Le Plaisir (Directors Suite) (1952)
Introduction-by director Todd Haynes
Audio Commentary-by Adrian Martin, Senior Research fellow, Monash University
Featurette-A Journey Through Le Plaisir: On the trail of Max Ophuls
Featurette-From Script to Screen: Jean-Pierre Berthomé on Le Plaisir
Trailer-Four Directors Suite trailers
|Year Of Production||1952|
|Running Time||93:04 (Case: 97)|
|RSDL / Flipper||Dual Layered||Cast & Crew|
|Start Up||Ads Then Menu|
|Region Coding||4||Directed By||Max Ophüls|
|Pan & Scan/Full Frame||Full Frame||
French Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
English Audio Commentary Dolby Digital 2.0 (224Kb/s)
|Widescreen Aspect Ratio||None|
|Video Format||576i (PAL)|
|Original Aspect Ratio||1.33:1||Miscellaneous|
English Alternate Subtitles
|Annoying Product Placement||No|
|Action In or After Credits||No|
Max Ophüls' name is not synonymous with other directors such as Alfred Hitchcock, Stanley Kubrick, Jean-Luc Godard and Martin Scorsese, but after you have viewed his films, you will understand why Ophüls is commonly referenced as a favourite director and auteur of other directors. In the same way that Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger and Kenji Mizoguchi have left an indelible mark in the works of other auteurs, so has Max Ophüls. Stanley Kubrick and Jean-Luc Godard both have named Le Plaisir as a favourite film of theirs. Francois Truffaut is quoted as saying, "for some of us, Max Ophüls was the best French filmmaker". His film releases on DVD have introductions to them by directors Todd Haynes (Velvet Goldmine, Far from Heaven, I'm Not There) and Paul Thomas Anderson (Magnolia, Punch-Drunk Love, There Will Be Blood). Ophüls is mainly known for his camerawork and his episodic film structure. Le Plaisir is typical of this style with sweeping pan, tracking and dolly crane shots that were extremely rare for the late 1940s and early 1950s, not because of the expense of shooting this way but because of the time it takes to set up these shots. Stanley Kubrick would become famous for mimicking Ophüls camerawork in his films and Jean-Luc Godard would take this 3 short story structure by 19th century French writer Guy de Maupassant and develop it in his 1966 film, Masculin Feminin.
Ophüls is also usually referenced as a French filmmaker but he was not French. He was born and grew up in Saarbrücken, Germany which borders the north-east of France and was Jewish, thus the reason why he went to France in 1933 and worked eventually in the Hollywood system, like many other expatriate German Jewish directors. He made four films in Hollywood in the late 1940s, The Exile, Letter from an Unknown Woman, Caught and The Reckless Moment before returning to France in 1950 and completing La Ronde, Le Plaisir, The Earrings of Madame de... and Lola Montès (incidentally, film critic Andrew Sarris has named this film as the best ever made, but this warrants discussion for another time) before passing away from a heart attack, aged 54 in 1957.
Le Plaisir can be termed as a portmanteau film or anthology film. This basically means that the film is made up of smaller unrelated episodes that are unified by one predominant theme. In this case, the theme is pleasure (i.e. le plaisir in French) and it's consequences. Dr Martin, in his excellent commentary on the film, lists the three episodes as dealing with pleasure and something else. The first story, Mask looks at pleasure and love, the middle story, The Tellier House looks at pleasure and purity and the final story, The Model looks at pleasure and death. The first and third stories bookend the film. They are both less than 20 minutes each, with the middle story running for about an hour.
The Mask is the story of an old man who uses a disguise to enter a ball but collapses and has his mask removed, revealing his old age. He is helped back to his home where we find out about his wife and her views on his lifestyle. In the middle story (The Tellier House), we meet a group of prostitutes who run a closed brothel, by invitation only, in a small town. When they leave to go to the countryside, the town is left in disarray due to the change in routine, but the prostitutes are ironically treated with reverence in the country town where they go to attend a confirmation of the head madam's niece. The final story, The Model, looks at commitment within relationships and it's consequences. The penultimate scene, with it's subjective point-of-view shot, is one of the most amazing pieces of camera work that I have ever witnessed in a film, but I won't spoil it for you, you really have to watch it for yourself.
Le Plaisir also uses a cast of famous French actors such as Jean Gabin, Danielle Darrieux, Daniel Gélin and Jean Servais who played the part of the narrator, Guy de Maupassant. Gabin's career was waning at this point, after his high profile films of the 1930s like Grand Illusion, La Bete Humaine and Pepe Le Moko. After this film, he would write into his contracts that a director could not make him run take after take, as Ophüls did at the end of The Tellier House episode. Both Gabin and Servais made their name in the 1950s in two French crime noir films that are both considered classics of the genre, Gabin starred in Jacques Becker's 1954 film, Touchez pas au grisbi and Servais played the lead role in Jules Dassin's 1955 film, Rififi.
