L'armée du crime Blu-ray Review
'An Army of Crime' is presented in widescreen 1.85:1 with MPEG-4 AVC 1080p coding.
The director appears to have employed a faint sepia filter to many of the scenes, which seems to somehow authenticate the age of the movie and adds to the period costumes and sets. Facial close ups expose a very pleasing level of detail, with every pore and blemish visible. A close up of Marcel at the swimming pool unveils a pair of piercing eyes, with beads of moisture (and some fine hairs) visible on his back and further droplets of water on his chin. Many of the mid range shots are very crisp and clear and also boast an impressive depth and three- dimensionality. Fine detail is also present, as exemplified by the many woven patterns and other textures, which are visible on everything from woollen skirts to worn leather jackets. All of the war wounds are also crystal clear and realistically coloured. The grand architecture of the Parisian setting, aging brickwork and cobblestoned streets are all beautifully reproduced here and expose the quality of the transfer. There are a couple of scenes where distant detail is also visible through the windows in shot.
The contrast ratio is very strong, with some nice deep blacks on show. Some scenes are intentionally overblown and at times are dazzlingly bright, especially a couple of the outdoor shots. There's also a very pleasing amount of shadow detail, which is essential in the largely unlit realm of the partisans and their back-alley dealings.
The beautifully shot movie tends towards pastel greens and browns but the overall palette is very naturalistic. The various skin tones, from sallow to pale, are all perfectly reproduced. I did note a tiny whiff of edge enhancement in one of the scenes but I had to move much closer to the screen to confirm its presence. There were a few scenes which seemed slightly soft around the edges but I believe that this was as the director intended so I won't be deducting any marks for that. All in all this is a very impressive and polished transfer and comes recommended.
'An Army of Crime' comes packed with a French 5.1 dts HD Master Audio surround track.
The stereo channels do most of the leg work on this uncompressed mix and have a few scenes where they really impress. For example, during the bar demolition sequence, flames can be heard licking around the display and all of the gunshots have a resounding crack. The varied vocal tonalities are always locked to the centre channel and never difficult to follow, as is also the case for the crackling radio broadcast voiceovers. The surrounds are moderately active, coming into play during the outdoor scenes to provide a whisper of wind or to accentuate the bustle of pedestrians as they go about their daily business. For a movie based on WWII, I was expecting a lot of wooferage to bring excitement and energy to the track. Unfortunately, this is not the case and even the few scant instances of explosions and other impact sequences do not produce any really deep bass; it's all firmly in the mid range for this release.
Alexandre Desplat's score is given an aggressive position in the mix and it surges forward at times, especially during some of the more rousing moments. For the majority it sits at a pleasing level but it does impose its will during certain scenes, which I found very pleasing. The range of instruments is largely orchestral based (with slightly militaristic undertones), with pianos and violins dominating. The composition is for the most part original but there are some more well known classical pieces (such as Bach and Mozart) lobbed in there as well for good measure. The surround bleed is perfect and the sub also gets a few moments to shine (although there are no really gut rumbling moments). The score is largely stereo orientated and makes good use of the front left and right channels.
Overall this is a fine mix and does a good job with the source material but the lack of dynamic range and it's almost unassuming presence means that it falls short of top marks.
The extras package comes with some very worthwhile features. Unfortunately, none of these additional supplements feature in high definition. There's also a pretty basic video and audio configuration tool to help setup your system. The disc has an “English” option wherein all disc options presented in English, which is handy!
Interview with Robert Guediguian (SD 14mins) - This interview was filmed at the Cambridge Arts Picturehouse during The Cambridge film festival in 2009. The director explains where found the inspiration for the movie (and how he was inspired to make it), why he chose 2009 to make a movie that was obviously very personal to him and the fictional aspect of the presentation. He also explores the link between this movie and his other movies, the actors he worked with on 'Army of Crime' (and on his previous releases) and the target audience. The articulate, intelligent and honest answers given by Guediguian make this very interesting and worthwhile feature.
Meeting a Survivor: Henri Karayan (SD 29mins) - This feature documents the meeting between Guediguian and Henri Karayan, an FTP-MOI survivor, who fought with Manouchian and his partisans. The elderly and frail Karayan provides a huge amount of interesting background on the actual realities of the Armenian led French Resistance, with unbridled passion and emotion. This feature really adds to the main movie, with Karayan meeting the entire cast and expanding on the real people (and their exploits) whose characters feature in this movie. There are also a couple of clips from the movie included. A fascinating feature that provides a link to the reality of what the partisans went through. Some of the cast look a little bored by Karayan's anecdotes though!
French Communist Party Meeting (SD 43mins) - Journalist Charles Sylvestre interviews Guediguian in front of a large audience of Communist party members. The director speaks passionately about his movie and the story that it has to tell. He explains to the assembled crowd that it's the legend of the partisan fighters that he attempts to capture with his latest release and he provides additional information and stories about the Resistance members. There is also some discussion regarding the historical liberties that Guediguian took with the script. Ariane Ascaride is also present and speaks about the part she plays in the movie and the impact the movie could have on the younger generation of French people. The crowd also gets their opportunity to pose some tricky questions to the director.
Meeting Virginie Ledoyen and Simon Abkarian (SD 21mins) - In this interview feature, the two stars discuss the movie and the characters they play in detail. They expand on what it was like to work with Guediguian (and the young cast) and also discuss the role the Manouchian Group played in French history. This feature is worth a watch as it provides interesting background information on the finished product. There are also scenes from the movie interspersed with the interview segments.
Army of Crime at Cannes (SD 4mins) - This featurette takes a look at the movie's premiere at Cannes.
Trailer - Included here is a high definition trailer for the movie. There are also a couple of other Optimum BD trailers (for 'Coco', 'Che' and 'Gomorra') available at the start of the disc.
'Army of Crime' was released in 2009 and was directed by Robert Guediguian. The plot follows the exploits and guerilla maneuvers of the Manouchian Group of French Resistance fighters during World War II. The cast are as a whole outstanding but I would have liked to see some of the actors get a little more screen time so that they could really impress. Focusing on the human aspect of the people who gave up their lives for their adopted country, this authentic recreation of the horror of WWII will undoubtedly be a smash hit in France and it comes recommended to all war movie fans. Be warned though, this is not an overly action laden feature; 'Inglorious Basterds' is available for that purpose!
The transfer from Optimum is very impressive indeed. The authentic nature of the presentation shines through with beautiful clarity and detail. The audio mix mostly unassuming and somewhat lacking in the low frequency department end but the powerful score makes up for any short fallings. The additional supplements section contains four very worthwhile features but the complete absence of any HD features did not impress. Overall this is a very good release and comes recommended.
Suggested retail price when reviewed: £24.99
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