Posted in: Disc Reviews by John Ceballos on October 29th, 2015
Un, deux, trois! Cohen Media Group has given us an engrossing triple dose of French director Benoit Jacquot. The films —The Disenchanted, A Single Girl, and Keep It Quiet — span a decade and coincide with the moment when the post-New Wave filmmaker started gaining international acclaim. Each of the titles makes its HD debut with this release, and they all offer an intriguing look at Parisian life. The movies also feature some enchanting performances from their leading ladies.
The Disenchanted/La Désenchantée (1990)
“I used to believe in all manner of enchantments.”
Beth (Judith Godreche) is a 17 year old with quite a bit on her plate. She’s got an ailing mom (Therese Liotard), so she is essentially raising younger brother Remy (Thomas Salsmann). Her family is being financially supported by a leering uncle (Ivan Desny) who could set his sights on Beth at any moment. Meanwhile, Beth’s belligerent, abusive boyfriend (Malcolm Conrath) encourages her to have sex with another man to prove that she loves him. (The idea is that she will get that urge out of her system and come back to him.)
The Disenchanted is about the transition between childhood and adulthood. (Toward the end of the film, Jacquot pointedly uses a marble rolling away from Beth to signify the loss of her innocence.) The story takes place over the course of three days, which allows us to see Beth in several different situations that illustrate the push-and-pull in her development. For example, we follow her to school, but she’s forlornly reciting the poetry of Arthur Rimbaud. We watch her kid around at a nightclub with some friends her age, but she’s mainly there to aggressively offer up her sexuality to the right, non-threatening prospect. Beth also instigates some juvenile vandalism, but — in the movie’s best scene — has a profound, fulfilling conversation with a much older man named Alphonse (Marcel Bozonnet) in his home. The sequence should be objectively creepy, but Jacquot films it with a casual, pleasing sense of romance.
It helps that Godreche is completely captivating as Beth, who we see in many different contexts. (Chatty Kathy with Alphonse, nearly mute with Creepy Uncle, who is referred to as “Sugardad.”) No matter the situation, Godreche is consistently fascinating. The temptation is to portray Beth simply as someone whose inner light is being drained as she learns the harsh realities of adulthood — her mother bangs home the lesson that “you gotta do what you gotta do” — and leaves behind childish things. But Jacquot ends the film with a thrilling, ambiguous, and youthful sprint that suggests Beth has plenty of life left in her.
A Single Girl/La Fille Seule (1995)
“Things don’t always go the way we’d like.”
A Single Girl — my favorite movie in this trio — also ends with the female protagonist blending into a crowd of people on a Parisian street. It makes sense given that this film and The Disenchanted can easily be viewed as companion pieces. The action in A Single Girl also takes place within a relatively constrained time period: most of the story here is told in real time. The plot is as simple as can be. Valerie (Virginie Ledoyen) meets her irritable boyfriend Remi (Benoit Magimel) at a cafe early one morning, and informs him that she’s pregnant. He doesn’t react well, but Valerie has to put a pin on that discussion because she is about to start a new job working room service at a nearby hotel.
And…that’s pretty much it in terms of what actually happens in this movie. However, Jacquot — with a big assist from co-writer Jerome Beaujour and cinematographer Caroline Champetier — does an excellent job crafting a compelling portrait out of everyday life. We get well-composed tracking shots (Valerie walking to/from work; hopping on an elevator and walking down hallways to deliver room service orders) that still manage to feel authentic. Jacquot and Beaujour depict the mundaneness of work life while mixing in at least one truly outrageous touch. (Valerie never really knows what’s behind each door when she delivers an order.)
Ledoyen is equal parts stunning and riveting. (Think of a French Natalie Portman.) The actress’s/character’s beauty colors her interactions with her coworkers: Sabine (Vera Briole) is resentful, Patrice (Jean-Chretien Sibertin-Blanc) has a puppy dog crush, and Jean Marc (Michel Bompoli) has skeevier intentions. A Single Girl nicely dramatizes the idea that people go through normal workdays even when they’re experiencing major emotional turmoil. There is no big blow up at the end of this film; instead, we get a coda that jumps ahead in time and casually reminds us that the movie’s title doubles as a built-in spoiler.
Keep It Quiet/Pas de Scandale (1999)
“These people are so awful, it’s fascinating.”
Whereas the previous two films can be seen as two sides of the same coin, Keep It Quiet is kind of the oddball in the group. Instead of focusing on a singular, female protagonist, the film tells a parallel story about two estranged brothers. Gregoire Jeancourt (Fabrice Luchini) is a notorious, power broker who rejoins his wife Agnes (Isabelle Huppert) and kids after being released from prison. His younger brother Louis (Vincent Lindon) is a TV host with a doting younger girlfriend (Sophie Aubry) and his own set of issues, including trying to wrangle his brother for an interview. There’s also Stephanie (Vahina Giocante), a young hairstylist who crosses paths with Louis, Agnes, and Gregoire, and discovers a surprising connection to one of them.