The video transfer is a port of the Region 2 Second Sight release of Le Plaisir which has slight contrast boosting. Normally this would be a negative addition to a transfer, but in this case it's not as the black and white transfer of the film is dark and murky overall.
The aspect ratio is 1:33:1 full frame. It is not 16x9 enhanced for widescreen televisions.
The main feature has an average bitrate of 5.0 mb per sec. It takes up 3.4 gb of a 7.57 gb DVD-9 disc, with one layer of the disc reserved for the main film, and the other layer utilised for the extras. The film is slightly dark but is not dull or grainy. Instead, the transfer has excessive contrast flickering throughout. This is the same way the film looks on the Region 2 Second Sight disc and on my Region 1 Criterion release also.
The black and white cinematography varies in tone in each episode of the film, making them unique. It's the sweeping camerawork that makes this film stand out. For example, in The Tellier House segment of the film we, the audience, only see what is happening inside the brothel as an outsider, the camera following the action on a crane up and across the various rooms through the windows. Stanley Kubrick said that Ophüls' camera "goes through walls", and this film is certainly evident of that.
Film artefacts are very minor and not distracting for the viewer as the film proceeds. They occur at 0:18, 0:35, 1:11, 1:49, 1:57, 9:11, 18:50, 23:01, 52:58, 62:16, 62:40, 64:12, 68:24, 71:15, 71:36, 72:32, 75:31, 78:08, 78:31, 79:54, 80:24, 84:19, 91:13, 92:38 and 92:50.
Again, Madman Entertainment provides it's customers with the choice of yellow or white subtitling. Other distributors, please take note and copy this excellent practice by Madman Entertainment.
There is no RSDL change because the main feature is on the first layer of the dual-layered DVD-9 disc.
The main soundtrack is in mono and has slight background hiss and sounds compressed, it is not as good as the video transfer.
There are two audio tracks. The first one is in French and is encoded in Dolby Digital 2.0 at 192 kbps. the second audio track is for the audio commentary by Dr. Martin. It is encoded in Dolby Digital 2.0 at 224 kbps.
Dialogue is mostly clear, however, sometimes it is slightly muffled. Non-French viewers will not notice due to the subtitling. I did not pick up any audio synchronisation issues.
Music by Joe Hajos serves the film well during the can-can dance scenes. He uses classical sounding background music for scenes that contain long tracking shots, of which there are a few in the film, but contain no dialogue.
The main soundtrack is mono and therefore the sound comes from the front channels identically in both front speakers.
The subwoofer is not used for this film.
|Surround Channel Use|
NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.
Le Plaisir was released in region 2 in the United Kingdom in 2006. It contains the exact same video and audio transfer as the Region 4 Directors Suite release. It also has the exact same extras, minus the audio commentary by Adrian Martin.
The Region 1 United States Criterion Collection release came out in September, 2008. The video transfer on this release is darker than the Region 2 and 4 releases and is also picture-boxed. A black border surrounds the image so that it is not cut off when displayed on Cathode Ray Tube televisions. This is an annoyance for consumers who have high-definition flat-screen televisions as the border is maintained on the display when viewed on these televisions. For extras, the Criterion Collection release has the same introduction by Todd Haynes and the featurette From Script to Screen by Jean-Pierre Berthomé. Unique extras to this release include two narration excerpts in English by Peter Ustinov and in German by Anton Walbrook and three interviews with cast and crew: actor Daniel Gélin, assistant director Tony Abeyant and set decorator Robert Christidès. A sixteen-page written appreciation of the film by film critic Robin Wood is also included on this release.
The Madman Entertainment Directors Suite Region 4 release in September, 2009 contains all the extras found on the Second Sight Region release with the audio commentary by Dr. Martin unique to the Region 4 version of Le Plaisir. Therefore (due to Dr. Martin's commentary) in my opinion, the Region 4 release is the best version of Le Plaisir currently available.
As Dr. Martin says in his commentary, Max Ophüls' films are unique because they present the female's point of view of a story, similarly to Ophüls' contemporary director, Douglas Sirk and perhaps this is why his work has only now become more critically favoured than at the time of release in the 1940s and 1950s.
The video and audio transfer of Le Plaisir may not be as good as other recent Directors Suite label releases, but this is the best that the film looks currently on DVD. The comprehensive and knowledgeable audio commentary by Dr. Martin makes this release a 'must-have' for Max Ophüls fans worldwide as the Region 4 Release is the definitive version of the film in any Region.
|DVD||Sony BDP-S550 (Firmware updated Version 019), using HDMI output|
|Display||Samsung LA46A650 46 Inch LCD TV Series 6 FullHD 1080P 100Hz. Calibrated with THX Optimizer. This display device is 16x9 capable.|
|Audio Decoder||Sony STR-K1000P. Calibrated with THX Optimizer.|
|Speakers||Sony 6.2 Surround (Left, Front, Right, Surround Left, Surround Back, Surround Right, 2 subwoofers)|