'Mélo: Special Edition'
(Sabine Azéma, Fanny Ardant, Pierre Arditi, et al / Blu-ray / NR / (1986) 2019 / Arrow Films UK)
Overview: Pierre (Pierre Arditi, Love Unto Death) and Marcel (André Dussollier, A Good Marriage) are both celebrated concert violinists and lifelong friends, in spite of their differing temperaments.
Pierre is modest, sensitive and content with his lot; Marcel is hungry, driven, and pursues a solo career that takes him to the four corners of the world.
After years apart, the two friends reunite when Pierre invites Marcel to his home for dinner. It is then that Marcel first meets Pierre's wife Romaine (Sabine Azéma, Cosmos), sparking a passionate affair that can only end in tragedy before the curtain falls.
Blu-ray Verdict: As thrillingly intimate on film as it was on the stage, 'Mélo's César award-winning cast and inventive direction are highlighted in a stunning new restoration, revealing a hidden gem in Resnais's celebrated body of work waiting to be rediscovered here via a wondrous Blu-ray release from Arrow Films.
The title is a chic abbreviation for 'melodrama', of which there's no shortage in this urbane period piece about a lovelorn musician enjoying an affair with the wife of his best friend.
Director Alain Resnais makes no attempt to open up Henry Bernstein's 1929 stage play or hide its theatrical trappings, going so far as to fade in and out of a shot of closed curtains between each 'act'.
The lighting is fun because Resnais takes the stage-style lighting and makes it even more directional, letting the spotlights serve as the aforementioned close-ups to distinguish what the eye is attracted to as opposed to drawing the camera too close.
The camera movements are decent in that they keep the eye looking at precisely what he wants you to look at. But I miss the formal experimentation and the breaking of editing boundaries inherent to much of Resnais's work.
That said, the story offers plenty of food for thought, but the nuances of each relationship are undermined by the often dry and detached script readings, punctuated by moments of deliberate histrionic overkill; most of them provided by (an all-too animated) Sabine Azema, playing the wife of one man and mistress to another.
Nevertheless it's a welcome return to Earth for an erstwhile pioneer of some of the most opaque French New Wave cinema, showing a subtlety rare even for such highbrow entertainment.
In closing, I confess that beforehand I knew nothing about Sabine Azema (except that she won the French Cesar award for her work in this film), but certainly her performance here in 'Mélo' is something that everyone should be telling of to their grandchildren. One for the ages, to be sure. This is a Full Screen Presentation (1.33:1) enhanced for 16x9 TVs and comes with the Special Features of:
Brand new 2K restoration of the film
High Definition Blu-Ray (1080p) presentation
Original 2.0 Stereo soundtrack
Optional English subtitles
Newly-filmed introduction by critic Jonathan Romney
Archive interview with director Alain Resnais
Archive interview with producer Marin Karmitz
Archive interviews with actors Pierre Arditi and André Dussolier
Archive interview with script supervisor Sylvette Baudrot
Archive interview with set designer Jacques Saulnier
Reversible sleeve featuring original artwork
+ FIRST PRESSING ONLY: Illustrated collector's booklet featuring new writing on the film by Bilge Ebiri