Somerville House // 1971 // 81 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge William Lee (Retired) // January 14th, 2009
Once a late night television mainstay on Canadian airwaves, The Apprentice arrives on DVD in a lackluster "special edition" from Somerville House. The distributor has repackaged the film, also known by the title Fleur Bleue, to play up the presence of a young Susan Sarandon (Speed Racer) who "oozes sexuality" in a "dangerous, daring and sensuous" tale. Viewers who fall for this ploy, which misrepresents the movie, will be disappointed.
Jean-Pierre (Steve Fiset) is a luckless young man living in Montreal, Quebec. Constantly bouncing between low-paying jobs, he blames his poor English skills for his mistreatment from employers. Jean-Pierre's virginal girlfriend, Michelle (Céline Bernier) is a separatist. Dock (Jean-Pierre Cartier), Michelle's brother, introduces Jean-Pierre to a life of crime. The pair starts off with stick-ups and then progress to staging bank robberies.
Sarandon plays Elizabeth, an American model, who befriends Jean-Pierre after unintentionally getting him fired off the set of a commercial shoot. He doesn't quite know what to make of her, but Jean-Pierre quickly falls under Elizabeth's spell even though he knows she won't be his exclusively.
The Apprentice has a lot of value as a cinematic time capsule. Montreal at this time is sharply segregated with the French speakers living in the east and the English speakers in the west side of the city. With the Anglophones enjoying economic power, this is the socio-political backdrop for the story. There is no mistaking the era in which the movie is set, as Montreal looks like it's at a cultural crossroads. The sixties fashions are feeling stale and the seventies haven't quite established a platformed foothold yet.
Sarandon is a scene-stealer, not just because she is the most recognizable member of the cast, but also because her character injects so much life into the proceedings. The bubbly, fast-talking Elizabeth has no money troubles and is always surrounded by men jostling for her attention. It is a pleasure watching Sarandon have a go at the type of free-spirited characters played by Diane Keaton, in Annie Hall, and the likes of Kate Hudson and Kirsten Dunst in more recent incarnations. This early effort from Sarandon also features a nude scene -- tame by today's standards but notable for those who keep track of celebrity flesh. The DVD packaging gives the impression that this is Sarandon's movie. The plot summary suggests that Jean-Pierre is Elizabeth's sexual apprentice. It is not an accurate description of this movie.
It is tempting to read politics into the movie. Jean-Pierre's economic disenfranchisement forces him to resort to crime. Michelle, the virgin revolutionary, is the sole representative of the separatist movement. However, rather than an overt statement by the filmmakers, I think the political undertones simply reflect the mixed attitudes and cultural tension of the day. Jean-Pierre is caught between his commitment to his francophone girlfriend and his affection for the American model, but he never has to make a decision on whom to love. He's let off the hook by the movie's cheap, cop out of a conclusion.
A truly bilingual movie, the script spotlights the characters' struggle to communicate in two tongues. The DVD gives viewers the option of the English or French version of the movie (affecting the language of the menus and subtitles only) but the audio track is the same for both. Characters speak English, French or both on the soundtrack and the limited, non-optional subtitling translates only the dialogue spoken in the other language. Even so, the subtitles only do their duty about half of the time. At least the dialogue is clear on the passable mono soundtrack.
The English version of the movie has a decently remastered picture. Colors are strong and only minor instances of dust and scratches are visible, making this a nicely preserved visual record of Montreal neighborhoods in the 1970s. The picture is presented in 1.33:1 full frame but the compositions work fine. Reel changeover cues are still visible in the upper right corner of the frame.
Viewers who select the French version of the movie (and there's no reason to unless you need the French subtitles to follow the English dialogue) will see a noticeably aged movie. Colors are faded; scratches and other physical deterioration are prevalent. In both versions there is limited contrast range, which is especially problematic in one sequence when Jean-Pierre and Elizabeth spend an afternoon in the woods. Where the direct sunlight hits the ground, it's too bright to register any detail so half of the frame is indistinct during this scene.
On the audio commentary, director Larry Kent talks about the social climate when they made the movie. He provides some interesting details -- Montreal was infamous as the bank robbery capital of North American at the time -- and expresses his fondness for the cast. However, he mistakenly credits Carol Laure (Sweet Movie) in the wrong role (this error is repeated on the summary on the DVD's packaging) -- Laure plays Suzanne, Dock's lover and accomplice in crime. Kent talks non-stop for 16 minutes, and then the commentary just ends, without any wrap up or goodbye. The other extras on the disc are an unremarkable stills gallery and a biography on Susan Sarandon.
Apparently, Somerville House is selling this title on Sarandon's name alone with the suggestion that the movie is mostly concerned with sex. While it's an understandable marketing angle, it misrepresents the movie and is terribly unfair to the other people involved with it. The extras are wafer thin and the technical presentation is only adequate. To call this a "special edition" is a very liberal application of the term.
Worth a look for some vintage Canadian drama but it will stay separate from my regular DVD shelf.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Somerville House
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (French)
Running Time: 81 Minutes
Release Year: 1971
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Photo Gallery