats in French cinema had he lived longer. Except that he already was for his first half-a-dozen movies.

Michael Campi responded: Good to see such a thoughtful mention of this rather neglected film. The father-daughter incest theme appears in Demy's PEAU D'ANE some years earlier as well. Some years ago there was a French set of the complete works of Demy with English subtitles. TROIS PLACES was in there in a good transfer. The box is a treasure trove as well for including a nice copy of LOLA before its most recent controversial restoration (see cover below) and LES PARAPLUIES ... in its original 1.66 ratio before the restorers decided to slice the top and bottom of the images to render their current 1.85 version which now appears inescapably on every disc release.  A year or so later there followed a Varda set but because her output has been so vast over sixty years, it's not as comprehensive.

David Hare replied:The older French set you mention still has a good DVD transfer of Lola made prior to the Mathieu Demy supervised 2K of Lola from 2012 which is an unmitigated disaster. The same horrible, dull, flat, ungraded encode of that is included in the big Criterion Blu-ray "complete" (but not) boxset of a couple of years ago (see cover below) which also didn't include this final picture. (Trois Places pour le 26)

Michael Campi: Our memories of LOLA in 35mm and reminders courtesy of the older discs are to be cherished. It was tragic to see LOLA in that 2012 restoration projected in the piazza in Bologna. Younger people unfamiliar with the film were thrilled by its human qualities. Demy, Anouk, Legrand survived it all but many demerit points for others involved.

David Hare: Mathieu was thrown into a den of Lions in Los Angeles when Agnes sent him over to "produce" the new 2K with the LA Post House back then. He handed over control of the grading and remastering to Technicolor in Los Angeles who are responsible for the fuckup that is now Lola. It has to be redone one day but Agnes is very stubborn about these things, as you know. The new Lola 2K is so soft and devoid of contrast (a total betrayal of Coutard's photographic style and lighting) you can barely make out any detail in the image now.

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