The ever-expanding Criterion Collection is adding new titles this August, providing cinephiles everywhere with DVD and Blu-ray versions of groundbreaking films. See below for synopses of the latest additions and special edition features courtesy of Criterion.
“Eclipse 43: Agnès Varda In California” (1967,1968, 1969, 1980 and 1981)
The legendary French filmmaker Agnès Varda (“Cléo from 5 to 7”), whose remarkable career began in the 1950s and has continued into the twenty-first century, produced some of her most provocative works while living on the West Coast of the United States. After temporarily relocating from France to California in the late sixties with her husband, Jacques Demy, so that he could make his first Hollywood film, Varda became entranced by the politics, youth culture, and sunshine of the San Francisco and Los Angeles areas, and created documentary explorations and fictional narratives—sometimes within the same film. She returned a decade later, and made more fascinating portraits of outsiderness. Her five revealing, entertaining California films, encompassing shorts and features, are collected in this set, which demonstrates that Varda was as deft an artist in unfamiliar terrain as she was on her own turf.
“Uncle Yancko” and “Black Panthers” (1967 and 1968)
Agnès Varda’s first California films were two short documentaries made in the San Francisco Bay Area, one personal, the other political. In “Uncle Yanco,” Varda tracks down a Greek emigrant relative she’s never met in Sausalito. In “Black Panthers,” she turns her camera on an Oakland demonstration protesting the imprisonment of activist and Black Panthers cofounder Huey P. Newton. These films chart a course from the delightful to the urgent, each in its own way revealing Varda’s curious, empathetic nature.
“Lions Love (… And Lies)” (1969)
Agnès Varda goes to Los Angeles, taking New York counterculture with her. In a rented house in the sun-soaked Hollywood hills, a woman and two men—Viva, of Warhol Factory fame, and James Rado and Gerome Ragni, who created and starred in the rock musical “Hair”—delight in each others’ bodies while musing on love, stardom, and politics. They are soon joined by underground director Shirley Clarke, playing herself as well as functioning as a surrogate for Varda. “Lions Love (. . . and Lies)” is a metacinematic inquiry into the alternating currents of whimsy and tragedy that typified late sixties America.
“Murs Murs” and “Documenter” (1980 and 1981)
After returning to Los Angeles from France in 1979, Agnès Varda created two films, different in form and tone yet complexly interwoven. “Mur Murs” is a kaleidoscopic documentary about the striking murals that decorate the city; Documenteur is a small-scale fiction about a divorced mother and her child (played by Varda’s own son) living a quiet existence on L.A.’s margins. Taken together, these films, with their overlapping images and ideas, sketch a portrait of a metropolis at once sprawling and isolating, bursting with life and haunted by loneliness.
“Night and the City” (1950)
Two-bit hustler Harry Fabian (“Kiss of Death’s” Richard Widmark) longs for a life of ease and plenty. Trailed by an inglorious history of go-nowhere schemes, he tries to hatch a lucrative plan with a famous wrestler. But there is no easy money in this underworld of shifting alliances, bottomless graft, and pummeled flesh—and Fabian soon learns the horrible price of his ambition. Luminously shot in the streets of London while Hollywood blacklisters back home were closing in on director Jules Dassin (“Rififi”), Night and the City, also starring Gene Tierney (“Leave Her to Heaven”), is film noir of the first order, and one of Dassin’s crowning achievements.
Special edition features include a 4K digital restoration with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray, alternate presentation of the 101-British version of the film, audio commentary from 2005 film scholar Glenn Erickson, interview with director Jules Dassin from 2005, excerpts from a 1972 television interview with Dassin, comparison of the scores for the British and American versions of the film, a trailer and an essay by film scholar Paul Arthur.
“The French Lieutenant’s Woman” (1981)
An astounding array of talent came together for the big-screen adaptation of John Fowles’s novel “The French Lieutenant’s Woman,” a postmodern masterpiece that had been considered unfilmable. With an ingenious script by the Nobel Prize–winning playwright Harold Pinter (“Betrayal”), British New Wave trailblazer Karel Reisz (“Saturday Night and Sunday Morning”) transforms Fowles’s tale of scandalous romance into an arresting, hugely entertaining movie about cinema. In Pinter’s reimagining, Jeremy Irons (“Dead Ringers”) and Meryl Streep (“Sophie’s Choice”) star in parallel narratives, as a Victorian-era gentleman and the social outcast he risks everything to love, and as the contemporary actors cast in those roles and immersed in their own forbidden affair. The French Lieutenant’s Woman, shot by the consummate cinematographer Freddie Francis (“Glory”) and scored by the venerated composer and conductor Carl Davis, is a beguiling, intellectually nimble feat of filmmaking, starring a pair of legendary actors in early leading roles.
