I’ve been careful to over egg the Rohmer recently. For those of thee that follow me on twitter, you’ll no doubt be aware of my current project. It’s reaching a level of infamy, in the very best sense of the term.
There are more thorough technical examinations of Potemkine’s miracle of a box-set elsewhere (like here), with some of the discs suffering from a number of issues such as having been encoded at the a frame rate befitting the old, pre-HD video measurement of PAL (the European standard, rendered, pun intended, in the digital age). While these issues are most certainly just that, and problematic in one sense, how much of a real-world problem 25fps vs. 24fps will be for the average viewer depends on ones perception and familiarity with the material.
With that in mind It’s on the latter point where this box-set is fulfilling it’s core task here, for this viewer at least. My own relationship with Rohmer, prior to this current project, was middling to say the least. The Moral Tales aside I had previously seen very little of the director’s work.
The video quality on each of the films I’ve this far experienced have been of a standard worthy of the wonderful films being presented. The lone disappointment is my long-time favourite Rohmer, coincidentally enough, The Bakery Girl of Monceau, the filmmakers first Moral Tale and one of the few produced during the New Wave period. It’s actually Rohmer’s absence for much of the New Wave period (as a filmmaker at least: he was very much involved on the ink and paper side of the fence, editing Cahiers du Cinéma) that led to my lack of interest, given how much of a slave I am to that particular six-year stretch. As mentioned afore, The Bakery Girl of Monceau marks the one real disappointment in the set thus far: the restoration of the film has seen too great a reliance on the old DNR button, with a lot of grain scrubbed from the image. Regardless of this it still bests any existing home video edition of the film.
Everything else (that I’ve seen to date) looks superb. The pictures shot in black and white look period-appropriate, with grain remaining intact, with the luminance of the celluloid really allowed to shine. With his fifth Moral Tale, 1970’s Claire’s Knee, Rohmer moved to colour photography, with one of the most affecting transitions of the era. Shot by Néstor Almendros, the master cinematographer who that same decade would shoot Terence Malick’s Days Of Heaven, and whose eye is synonymous with that of Truffaut, Claire’s Knee is an eruption of exuberant aesthetics. I’m confident in saying that in terms of presentation alone, this set does the film’s contained within justice.
As one might expect of a home video release specifically for the French market, the vast majority extra material is not subtitled. This is a shame, given the wealth of fantastic material that is offered, with a specific highlight being the prince of the complete Ville nouvelle, Rohmer’s series for television on the transference of people from the city to the suburbs from 1975. Within the context of this box-set Ville nouvelle is positioned to be a neat supplement to the sublime 1984 picture, Les Nuits de la pleine lune, a film set within the burgeoning suburbs of Paris, and one of which the subject matter was predicted in the earlier series (this sense of a predetermined path runs riot throughout Rohmer’s oeuvre, with a number of shorts hinting at things to come in the later features). The exhausting nature of the complete set ensure that there’s a real sense of the definitive about it.
Peripheral supplementary material is equally lavish, with art cards, a poster for Claire’s Knee and, perhaps most brilliantly, a couple My Night At Maud’s tea-bags rounding out the package. Individual original illustrations from Nine Antico adorn each of the 27 digi-packs contained within beautifully designed packaging. Due to the licensing complexities of such a box-set it’s a genuine limited edition of 5000, and hand numbered (mine is 1956, the year that Rohmer took the editorial post at Cahiers).
As is no doubt clear from my numerous mutterings, I’ve really been taken aback by Potemkine’s work here. Hyperbole so often serves only to annoy, but I’d struggle to name a better box-set in the history of home video, such is the definitive nature of the article (as far as I’m aware, this is the first time such an extensive body of work has been collected in one place). Expect further Rohmer matter in the days and weeks to come.