Search - Eclipse Series 4 - Raymond Bernard (Wooden Crosses / Les Miserables [1934]) (Criterion Collection) on DVD

Eclipse Series 4 - Raymond Bernard (Wooden Crosses / Les Miserables [1934]) (Criterion Collection)
Eclipse Series 4 - Raymond Bernard
Wooden Crosses / Les Miserables 1934
Actors: Charles Vanel, Pierre Blanchar, Pierre Labry, Jean Galland, Geo Laby
Director: Raymond Bernard
Genres: Indie & Art House, Drama, Military & War
UR     2007     6hr 34min

Studio: Image Entertainment Release Date: 07/17/2007


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Movie Details

Actors: Charles Vanel, Pierre Blanchar, Pierre Labry, Jean Galland, Geo Laby
Director: Raymond Bernard
Genres: Indie & Art House, Drama, Military & War
Sub-Genres: Indie & Art House, Drama, Military & War
Studio: Eclipse from Criterion
Format: DVD - Black and White,Full Screen
DVD Release Date: 07/17/2007
Original Release Date: 10/27/1936
Theatrical Release Date: 10/27/1936
Release Year: 2007
Run Time: 6hr 34min
Screens: Black and White,Full Screen
Number of Discs: 2
SwapaDVD Credits: 2
Total Copies: 0
Members Wishing: 15
Edition: Box set,Criterion Collection
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Languages: French

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Movie Reviews

Les Miserables by Raymond Bernard - the best, and amongst th
Simon Bensasson | Greece | 05/21/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)

"Of all the versions of les Miserables that I've seen (and I've seen a few of them), this is by far and away the best and also closest to the spirit of the book. The whole film is imbued with an atmosphere which transports you to a different time and place. The story absorbs you, the characters come alive. The composition of the images often gives the impression that they have been carefully sketched out, in the manner of Eisenstein or Bergman - only they have a simplicity that does not intimidate. The telling of the story, the acting, the scenery makes it an immortal film - it still makes you weep and it does not resort to Holywood's tricks to do so. For me it is amongst the top ten films ever made."
Raymond Bernard's LES MISERABLES is definitive version!
Rodney Luck | Greensboro, NC | 08/01/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)

"As of this writing I have seen six different film versions of Victor Hugo's classic novel. Not until viewing Raymond Bernard's version had I felt like I had seen the definitive filming of LES MISERABLES.

Don't let the year it was made (1934) scare you away. Yes - filmmaking had only been around for a few years and you may think that the later versions would be more technically advanced and capable of re-creating the novel in a more fully realized fashion. Nothing could be further from the truth. After viewing the 1934 version, I question why anyone chose to remake the film to begin with?

From the opening shot of the contorted, gnarled, grimacing figure carved into stone being held up by a similar human figure literally carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders to the final shot of the two candlesticks slowly extinguishing simultaneously with Jean Valjean's last breath. The candlesticks representing so many aspects of Jean Valjean's life - oppression, thievery, poverty, wealth, light and finally death. Jules Kruger's brilliant cinematography utilizes not only the German expressionistic style that was popular then (shadows, light, angles, etc...), but the occasional handheld camera work was years ahead of it's time.

What I was most impressed with, along with the cinematography, was the caliber of acting from the lead players. When viewing films of that era it seems that much melodrama goes into the performances. But from the first moment you witness the subtlety, sincerity and honesty of Harry Baur's performance as Jean Valjean, you are mesmerized. He encompassed all that made Jean Valjean such a noble, dignified, compassionate and tragic figure in the novel. I will always picture Jean Valjean as portrayed by the brilliant Harry Baur. All the other performers totally give of themselves to make the characters come to life. They bring you along with them on their journey. You truly experience their pains and joys and at each tragic turn you feel like you have lost a true friend.

I was entertained and transported for nearly 5 hours. The quality of the film, the storytelling, the acting and the care that went into this production stayed with me long after the candles burned out. I hope you too, will discover this long, lost treasure of foreign cinema."
Two forgotten classics worth remembering
Trevor Willsmer | London, England | 11/06/2007
(4 out of 5 stars)

"A huge hit in its native France in 1932, Raymond Bernard's film of Roland Dorgelese's autobiographical novel Les Croix de Bois aka Wooden Crosses hasn't dated as well as some of its contemporaries like All Quiet On the Western Front, The Big Parade or Wings, although there's still much in this tale of the gradual decimation of a group of French soldiers in the First World War that works extremely well. It benefits from being made within living memory of the events and by people who were actually there (the entire cast, including Charles Vanel, Antonin Artaud and Raymond Cordy, served in the War), and there's often a feeling of stark veracity to some of the imagery, such as an ignored soldier crawling on his back through No Man's Land after an attack. There's also a determination to at least to try to avoid some of the clichés already inherent in the war movie thanks to several years of propaganda films - one soldier dies cursing his unfaithful wife, another tries desperately to stay awake as he waits for the medics to find him among the dozens of wounded, while in the film's most moving scene a mass gives way to the moans of the wounded in the makeshift chapel hospital while one soldier offers a cynical but heartfelt prayer for life or at least hope from the sidelines. Throughout, hope, pity and salvation remain denied as the war goes on and on.

