Muriel, or The Time of Return
Alain Resnais’s Muriel, or The Time of Return, the director’s follow-up to Last Year at Marienbad, is as radical a reflection on the nature of time and memory as its predecessor. The always luminous Delphine Seyrig stars as an antique shop owner and widow in Boulogne-sur-Mer, whose past comes back to haunt her when a former lover reenters her life. Meanwhile, her stepson is tormented by his own ghosts, related to his service in France’s recently ended war in Algeria. Featuring a multilayered script by Jean Cayrol, and inventively edited to evoke its middle-class characters’ political and personal realities, the fragmented, emotionally powerful Muriel reminds viewers that the past is always present.
Alain Resnais’ Muriel, or The Time of Return comes to Blu-ray in North America, courtesy of The Criterion Collection. The film is presented on this dual-layer disc in its original aspect ratio of 1.66:1. The 1080p/24hz high-definition presentation comes from a new 4K restoration of the film, scanned from original camera negative.
I have to go by memory on how the Koch Lorber DVD looked (and, considering the film in question, working from a questionable memory regarding a previous release of said film seems rather suiting) but this presentation, no question, looks far better than that DVD. The restoration work itself has pretty much removed every single blemish (other than a section which uses what is supposed to be "archival footage," which looks purposely tattered and damaged) and in this regard the image looks mint. The actual digital presentation itself is also superb, providing smooth motion and superb object detail, the textures and threading in Alphonse’s jacket being the best showcase for this. Film grain is fine but still visible and rendered incredibly well, and I don’t recall any blocking patterns or any other digital issues popping up. Overall its very filmic.
I seem to recall the film having a warmer tone on the older DVD but this one leans more on the yellow end of the spectrum, though not to the same degree as the recent Touch of Zen release from Criterion (but it’s definitely yellow). Colour saturation otherwise is excellent and black levels are fairly strong even if some details can get lost in the shadows. Despite this latter issue it’s still a fairly pleasing, stable image.
The lossless French PCM mono track sounds good for its age. Fidelity isn’t very strong and range is limited, but dialogue is clear and various sound effects (some heightened and a bit artificial maybe) also come through quite clearly. Music can get a little bit edgy when it reaches the higher frequencies but in general I thought it was balanced well. Age is certainly limiting factor here, and the reason for any weaknesses, but I think it gets past this and is still a very pleasing soundtrack in the end.
Supplements prove to be incredibly disappointing. The film calls for some great, in-depth scholarly material like a commentary or visual essay, but there isn’t much here in that regard. A 27-minute interview with François Thomas works to fill in this aspect, with Thomas going over Resnais’ work up to this film, focusing a little on the previous work he did with Muriel’s writer, Jean Cayrol, on Night and Fog. He gets into a little detail about the film’s editing, its themes on memory, and its style, but he spends a bit more time on how it dealt with the Algerian conflict, a fairly taboo subject at the time, and he gives some more background on the town Boulogne-sur-Mer and Resnais’ presentation of the town’s clashing of the old and new. It’s a fine enough interview, though frustratingly only skims the surface of the film, and every topic he covers could be stretched out into their own individual features.
Unfortunately the other features, all archival, don’t add a whole lot on top of that. We get excerpts from various programs, starting with one from the 1980 television documentary Une approche d’Alain Resnais, révolutionnaire discret, which features interviews with author Gaston Bounoure and writer Jean Cayrol. Of the excerpts this is probably the more invaluable one, Bounoure nicely summarizing the film while Cayrol talks about the script and the influence of the Algerian conflict. The other two excerpts—an interview with composer Hans Werner Henz from an episode of Discorama and an interview with actor Delphine Seyrig from L’invite du dimanche—are still fine enough but not terribly revealing. Henz goes into detail about writing his first film score (something he never considered before despite many offers) and how Resnais saw the film more like an opera. Seyrig’s starts out fine enough, where she compares her performance in this film to her previous film with Resnais, Last Year in Marienbad, though the interview breaks down a bit in the last half (maybe due to difficulties in the program being able to obtain clips from Muriel) when the two focus on the physical aspects of the character through stills. In the end the archival features are worth viewing, though brief at about 4-minutes each.
The disc then closes with the film’s trailer. The included insert at least adds some decent value with its essay by James Quandt, expanding on items covered by Thomas in his interview, though with a bit more focus on the characters and the film’s presentation of memories.
There’s some great material scattered about yet I’m still a bit surprised how reserved this edition is. Even if Quandt does argue (somewhat) that the film isn’t really all that complicated when you get down to the nitty-gritty of the story and its characters (and I guess that is true) it’s still such an intriguingly constructed film, one I figured scholars, historians, and filmmakers would be falling over one another to talk about, either through commentaries, interviews, essays, or scene analysis. Of course, maybe I’m wrong in assuming that.
A bit of a frustrating edition in the end. Despite a yellow hue the presentation is at least crisp and sharp, looking great in motion, but the supplements are so incredibly underwhelming