In the French Style

  • Reviewed by: Jim Hemphill
  • Review Date: May 05, 2016
  • Format: Blu-ray Disc
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In the French Style

Director

Robert Parrish

Release Date(s)

1963 (April 12, 2016)

Studio(s)

Casanna/Orsay Films/Columbia Pictures/Sony (Twilight Time)
  • Film/Program Grade: A-
  • Video Grade: A
  • Audio Grade: A
  • Extras Grade: A

Review

Idiosyncratic and sadly underrated American director Robert Parrish made one of his most interesting – and today, largely forgotten – films in 1963 when he joined forces with his friend Irwin Shaw to create In the French Style. Shaw, then a successful if, by his estimation at least, critically underappreciated novelist and short story writer, adapted two of his own stories and produced (with Parrish) this fascinating oddity that stars Jean Seberg as an American girl adrift in Paris. An artist without much talent, she drifts from man to man until eventually settling down in one of the most peculiarly ambiguous resolutions to any Hollywood studio film. There’s not much plot to speak of, and the movie is oddly bifurcated thanks to Shaw’s decision to jam two of his (unrelated) stories together: the first half mostly focuses on Seberg’s romance with a teenage boy posing as an adult (a woefully miscast Philippe Forquet), while the second follows her encounters with a series of unavailable men – and a painful verbal dressing down at the hands of her brutally honest father (Addison Powell).

The two pieces of continuity that link the two halves are Seberg’s lovely, vulnerable performance and some spectacular black and white cinematography by Jean Renoir stalwart Michel Kelber. This, it must be said, is one of the most stunningly photographed movies of its era, with lush, hazy black and white that’s gorgeously preserved on Twilight Time’s new Blu-ray of the film with flawless contrast and an impeccable presentation of Kelber’s subtleties and tonal range. In Parrish and Kelber’s hands it becomes less a film about incident and plot than mood and feeling; there’s an aching melancholy quality that permeates the picture, anchored by Seberg’s all too personal evocation of a woman in crisis. The fact that the crisis feels somewhat mild by movie standards only makes it all the more poignant; modestly scaled scenes like the one in which Powell’s character tells his daughter that she has no talent are devastating in their quiet impact.

There are less of these scenes in the slightly awkward first half of the movie than the second, but that second half more than justifies multiple viewings, if only for Seberg’s brilliantly written and acted climactic monologue. It and every other facet of the film is expertly analyzed by film historians Lem Dobbs, Julie Kirgo, and Nick Redman on a superb audio commentary featured on this Twilight Time disc; as usual, the label’s house scholars provide a wealth of production history and insight on their narration. In my opinion they’re actually far harder on the movie than it deserves – Dobbs in particular is ruthless in his dissection of the film’s weaknesses. Yet this is part of the fun: wrestling with Dobbs, Kirgo, and Redman’s assertions and weighing them against one’s own. I watched the disc three times – once for the movie, once with commentary, and once just the movie again – and found it richly rewarding each time. An isolated music and effects track and a theatrical trailer complete this release of an essential, ripe for rediscovery treasure.

- Jim Hemphill

 

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