Offering the “touchstones of world cinema” at an affordable price, the Essential Art House collections from Criterion are a reasonable way to get good copies of great movies and the Essential Art House Vol. 5 may well be the best assemblage of films in the series yet. The fifth volume of Essential Art House features six wonderful films, all presented in movie-only DVD editions. There are impressive liner notes to each movie, giving novices and cinephiles alike revealing, invaluable information.
The set includes David Lean’s Brief Encounter, Federico Fellini’s 8 1/2, Yasujiro Ozu’s Floating Weeds, François Truffaut’s Jules and Jim, Gillo Pontecorvo’s Kapò, and Miloš Forman’s Loves of a Blonde.
If that list of pictures has you salivating, as it does me, this box set is a must-have and then some.
Lean’s Brief Encounter is one of those classic film romances that can’t be missed by serious lovers of fine cinema. A British filmmaker, Lean may well be remembered most for his big screen epics like Lawrence of Arabia and Doctor Zhivago, but Brief Encounter lets Lean dial it down. An adaptation of a Noël Coward play, this film shared the Palme d’Or at the 1946 Cannes Film Festival and features a knockout performance from Celia Johnson.
Fellini’s 8 1/2 is one of my personal favourite films of all time. The quintessential tale of creative dread, this picture marks a turning point in the tremendous career of Federico Fellini. The performances are masterful and Fellini’s fondness for Guido’s excesses make for great filmmaking. Nino Rota’s famous score guides the entire thing along to its conclusion and the opening traffic jam sequence is one of the finest in movie history.
Ozu’s Floating Weeds is actually a remake of his 1934 A Story of Floating Weeds. This film features dazzling colour cinematography by Kazuo Miyagawa and that beautiful, meditative Ozu style. His trademark low camera placement is apt here, as the story of an actor reuniting with his son is told thoughtfully and carefully. Ozu’s reluctance to use colour probably worked in his favour, but Floating Weeds really is an artist’s vision and he makes tremendous use of the bright possibilities.