Raymond Bernard [Criterion Collection] [3 Discs] [DVD]

Raymond Bernard was one of the first great auteurs to emerge in France during the first era of sound films, but his work fell out of favor in Europe after the rise of the New Wave, and he's never fully received his due in the United States. Eclipse, the Criterion Collection's new sister label, has finally given Bernard's two most celebrated films a proper video release in the United States with this special box set. Raymond Bernard includes 1932's Les Croix de Bois (aka Wooden Crosses), a powerful anti-war drama set during the latter days of World War I, and 1934's epic-scale screen adaptation of Victor Hugo's Les Miserables, released in three parts and running close to five hours. Both films are presented in restored versions; while the new opening credits to Les Croix de Bois warn of certain flaws that still remain in the restored edition, for the most part the image is strong, through the audio is often tinny and harsh (but still audible). For years, Bernard's Les Miserables was only available in a shortened reissue edition, but this Eclipse edition presents the most complete edition available in 2007, and the film looks impressive, with the photography by Jules Kruger and Rene Ribault quite beautiful in this transfer, even if the painted backdrops and miniatures aren't always up to Hollywood standards. Both films have been transferred to disc in their original full-frame aspect ratio of 1.33:1, and the audio, in the original French, has been mastered in Dolby Digital Mono. There are no audio options, but both films feature optional English language subtitles. In keeping with Eclipse's traditional policy, there are no extras included in this set, though each film's slim case is accompanied by a thoughtful essay on the picture and its history. Film fans with a taste for classic French cinema will certainly want to give this set a look, and Bernard's Les Miserables awaits rediscovery as one of the most thorough and thoughtful adaptations of Hugo's venerable tale.
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Les Misérables
Les Miserables is perhaps the most frequently filmed novel in screen history. This 1933 French version of the Victor Hugo classic is the most epic in proportion, though the human elements of the story are kept in sharp focus by director Raymond Bernard and star Harry Baur. Baur plays Jean Valjean, an essentially decent man imprisoned for stealing a loaf of bread and transformed into a dehumanized outlaw. His faith in humanity restored by the kindliness of a bishop (Henry Krauss), Valjean goes to a small village to start life anew, but is pursued throughout his life for breaking parole by relentless police officer Javert (Charles Vanel). The various stages of Valjean's life--from convict to businessman to elderly martyr--were bounded by the film's original three-part structure. Part one, Tempete sous un Crane, ran two hours; part two, Les Thenardiers, was 90 minutes; and part three, Liberte, Liberté Cherie clocked in at 95. The American version of Les Miserables was spliced down to 165 minutes, with all three parts combined into one, then was withdrawn to avoid competition with 20th Century Pictures' 1935 Les Miserables. Years later, director Bernard himself pared down his film to two parts: Jean Valjean (109 minutes), and Cosette (100 minutes, with Josseline Gael in the title role). ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

Les Croix de Bois
Les Croix de Bois (Wooden Crosses) may well be the most powerful anti-war film ever made; certainly it is the grimmest and most uncompromising. Starting with an impressionistic shot of a gloomy hillside studded with white grave markings, the film delineates the hopelessness and horror of war in such explicit terms that at times it's nearly impossible to watch. Set during WWI, the story concentrates on a handful of French draftees, including an idealistic student named Demachy (Pierre Blanchard). Marching off to war with joyful patriotic fervor, the men are quickly disillusioned by the appalling realities of total warfare. When they aren't enduring ten nonstop days of enemy bombardment, the soldiers must sweat out the horrible realization that their trenches are being mined from underground. Nor are they given any relief during those rare lulls in fighting. At one point, the men are yanked away from a much-needed furlough to march in a victory parade for the entertainment of their callous, fat-cat superior officers. One by one, the men are killed off, until only Demachy remains -- but, tragically, not for long. Such was the impact of Les Croix de Bois, that, when it was shown on French television in the 1970s, a WWI survivor who watched the film for the first time was so overwhelmed by despair that he committed suicide. Generous portions of the film's battle sequences were later incorporated in the 1934 John Ford film The World Moves On and the 1936 Howard Hawks production The Road to Glory. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

Cast & Crew

  • Harry Baur
    Harry Baur - Jean Valjean
  • Charles Vanel
    Charles Vanel - Javert
  • Charles Dullin
    Charles Dullin - Thenardier
  • Image coming soon
    Marguerite Moreno - Mme. Thenardier
  • Jean Servais
    Jean Servais - Marius

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