PictureBelle de jour comes to Blu-ray, released by Optimum Home Entertainment, with a 1080p resolution encoded using the AVC codec and framed within a theatrically correct 1.66:1 aspect ratio. The disc itself is locked to region B.
Optimum's previous DVD release of the film was a decent enough offering, and while there hasn't apparently been any advanced restoration work done since then, the Blu-ray still offers several key benefits over its standard definition sibling. The contrast seems stronger, with the range between the light and dark even more evident, which makes for far more accessible analysis on a metaphorical level with regards clothing and the like.
Edges aren't as crisp as many might like, but considering this is a work of some forty odd years ago we shouldn't expect miracles. There is certainly a fine degree of detail evident though, for example the text in the delicatessen window is now more visible. One of the key areas to gain, thanks to the added resolution, is that of the extravagant wardrobe designed by Yves Saint Lauren. Now the fabrics take on an increasingly different appearance due to the various materials used.
To my eye colours look perfect, with the palette just muted enough to keep Deneuve's flesh tones to an icy virginal shade comparable to Snow White, yet not so washed out as to lose contrast or fall on the bleaker side of wan. Primaries are bold enough to free themselves from their surrounds without overpowering or bleeding. In terms of colourisation there is little to complain about.
Unfortunately the same cannot be said for the print itself. Damage is apparent right from the start and can be slightly distracting when some of the larger scratches appear in key scenes. Perhaps it is due to the puzzling nature of the film that I found myself more intent on scrutinizing the imagery for clues as to where the line between fantasy and reality met that such occurrences leapt out all the more. I didn't expect it to be pristine, but some of the levels of degradation, along with the pulsing and fluctuation didn't aid viewing. These are probably minor points to any Bunuel fan, as the overall image is one that certainly benefits from transfer to a high definition home format, just don't set yourself up with unreasonable expectations and the added clarity and colour fidelity should make for a pleasant experience.
SoundBelle de jour comes with four DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 tracks, in French, English, German and Spanish. For the purposes of this review I concentrated on the original French language option.
Again another upgrade from the previous Optimum DVD release, this track quickly shows itself to be very capable. The myriad of audio clues are now far more distinguishable and just seem to push further into the soundfield than before. The bells show the high frequencies to be handled well, being crisp and tight. Given the dialogue driven nature of the film, with no score, and the fact that this is a 2.0 mix, there is little to praise or criticise to any great degree. The soundstage is wider than I had assumed it would feel, but there is not a great deal for it to do besides. There is no score or LFE channel so the only areas to concentrate on were reproduction of vocals and atmospheric noises. As such it has a deliberately austere feel to it that is more akin to a TV documentary than a Blu-ray soundtrack.
If I'm brutally honest, I found the speech to occasionally be a touch harsh, lacking a certain smoothness or rounded quality to it, but this really is nitpicking. Overall the audio side of things is well catered for, with a mix that has none of the annoying pops, crackles or background hiss that can plague similarly aged fare, which was paramount for such a work of quiet delicacy. The mix simply does what it is tasked to do with ease and competence.
The Blu-ray apparently comes with a 20 page booklet containing information and an essay about the film. However, with the disc I received being a pre-production sample, I cannot comment on the quality of this particular bonus.
The last script - 576p - 1:33:04
A staggeringly informative ninety minute documentary that looks into the life of Luis Bunuel. It charts his early years particularly well, with some nice anecdotes about him, Lorca and Dali. It covers key periods as well as noted locations that featured as a backdrop to his life. There are many vintage photos, but the one fly in the ointment is the constant use of panning and overlayering of the images to create a mock three dimensional effect. The pictures themselves are interesting enough without such trickery. However, this one criticism doesn't detract from a warm and fascinating glimpse into the background of a key director of European cinema.
A story of perversion or emancipation? - 1080i - 28:13
Dr Sylvain Mamoun, a noted sexologist, talks us through the various psychological states Severine experiences throughout the film. It all gets a little too Freudian for my liking, as any note of ambiguity is stripped from the film in favour of a very simplistic evaluation in purely carnal terms. I suppose it depends how you view the film itself as to how much you will gain from such a lecture.
Story of a film - 576p - 29:23
Starting off with several lovely archive shots of Catherine Deneuve on set talking about the film, this proceeds to be more of a retrospective. Co-writer Jean Claude Carriere explains with great frankness the various ins and outs associated with the film's genesis and production. It is this candid appraisal that raises this above similar bonus features, as Carriere openly admits that the novel by Kessel wasn't thought of as special and that the film's success could possibly be as equally attributable to infamy as to Bunuel's craft.
Commentary from P.W. Evans
Much like the “a story of perversion or emancipation?” featurette, the worth found in this will probably depend on how much you agree or disagree with the interpretation of the narrator. In this instance, I found Evans' insights to be generally very incisive in getting to the true nature of the film and untangling the narrative from the subtext. Having said that, there are still areas I would digress from his chosen explanations, but I suppose that's the beauty of a surrealistic story - it's open to multiple theories.
Trailer - 576p - 2:32
VerdictBelle de jour is a work that to a certain extent defies both categorisation and criticism. It is hard to critique something that lacks a uniform meaning and is so open to interpretation, thus its value lies more in the process of each viewer evaluating it and coming to their own conclusions. This is something many have continued to do over a number of years and viewings, which surely attests to its potential as an enigmatic puzzle. Yet it also can be read as a straightforward narrative, a simple tale of female emancipation and sexual liberation. This though reduces a multi-layered work to a one note song. There are those who claim it to be a masterpiece and those who deride it as the faux intellectualisation of absurdist titillation. I found it to be somewhere in between, and the fact that opinions on its importance in cinematic terms, as a film in Bunuel's catalogue, and as a social statement are so varied must surely be seen as a positive.
The disc itself is less bewitching, with image and sound quality that aid the viewing but never truly strive for greatness. The picture lacks the restoration that it clearly deserves, however it is still a clear step up from Optimum's previous DVD release. The sound is similarly accomplished, with only the overly pedantic likely to find any real flaw. It is not perfect, and doesn't wow the listener, yet it is about as much as could be asked for; a lossless 2.0 track that is clean and clear.
The extras are either fantastic or re-treading a lot of what is already known, depending on how much you have already looked into the meanings behind the story. They are certainly of a higher calibre than I had expected for this release and as such I wholeheartedly applaud the wealth of information packed within. In short, the film, picture, audio and extras combine to give just about as complete an experience of Bunuel's piece as we could have hoped for.
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