Weekend at Dunkirk (1964)

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Released 23-Sep-2009

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category War Drama None
Rating Rated M
Year Of Production 1964
Running Time 118:14
RSDL / Flipper No/No Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 4 Directed By Henri Verneuil
Studio
Distributor

Madman Entertainment
Starring Jean-Paul Belmondo
Catherine Spaak
Georges Géret
Jean-Pierre Marielle
Pierre Mondy
Marie Dubois
Christian Barbier
François Guérin
Kenneth Haigh
Ronald Howard
Jean-Paul Roussillon
Albert Rémy
Case Amaray-Transparent-Dual
RPI ? Music Maurice Jarre


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 2.0 mono (224Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 2.35:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 2.35:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles None Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

     Weekend At Dunkirk (Week-end a Zuydcotte), based on the award winning novel by Robert Merle, is set over two days, Saturday and Sunday, 1 and 2 June 1940, when the German forces invading France had pushed the British and French armies back to the beaches around Dunkirk. There, relentlessly shelled and attacked from the air, the exhausted soldiers wait for the chance to be evacuated by small boats to safety across the channel to England.

     In what is basically a plot-less narrative, Weekend At Dunkirk follows the footsteps of French Sergeant Julien Maillet (Jean-Paul Belmondo) who, separated from his unit, tries to get onto a boat to freedom. Over the course of the two days Maillet encounters a range of the flotsam thrown up by the German advance including a scrounger, a priest, a machine gunner, a British soldier who refuses to leave his French wife behind, German 5th columnists dressed as nuns, English officers, rapists and Jeanne (Catherine Spaak), an attractive woman who refuses to leave the family home. These characters intersect, and re-intersect with Maillet in various ways as he seeks a place on that illusive boat to England.

     While the film may have a sparse plot, the widescreen visuals are anything but! The film set encompasses a wide beach and sand dunes with ruined buildings, often on fire, behind. Cinematographer Henri Decae, who had long career working with greats such as Truffaut (The 400 Blows (1959) and Jean-Pierre Melville (in the Alain Delon classic Le Samourai (1967)) creates stunning visuals that are simply astonishing: every scene, even intimate ones with a couple of people talking, features amazing depth and detail in the back ground: long lines of soldiers, wrecked vehicles, burning buildings, explosions, ships and aircraft. In pre-CGI days, all this is real and I have seldom seen a war film, much less a French one on a far more limited budget than is usual in Hollywood, with so much detail and movement in all the backgrounds during most of the 2 hour running time. I seem to remember that Atonement’s (2007) sequence set in Dunkirk was greatly praised - Weekend At Dunkirk does it without CGI and over a much longer period. There are quibbles: the German aircraft are referred to as Stukas, which the planes used in the film certainly are not, but I believe that by the 1960s no Stukas were still flying, so without CGI the film would have needed to use models (such as the fake looking Stuka sequence in The Battle of Britain(1969)). Instead, we have real aircraft making low level strafing runs over the beaches, and if they are not genuine German aircraft from WWII the sequences are still spectacular in their own right.

     As well as the visuals, the film features an interesting score from prolific composer Maurice Jarre (winner of three Oscars for his work with David Lean in Lawrence of Arabia (1959), Doctor Zhivago (1965) and A Passage to India (1984)). By interesting, I mean that Jarre contributes an electronic score that is playful, rather than dramatic, sounding like something one might hear at a fairground. While it occasionally feels a bit odd, the suggestion, enhanced by the detailed visuals, that the Dunkirk evacuation with its chaos and misunderstandings was some kind of carnival enhances the decided anti-war feel of the film. For this is not a film about heroism, but about individuals facing terror, disillusionment and defeat in various ways.

     Another plus is Jean-Paul Belmondo, who is never off screen. Belmondo is a genuine screen icon, an actor who appeared in over 80 films in a career that stretched between 1956 and 2008. No matter the film or genre, he was the epitome of “cool”, the nearest equivalent in English language films probably being Steve McQueen. In Weekend At Dunkirk he is handsome and charismatic, but the “tough guy” persona is absent and he is not an action hero. Indeed, he is not really the catalyst of the film’s action, but rather the almost passive recipient of the actions and activities of others. Perhaps these understated roles are the hardest for leading men (which Belmondo at this stage certainly was) to pull off and here he does well and is always very watchable.

     Weekend At Dunkirk is an interesting and unusual French war film, an intimate portrait of individuals in defeat full of stunning widescreen visuals, an interesting score and the wonderful Jean-Paul Belmondo.

     Weekend At Dunkirk is included in the three disc set French Screen Icons: Jean-Paul Belmondo 1 from Madman that also includes Moderato Cantabile (1960) and A Man Called Rocca (1961).

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Transfer Quality

Video

     Weekend At Dunkirk is presented in an aspect ratio of 2.35:1, the original theatrical ratio, and is 16x9 enhanced.

     The print looks good and the widescreen images are stunning if slightly soft. Colours are natural, if a bit washed out and muted, detail acceptable. Blacks are good and as there are no dark scenes, the film mostly taking place outside in daylight, shadow detail is not an issue. Contrast and brightness occasionally vary, and there is evidence of edge-enhancement and occasional small marks, but nothing distracting. Overall, a satisfying representation of a 46 year old film.

     There are no subtitles.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

     The audio is disappointing because the original French audio track is not offered. Instead, the only audio available is an English Dolby Digital 2.0 mono at 224 Kbps. This really is a pity.

     Dialogue is easy to understand, but of course is an English dub, and not a particularly good one at that. The effects, such as explosions from air attack and shelling, the vehicle noises and the actual air attacks come across with some depth and are pretty good. There was no surround or subwoofer use.

     As noted, the electronic score by Maurice Jarre was interesting and came across cleanly.

     As this was the English dub of original French language, lip synchronisation was poor.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

     None

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

     There does not appear to be another English friendly release of Weekend At Dunkirk as the only other versions of the film I can find are a couple of Region 2 French releases. They have French language audio but no English subtitles.

     I cannot find an equivalent Belmondo collection listed on sales sites. The only thing close is a Region 2 UK collection that includes Breathless, Pierrot Le Fou, Le Professional, Stavisky and A Double Tour.

Summary

     Weekend At Dunkirk is an interesting and unusual French war film, an intimate portrait of individuals in defeat full of stunning widescreen visuals, an interesting score by three times Oscar winner Maurice Jarre and the wonderful Jean-Paul Belmondo.

     The video is very good for a 46 year old film, the audio is acceptable, except for the absence of the original French language track. There are no extras but the film is presented in a box set with two other films, which is great value for fans of Belmondo or French cinema.

     Weekend At Dunkirk is included in the three disc set French Screen Icons: Jean-Paul Belmondo 1 from Madman that also includes Moderato Cantabile (1960) and A Man Called Rocca (1961).

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Ray Nyland (the bio is the thing)
Friday, January 13, 2012
Review Equipment
DVDSony BDP-S580, using HDMI output
DisplayLG 55inch HD LCD. This display device has not been calibrated. This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 1080p.
Audio DecoderNAD T737. This audio decoder/receiver has not been calibrated.
AmplificationNAD T737
SpeakersStudio Acoustics 5.1

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