Bernard's direction is years ahead of his time, the very camera going mad in one huge battle scene where the men are killed defending a cemetery, the handheld camera at times even having to dive for cover and seek shelter from the all-consuming chaos. Yet as a feature it's not entirely effective because few of the figures these events happen to are particularly vividly characterized or portrayed: many of them blur into each other leaving too few characters to care about. It's a fine film and a genuinely noble one that didn't deserve the fate that overtook it - rather than getting a US release it was instead used for stock footage for films like Cavalcade and the remake of Seventh Heaven while in Europe post-WW2 it became increasingly obscure as new horrors robbed it of some of its relevance - and one that's certainly worth a look in Eclipse's nicely restored DVD.

Nearly seven decades before Peter Jackson got New Line to make three Lord of the Rings films back-to-back, the success of Les Croix de Bois enabled Raymond Bernard to persuade Pathe to back an epic three-part version of Les Miserables in 1934, each part released in remarkably quick succession (quite literally a week apart in France). No expense was spared - Arthur Honegger was hired to score the film and the cinematographer of Abel Gance's Napoleon, Jules Kruger, to photograph it on lavishly realised sets filled at times with thousands of extras. Running more than five hours in its original version (and not far off it in its restored version on DVD from Eclipse), it has much more room to breathe than any of the Hollywood versions, and as a result, rather than concentrating on pitiless policeman Javert's relentless pursuit of the reformed convict Jean Valjean, comes closer than any other version to capturing the sprawling narrative and the well-realized supporting characters in Victor Hugo's panoramic novel of rehabilitation and redemption in a cruel world.

In the imposing figure of Harry-Baur (himself tortured and murdered by the Nazis nine years later) it has a Valjean you can believe has spent most of his life in prison while in Charles Vanel's relentless Javert a man as rigid and unimaginative as his greatcoat, while Bernard frequently offers literally askew visuals of a world off-balance that sometimes make The Ipcress File look defiantly horizontal as well as the odd moment of handheld fury to compare to the best scenes in Croix. Yet still the first film, Une Tempête Sous un Crâne/Tempest in a Skull, never quite succeeds in grabbing the heart as well as it does in telling the story. Things pick in the second part, Les Thénardier as the loathsome low-lives assume a more prominent role, with the film offering a particularly chilling ending as Valjean is faced with both a reminder of his past and a possible warning of his future, only for the characters to occasionally get lost in the spectacular events of the 1832 Students' Revolt that dominates the third part, Liberté, Liberté Chérie. Throughout it's constantly engrossing, but while it's a good yarn, it doesn't quite move as you think it could, more a solid literary adaptation rather than a moving emotional experience, though it's not for want of trying and it's certainly worth seeing.

Again the film was ill-served by time, much re-edited (initially as a single film) and only restored to something like its original length in 1977 shortly before Bernard's death. Amazingly this three-part version on the same DVD as Les Croix de Bois is so beautifully restored aside from a few scenes that you'd have a hard time believing it was ever lost. And keep an eye out for one scene of outrageous overacting in Part Two from Jean Servais listening to the Thénardiers plotting through the wall: you can actually hear Bernard directing him off-camera ("Vite")!
Les MisÚrables -- Eyes wide open for 5 hours
J. A. Eyon | Seattle - USA | 09/12/2007
(4 out of 5 stars)

"It's hard to capture the solemn grandeur of a Victor Hugo narrative in a film. What get's left behind will feel like a soap opera (Fantine's story), or a fairytale (little Cosette's story), or Disney scene (Cosette going to the well at night). Here, the students on the barricades seemed nothing more than callow, reckless youths -- but maybe that's what Hugo had in mind.

I have no problem recommending this film, however. Not once during this film's 5 hour length did I get bored. While I would wonder if this scene or that came from the novel, the famous scenes are there, lovingly detailed.

Acting by French actors unfamiliar to me was generally good, sometimes colorful and memorable. Massive Harry Baur nicely embodied the powerful, world-weary Jean Valjean and he also doubled wonderfully as the pitiful Champmathieu, the defendant at the trial. (This actor would die during WWII, apparently the victim of Nazi torture.)

The most stunning element of this movie for me was the vivid B&W cinematography by Jules Kruger. The production values were excellent, showing their limitations only during the battle of the barricades. While the director Raymond Bernard had a tendency to overuse the tilted camera he otherwise did a commendable job in what is obviously a heartfelt production."