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Irresistible French films now on DVD

1960s romance, 'Man and Woman,' leads list of classics

This is probably not the best time to be raving about French cinema . . . or should I say, "Freedom" cinema . . . but some irresistible titles have just been released on DVD. They are led by two with first-rate transfers and extras — a romantic touchstone from the '60s and a valentine to moviemaking.

"A Man and a Woman" (Warner, 1966, color and b/w, not rated, $19.98). This one put filmmaker Claude LeLouch on the map, won the Oscar for best foreign film and was the romantic movie to see in the 1960s. Even the soundtrack album was a hit.

Watching it today, it's surprising how well it holds up, a simple, internalized story about a "script girl" and a race-car driver (Anouk Aimee and Jean-Louis Trintignant) who meet one weekend at a boarding school where each has a child. They gradually fall in love but find themselves haunted by "ghosts" of the past.

The disc also contains a pair of fascinating documentaries, one with LeLouch today, talking about making the film 37 years ago, and another that shows him as a young filmmaker shooting "A Man and a Woman" on a shoestring. The alternating of black and white, and color sequences was not an artistic decision, he explains, but came about because he couldn't afford to shoot the entire film in color!

Extras: Widescreen, in French with English subtitles/dubbed in English, making-of documentaries, trailers, etc.

"Day for Night" (Warner, 1973, PG, $19.98). The late, great Francois Truffaut had made many highly respected films by 1973, but "Day for Night," another best foreign-film Oscar-winner, pushed his international star to new heights.

This delightful comedy/drama about the travails of making movies (the title refers to using a camera filter to shoot night scenes during the day) stars Truffaut himself as a director contending with an array of colorful characters on the set of his latest film, including Jacqueline Bisset and, in her first picture, French star Nathalie Baye.

This disc is also loaded with terrific extras, including vintage interviews with Truffaut and new ones with many who worked on the film.

Extras: Widescreen, in French with subtitles/dubbed in English, making-of documentaries, interviews, trailer, etc.

"Three Colors Trilogy: Blue/White/Red" (Miramax, 1993; R for violence, sex, nudity, language; $39.99, 3 discs). The late Polish writer-director Krzysztof Kieslowslki created a three-film masterpiece with this trio, released in quick succession and with only minor overlapping character cameos to link their storylines.

The title colors are from the French flag, symbolizing liberty, equality and fraternity, and the films are intended to suggest the universality of humanity. They do so by telling simple, yet sensuous stories that are rich in detail and obviously from the heart.

"Blue" is the saddest, a meditation on grief as the luminous Juliette Binoche plays as a sophisticated woman whose husband and young daughter are killed. She is also carrying a secret about the work of her husband, a famous composer.

"White" is dark and satirical, with a wonderful central performance by Polish star Zbigniew Zamachowski as a hapless barber whose life falls apart when he is deserted by his beautiful French wife (Julie Delpy). Charlie Chaplin meets Kafka, if you will.

"Red" more directly addresses where human life fits into the universe, and links with the first two films in a harrowing, touching and most imaginative climax. The story follows the fabulous Irene Jacob as a model whose life is empty, and who is forced to examine herself after an accident brings her into the life of a cynical retired judge (Jean-Louis Trintignant, of "A Man and a Woman"). This one is full of surprises.

Extras: Widescreen, audio commentaries, making-of documentaries, interviews, student films, trailers, etc. The films are not being sold separately at the moment, but strictly as a set.


E-mail: hicks@desnews.com