The Films (5/5, 4/5)
French cinema always surprises me when they do genre films. French genre films always have a touch of class and even some unexpected artistic embellishments that help them rise them above some of the same types of films in The United States, and other nations. While French art movies are perfectly fine, I get more excited tracking down stuff like Fantomas, Arsene Lupin, and the thrillers of Boileau-Narcejac. So while I love, say the films of Claude Chabrol, I still prefer his movies that resembles b movies from the states. Speaking of Chabrol, this Cohen Blu-ray set is my introduction to former assistant director to Chabrol, turned director Philippe De Broca. De Broca is a director I knew nothing about before popping in ON GUARD (1997) into my Blu-ray player, and I quickly fell in love. The two films in this set are gorgeous to look at with ON GUARD having the scale and grandeur of Peplum movie and FIVE DAY LOVER (1961) being more in line with great stage play adaptions. Both films filled with pulpy thrills.
ON GUARD tells the story of a gifted nobody named Lagardere (Daniel Auteuil) whose best strength is his swordsmanship. Lagardere meets and challenges Duke Philippe de Nevers (Vincent Perez) and is defeated by Nevers’s special attack, “Nevers Attack”. Lagardere tries to speak to the duke, and gives him a letter he tricked out of the postman. The Duke is surprised to discover that he is the father of Blanche de Caylus (Claire Nebout)’s son. The two become best friends as they journey to see The Duke’s child.
But The Duke’s sinister cousin, Gonzague (Fabrice Luchini), will not have any of this because he wants the title of Duke and wants to force Blanche to marry him. Gonzague and a squad of assassins go after the Duke and plot to murder everyone. Only Lagardere and The Duke’s child survive. As the duke dies Lagardere gives his word to avenge him.
ON GUARD is a splendid return to the swashbuckling classics of Errol Flynn with more violence and an epic scale. The movie has striking composition and at times looks like a spaghetti western. The vistas and locations make this movie a classic alone for the photography. But there’s so much more to it. Based on the novel, “Le Bossu” by Paul Feval, ON GUARD is filled with adventure and incredible story telling. The action scenes are well edited and have some fluid fight choreography. The soundtrack by Philippe Sarde gives the film the right sense of adventure and punches up some of the emotional beats towards the end. Performance wise Daniel Auteuil is a fun and witty hero who goes through some gigantic character arches, not to mention the brilliant disguise of the accountant hunchback. Fabrice Luchini (IN THE HOUSE, the hilarious POTICHE) is one of my new favorite movie villains. From start to finish he is fascinating to watch as the intense whispering weasel he is. The blank stare he has throughout the film give the movie an added layer of menace as he recalls some of the villainous roles played by Basil Rathbone and George Saunders. ON GUARD is a thrilling adventure epic that had me on the edge of my seat from the beginning until the end, with one hell of a satisfying ending.
FIVE DAY LOVER tells the story of Claire (Jean Seberg) a British housewife living in Paris with her bookworm Husband (François Perier) and their children. Claire is bored and wants some thrills in her life. While at a fashion show, she meets a handsome and witty Frenchman named Antoine (Jean-Pierre Cassel) and starts an affair with him. Little does she know, that Antoine is also dating her best friend Madeleine (Micheline Presle) and this could lead to some terrible trouble for the couples wild fling.
FIVE DAY LOVER is a usual sex comedy in that it feels like a dreamlike fantasy that slowly starts adding some drama and comedy. The comedy on display is mostly silent film comedy style gags with some word puns. As for the rest of the film, the film has a wonderful polish to it. Everyone looks great and the city of Paris has never looked better on film. The cityscape and rainy atmosphere add to the slow and enchanting dream quality of the film.
The cast all turn in excellent performances. Jean Seberg (Jean Luc Godard’s BREATHLESS) has never looked better with every second she’s on camera you can’t look away. With her wig she strongly resembles Edith Scob in EYES WITHOUT A FACE (1960) which just adds more to the dreamlike beauty of this film. Micheline Presle is also wonderful to look at and the most grounded of the characters. What’s also nice about the movie is no one in the movie seems nasty or unpleasant. While not a masterpiece, FIVE DAY LOVER is a wonderful sex comedy perfect for a rainy afternoon.
Both films come with a French Dolby Digital 2.0 track with easy to read English subtitles. The subtitles are white and have no spelling errors. ON GUARD has some minor issues with echoes. The folly sounds from horses walking by and the cries of the baby ring really loud and peak at moments. The baby cries sound like two different sounds of various levels. Other than the unnatural echoes, ON GUARD has no hiss or pops. FIVE DAY LOVER sounds crisp and near perfect.
Both films come with wonderful 1080p HD transfers. ON GUARD looks simply marvelous with bright vivid colors. The warm yellows, milky whites, and dazzling greens make the movie pure eye candy. There’s no noticeable film grain or digital noise. FIVE DAY LOVER has smooth black levels and looks like it was filmed yesterday.
This Cohen release is packed with extras. On Disc 1 we get a set of interviews with Philippe De Broca, Daniel Auteuil, Fabrice Luchini, Marie Gillain, Patrick Godeau, Philippe Noiret, and Vincent Perez. Next up is a Promo reel for ON GUARD. There’s a Behind the Scenes featurette and two trailers for the movie. Disc 2 includes a trailer for FIVE DAY LOVER. Rounding the package is a booklet of production stills and Blu-ray info.
I’m now a huge Philippe De Broca fan and I can’t wait to track down more of his films. De Broca delivered two wonderful examples of French cinema matching the old school glamour and excitement of Hollywood cinema. This Cohen Blu-ray is a wonderful introduction to this films and ON GUARD is a must see. Highly Recommended.