Daniel Auteuil in On Guard

‘Five Day Lover’ and ‘On Guard’ in Dapper Double-Feature of Romance and Swashbuckling

Broca's brain is ruled by a French heart in an odd but gorgeous pairing.

This Blu-ray offers two gorgeously remastered films directed by Philippe De Broca from more than 35 years apart. While they don’t make much sense as a double-feature, each is an aesthetic pleasure on its own.

De Broca was associated with the French New Wave because he worked with Claude Chabrol and Francois Truffaut, and the former produced his first feature. Unlike that movement, however, De Broca quickly established his interest in classical aesthetics and unabashed mass entertainment that drew on French tradition, often with great success. Indeed, as PopMatters pointed out in a previous review, the international splash of That Man From Rio (1964) directly influenced Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) and all it spawned. Such vulgar success likely prevented him from being taken as seriously as he might have been.

Jean-Pierre Cassel and Jean Seberg in Five Day Lover

Five Day Lover (1961) belongs to a series of romantic dramas he made with Jean-Pierre Cassel, a tall, thin, sleepy-eyed charmer. Its primary attraction today is the presence of a post-Breathless (1960) Jean Seberg as a callow housewife, with a full head of hair replacing her pixie cut. Seberg and Cassel’s characters carry on an affair away from, respectively, a boring husband (Francois Perier) and a middle-aged fashion designer (Micheline Presle). The winsome, compassionate, anecdotal attitude to adultery feels very French, while De Broca provides a physically lovely production of elegant black and white, fabulous sets, and lilting music as only Georges Delerue can lilt. It’s anti-melodramatic, with comedy frequently overplayed.

Based on a classic 19th Century adventure novel, On Guard (1997) is a lavish, sweeping swashbuckler of disguise and derring-do over two generations. The dashing Daniel Auteuil plays a scruffy swordsman who charms a spoiled duke (Vincent Perez), then raises the latter’s daughter (Marie Gillain) against the nefarious schemes of the requisite bad guy (Fabrice Luchini). In the last part of this busy plot, our hero disguises himself as a hunchback, thus explaining the French title of novel and film, Le Bossu or “the hunchback”.

With a brace of bonus interviews from the director and actors, On Guard is a well-paced, absorbing, opulent period film of swordplay and reversals of fortune in the manner of De Broca hits like Cartouche (1962), which would have made a more sensible companion title. Still, we’re just glad the Cohen Film Collection is pairing such great-looking restorations in any combination.

Let’s take a moment to praise their recent habit of auteur-oriented Blu-ray double and triple features such as Maurice Pialat’s The Mouth Agape (1974), Graduate First (1979), and Loulou (1980); Alain Resnais’ Love Unto Death (1984) and Life Is a Bed of Roses (1983); Benoît Jaquot’s The Disenchanted (1990), A Single Girl (1995), and Keep It Quiet (1999); singletons of Pialat’s Under the Sun of Satan (1987) and Van Gogh (1991); and the HD restoration of Jean-Luc Godard’s highly recommended A Married Woman from 1964. Our pleasure at this avalanche is stunted only by our shame at not always having time to get around to such riches. In our defense, we’ve seen many of them before, though we also find these restorations make the picture look better than we’ve ever seen them.

We suspect Cohen only has to license and transfer what’s prepared for the French video market, and that sounds like a great system. There’s lots more we’d love to see, like Nelly Kaplan’s 1969 The Pirate’s Fiancée, also known as A Very Curious Girl; Jean Eustache’s Bad Company from 1967; Pierre Koralnik’s musical of the same year, Anna with Anna Karina, not to mention other Karina films like the curious and seductive 1971 item The Wedding Ring, directed by Christian de Chalonge, and other films by that original filmmaker while we’re at it. Let us also not forget the fantasies of Belgian André Delvaux, such as One Night… A Train (1968); the digressive observations of Jacques Rozier, Philippe Garrel’s surreal efforts with his muse Nico, Nadine Trintignant’s films with husband Jean-Louis, and the dark humor of Jean-Pierre Mocky.

The possibilities are endless, and we haven’t even mentioned such under-represented filmmakers as Alexandre Astruc, Sacha Guitry, André Cayatte, René Clément, Henri Decoin, Claude Autant-Lara, Yves Allégret and his brother Marc, Alain Jessua, Bertrand Blier, Diane Kurys, Claude Sautet, Michel Deville, Jean-Paul Rappeneau, the Swiss Alain Tanner, and the overlooked later films of Marcel Carné, Marcel Pagnol, Jacques Demy and other masters. And whence is Marguerite Duras? And whither are Roger Vadim’s vampiric Blood and Roses (1960) and his 1963 picture with the irresistible English title Nutty Naughty Chateau? Don’t you want to see anything called Nutty Naughty Chateau?

Le Bossu has been filmed more than once, and a 1959 version directed by André Hunebelle starred Jean Marais and André Bourvil, who all reunited for the 1960 Captain Blood. There’s a double-feature in waiting! Then there’s Hunebelle’s ‘60s pop-art Fantômas trilogy with Jean Marais … where we’d better stop before hyperventilation sets in.

RATING 7 / 10
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