Special edition features include a 2K digital restoration with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray, introduction by film scholar Ian Christie, interviews with actors Jeremy Irons and Meryl Streep, editor John Bloom, and composer Carl Davis, an episode of “The South Bank Show” from 1981 featuring director Karel Reisz, novelist John Fowles, and screenwriter Harold Pinter, the trailer and an essay by film scholar Lucy Bolton.
“Day For Night” (1973)
This loving farce from François Truffaut (“Jules and Jim”) about the joys and turbulence of moviemaking is one of his most beloved films. Truffaut himself appears as the harried director of a frivolous melodrama, the shooting of which is plagued by the whims of a neurotic actor (“The 400 Blows'” Jean-Pierre Léaud); an aging but still forceful Italian diva “(Juliet of the Spirits'” Valentina Cortese); and a British ingenue haunted by personal scandal (“Bullitt’s” Jacqueline Bisset). An irreverant paean to the prosaic craft of cinema as well as a delightful human comedy about the pitfalls of love and sex, “Day for Night” is buoyed by robust performances and a sparkling score by the legendary Georges Delerue (“Contempt”).
Special edition features include a 2K digital restoration with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on Blu-ray, a visual essay by Truffaut, interviews with cinematographer Pierre-William Glenn and film scholar Dudley Andrew, a documentary on the film from 2003 featuring film scholar Annette Insdorf, archival interviews with the cast and crew, television footage of Truffaut on the film’s set in 1972, a trailer, a new English subtitle translation and an essay by film critic David Cairns.
“Dressed to Kill” (1980)
Brian De Palma (“Carrie”) ascended to the highest ranks of American suspense filmmaking with this virtuoso, explicit erotic thriller. At once tongue-in-cheek and scary as hell, “Dressed to Kill” revolves around the grisly murder of a woman in Manhattan, and what happens when her psychiatrist, her brainiac teenage son, and the prostitute who witnessed the crime try to piece together what happened while the killer remains at large. With its masterfully executed scenes of horror, voluptuous camera work, and passionate score, “Dressed to Kill” is a veritable symphony of terror, enhanced by vivid performances by Angie Dickinson (“Rio Bravo”), Michael Caine (“Alfie”), and Nancy Allen (“Blow Out”).
Special edition features include a restored 4K digital transfer of De Palma’s preferred unrated version with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray, interviews with the cast and crew, a 2001 documentary featuring De Palma called The Making of “Dressed to Kill”, a profile of cinematographer Ralf Bode featuring filmmaker Michael Apted, an interview with actor-director Keith Gordon from 2001, video pieces from 2001 about the different versions of the film and the cuts made to avoid an X rating, a gallery of storyboards by De Palma, a trailer and an essay by critic Michael Koresky .
“Two Days, One Night” (2014)
Oscar winner Marion Cotillard (“La vie en rose”) received another nomination for her searing, deeply felt performance as a working-class woman desperate to hold on to her factory job, in this gripping film from master Belgian directors Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne (“The Kid with a Bike”). Cotillard is Sandra, a wife and mother who suffers from depression and discovers that, while she was home on sick leave, a majority of her coworkers voted in favor of her being fired rather than give up their annual bonuses. She then spends a Saturday and Sunday visiting them each in turn, to try to convince them to change their minds. From this simple premise, the Dardennes render a powerful, humanist drama about the importance of community in an increasingly impersonal world.
Special edition features include a 2K digital transfer with DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack on the Blu-ray, interviews with the Dardennes and actors Marion Cotillard and Fabrizio Rongione, a forty-five minute documentary by the Dardennes featuring a new introduction by the directors, a tour of the film’s key locations, a trailer and an essay by critic Girish Shambu.
Canadians, please note: “Two Days, One Night” will be available in the U.S only.