Appellate Judge Dan Mancini thinks Justice Payne (the DVD Verdict logo guy) looks a lot like Gérard Depardieu in a powdered wig.
"All the mornings of the world are gone without recall"—Marin Marais
Director Alaine Corneau's (Lumière and Company) much-admired 1991 film about a life-long battle of wills between a brilliant musician and his ambitious pupil finally arrives on DVD in this two-disc package from Koch Lorber.
Facts of the Case
During the reign of King Louis XIV, talented young musician Marin Marais (Guillaume Depardieu, Pola X) arrives at the country villa of Monsieur de Sainte-Colombe (Jean-Pierre Marielle, La Petite Lili) seeking an apprenticeship. Sainte-Colombe is a master of the viol da gamba (a precursor of the cello) who's lived as a recluse with his two daughters since the death of his beloved wife (Caroline Sihol, Confidentially Yours). He has even rebuffed King Louis's offer of a position in the royal court.
Marais discovers that Sainte-Colombe is on a personal quest to push beyond the technical constraints of music in order to achieve a soulful though fleeting expression of his enormous pain and loneliness. The young man also develops an interest Madeleine (Anne Brochet, Masques), the older of Sainte-Colombe's two daughters. The old master's demands that Marais put aside ego and devote himself to music in its purest form prove impossible for the ambitious young man. Neither is his bond to Madeleine strong enough to keep him on the Sainte-Colombe estate. Marais sets off for Paris and a position in the king's court.
Years later, an older Marais (Gérard Depardieu) returns to his aged master, fat on rich living and saggy from exhaustion. It's too late for the respected and established Marais to make amends to Madeleine, but perhaps he can demonstrate to Monsieur de Sainte-Colombe that the old man's efforts were not in vain, that there is another musician in the world who seeks pure and truthful music.
Because of its focus on the relationship between two historical musicians, Tous les Matins du Monde is often compared to Amadeus. In truth, the two films are only similar on their surfaces. While Milos Forman's study of Mozart is mostly concerned with the nature of talent and the character of the men behind great works of art, director Alain Corneau's film is more concerned with how great art springs from the joys and sorrows (especially the sorrows) of life. In that regard, it has more in common with Jacques Rivette's La Belle Noiseusse than it does with Forman's Oscar-winner.
Tous les Matins isn't as austere, languidly paced, or as focused on the nitty-gritty physical production of transcendent art as Rivette's film. Instead, it offers a fairly straight-ahead romantic vision of the artist as a tortured soul who turns to art as a form of catharsis. Monsieur de Sainte-Colombe's greatness as a musician is inseparable from his wife's death—the latter is the catalyst of the former. Truth be told, it's a shallow take on the origins of artistic inspiration, one that never pierces the mystery its presents.
Corneau's film has charms beyond its incomplete dissection of art and the artist, though. It's a moving character piece. Dividing the Marin Marais role between Gérard Depardieu and his son smacks of stunt casting, but the results are surprisingly successful and satisfying. Guillaume Depardieu comes off as pretty and shallow, a kind of wide-eyed blank slate in the presence of high-caliber actors like Marielle and Brochet. But the performance is appropriate. His Marais is young, out of his musical depth under Sainte-Colombe's hard tutelage, while wielding his good looks with a casual sexual cruelty against Madeleine, a girl who's lived a cloistered life in the country with her half-mad father. It is in its sharp contrast to the elder Depardieu's performance that the younger's springs to life, transcending its seeming woodenness. Gérard brings to the role of the elder Marais a paunchy, baggy-eyed exhaustion that appears an inevitable end-point to the younger man's naïve ambition and self-indulgence. The middle-aged Marais is a wreck beneath pancake makeup, powdered wig, frilly clothing, and high-heeled shoes. Having presumably wasted himself on rich food, booze, fineries, and women, it's logical he would return to his master seeking an answer to how he can imbue his art—his life—with meaning.
Jean-Pierre Marielle's performance is impressively understated. Sainte-Colombe is a bundle of raw but sublimated emotions. Marielle's use of his body is exquisite, his movements slow and deliberate as if every moment of his existence requires effort. Stripped of histrionics and sentimentality, Marielle's performance is surprisingly powerful, giving viewers a full sense of the weight of the man's sorrow.
In contrast to Marielle's reserve is the dynamic performance of Anne Brochet as Sainte-Colombe's elder daughter. Madeleine's intensifying love for Marais, and her slide into illness and madness once rejected by him, makes the role the most given to scenery-chewing excesses. Brochet, I suppose, does chew some scenery, but she's so good an actor it never feels excessive. Her performance is intense and heartbreaking, essential in putting viewers in the antagonist posture toward Marais necessary for us to fully feel the cathartic reconciliation between master and pupil at film's end.
Koch Lorber has done an excellent job bringing this delicate yet dynamic human drama to DVD. This two-disc release offers a solid transfer of the film on Disc One, and some decent extras on Disc Two. The anamorphically-enhanced widescreen transfer offers bold, accurate colors, and reasonably sharp detail. The image is over-manipulated in spots, resulting in excessive haloing from edge-enhancement. But overall, the transfer is pleasing.
The original French audio is offered in both Dolby 5.1 surround and stereo. Both mixes do justice to the quiet, dialogue-heavy film, but the throaty and luscious tones of the abundant viol da gamba music benefit enormously from the more elaborate mix.
Supplements on Disc Two include a 49-minute documentary on Jordi Savall, the musician and music historian who compiled and performed the pieces by Sainte-Colombe and Marais for the film; brief television interviews with Corneau, Marielle, and Savall; a 10-minute making-of featurette; and a French theatrical trailer for the film. All of the extras are presented in French and subtitled in English. There is a Play All option to make viewing more convenient.
In addition to the Disc Two extras, there is an insert booklet with two excellent essays. The first, by film critic Robert Horton, provides background on and analysis of the film. Historian Stuart Cheney provides the second, meatier essay. It delves into the histories of the viol da gamba, Marin Marais, and Monsieur de Sainte-Colombe.
As a film about the origins of artistic expression, Tous les Matins du Monde is a middling affair. As a human drama, though, it's captivating.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Koch Lorber
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