While the first scene in The Disenchanted — where Beth describes a dream or a fantasy — is somewhat vague, Jacquot applies that same sense disorientation to the entirety of Keep It Quiet‘s 106-minute running time. It doesn’t make for a very pleasant viewing experience. I’m actually ok with the fact that we never find out the nature of Gregoire’s crime because the details ultimately don’t really matter. (All we know is that he’s infamous enough to have strangers heckle him in public.) The bigger problem is that a large part of the movie’s story (if you can even call it that) hinges on the fact that Gregoire is a more reserved, totally changed man after his prison stint, much to the chagrin of Agnes and the rest of his family. But other than quick clip of an old, fiery TV interview, we don’t really know what the old Gregoire was like. So his alleged transformation is largely lost on us.
I suspect Keep It Quiet is the sort of film that becomes richer upon repeat viewing. But the movie remains compulsively watchable the first time around because the actors do fine work. Luchini makes for an interesting sad sack, and Lindon portrays the soulfulness under Louis’ harsh exterior. And even though she may not drive the action like other Jacquot heroines, Huppert is subtly absorbing in her own right as Agnes tries to reconnect with her husband. Jacquot, again collaborating on the script with Beaujour, gives us drips and drabs of character connections — including daddy issues for the brothers, and a potential shared past between Louis and Agnes — before everything comes to a head in a quietly sensational dinner party scene. It’s not quite enough to justify all the shapelessness that preceded it, but at least that dinner party leaves us with a good taste in our mouths.
The Disenchanted and A Single Girl are presented in an aspect ratio of 1.85:1, while Keep It Quiet is presented in an aspect ratio of 2.35:1. The 1080p image is arrived at with an AVC MPEG-4 codec at an average of 25 mbps. As I mentioned before, all three films make their HD debuts courtesy of Cohen Media Group. The result is definitely satisfying. By and large, these are blemish-free images — although I spied some banding at the start of The Disenchanted — that retain the look of the time period in which they were made. As a result, The Disenchanted features the grainiest presentation, while Keep It Quiet offers the slickest. The tones also start off warm before getting progressively cooler. A Single Girl is notable for the fact that, even though it was made five years after The Disenchanted, it has a more timeless visual quality that suggests it could’ve just as easily been made in the 1970s. If you want to make a crude comparison about how significant of an upgrade this release is, head over to the Special Features and check out the difference between each film’s Original Theatrical Trailer and the final product here.
Each film in The Benoit Jacquot Collection is accompanied by an LPCM Stereo 2.0 track. Obviously, we don’t get the same sense of immersion we’d get with a newer surround track, but that loss is only mostly felt during A Single Girl. (Which features extended shots of Valerie walking through the streets of Paris, sitting in a busy cafe, and hanging out in a park.) The most important thing here is that each film offers a nicely-balanced and clean presentation (no pops or hisses) that also packs a nice little punch when it needs to. (Like when Beth visits that nightclub in The Disenchanted.)
All of the films include the corresponding bonus material.
Feature-length Commentary by critics Wade Major and Tim Cogshell: The duo does a great job putting Jacquot’s career in context. In fact, the track for The Disenchanted probably features the least amount of chatter about the actual film because it’s the first one up, and the critics spend a good amount of time discussing the filmmaker’s preferred themes. (Youth and beauty.) They still manage to offer a treasure trove of trivia (about Jacquot and his collaborators) and plenty of technical know-how (an appreciation for filming the dinner party scene in Keep It Quiet). Simply put, Major and Cogshell are fun to listen to because they come off as colleagues who get along well and enjoy geeking out about movies with each other.
New Video Interview with director Benoit Jacquot: New York Film Festival director Kent James sits down with Jacquot to chat (in French) about The Disenchanted (18:35), A Single Girl (19:54), and Keep It Quiet (15:38). These are each extremely illuminating conversations that give us a good glimpse at Jacquot’s process. He credits Godreche for serving as a muse and saving his life as a filmmaker. Jacquot mischievously reveals that he hired hardcore porn actors for a certain moment in A Single Girl that was meant to shock Ledoyen (he didn’t tell his star what was behind that particular hotel room door). He also refers to Keep It Quiet as a “well-made, strange film” and said it was his favorite for a while.
Theatrical and 2015 Re-release Trailers
The Benoit Jacquot Collection features three films on two discs. (The Disenchanted and its corresponding special features are on Disc 1, while A Single Girl, Keep It Quiet, and their bonus material are on Disc 2.) There may not be a ton of bonus material, but the quality is pretty impressive.
I hadn’t even heard of Jacquot before sitting down with his collection, but I found myself attracted to his style. This release mostly makes for a cohesive Collection (except maybe Keep It Quiet) and a solid introduction to a talented filmmaker’s work.
The Disenchanted: 3.5 out of 5
A Single Girl: 4 out of 5
Keep It Quiet: 3 out of 5