César et Rosalie isn’t the most obvious contender for a British Blu-ray release – in fact, it’s downright unexpected. Though it received a theatrical release in the UK during the summer of 1973, Claude Sautet’s feature has been practically unseen since. There has been nothing in the way of television screenings or a VHS release, let alone a DVD. With the exception of 1992’s multiple award-winning Un Coeur en hiver (which had a cinema release, VHS and Channel 4 screening in quick succession over here and is now easily obtainable on disc) this kind of fate – or worse – has been true of much of Sautet’s output. We’ve had the occasional theatrical opening, the odd videotape, maybe a late night television showing, but such incidents are few and far between. Certainly, we haven’t seen anything to compare to the Criterion treatment lavished on Classe tous risques, his 1960 gangster picture starring Lino Ventura and Jean-Paul Belmondo. As such it’s safe to say that whilst Sautet is hardly a complete unknown, he perhaps doesn’t have much currency. Or at least not enough to justify a Blu-ray of one of his mid-period works, it would seem.
Needless to say César et Rosalie has other tricks up its sleeve. Whilst a small number of us will welcome this release as a means of encountering more Sautet or plugging a gap in French popular cinema, the majority will be drawn to its star power. Yves Montand occupies the central male role, with Romy Schneider (who’s currently being well served by Blu-ray: Bertrand Tavernier’s Death Watch also comes to HD this week; Le Piscine and Orson Welles’ The Trial are already on the shelves) taking on the part of Rosalie. Though he doesn’t get his name in the title, David is also key to the story. He’s played by Sami Frey who should be familiar to some as one of Jean-Luc Godard’s Bande à part. In a nutshell, César and Rosalie are a couple, though not wed. (Rosalie was previously married, however, and has a young daughter from that relationship.) David is a former lover who reappears after an absence of five years fuelling the various entanglements and jealousies that make up Sautet’s picture.
Two hours of push and pull results in an, at times, undeniably soapy concoction. There are arguments, break-ups, confrontations, reconciliations and so forth which, in lesser hands, would prove hard to swallow. But César et Rosalie is very much an actors’ film and Sautet is very much an actors’ director. In Montand and Frey he has a pair of charmers albeit of differing types. In Montand we have the former matinee idol and co-star of Marilyn Monroe. Though he may be playing a scrap merchant, the old school ruggedness comes through. He’s a bit tough, a bit brash, a guy’s guy who enjoys his poker and being the centre of attention. Being in a relationship with someone as beautiful as Schneider (who was seventeen years younger than Montand) clearly helps in such matters too – and the connection between the two is immediate from the off. By way of contrast, Frey (sixteen years Montand’s junior) was associated with a different school of filmmaking and a different generation of filmmakers. He’d appeared for the likes of William Klein, Georges Franju and, of course, Godard when the director was at his most effervescent. Montand worked with Godard too, on 1972’s Tout va bien, though by this point youthful energies had given way to political motivations; you wouldn’t find him running through the Louvre as Frey had famously done in Bande à part.
Not that we’re being asked to pick a side. Rosalie, it would appear, loves both these men equally, but she’s never judged as a result. For Sautet and his fellow screenwriters Jean-Loup Dabadie and Claude Néron this is a situation to probe and explore, not one to get on their collective high horse about. Schneider also plays the part with great sensitivity and, to a point, a certain impenetrability. We never truly get inside her head and therefore never quite able to fully grasp her decision making. It makes for a much more interesting picture as it, at least, suggests a little weight behind the occasionally melodramatic goings-on. Furthermore, it also prevents César et Rosalie from being another of the ‘free love’ cash-ins that were currently doing the rounds it could so easily have become. (The same year as César et Rosalie hit British cinema screens also saw the arrival of Blake Edwards’ The Harrad Experiment and Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice making the transition to short-lived television sitcom). There are signs of the times within the movie, though these are generally down to Schneider’s choice of evening wear and Philippe Sarde’s pleasingly squelchy primitive synth score.
César et Rosalie comes to UK Blu-ray courtesy of StudioCanal, who are also putting out the film on a standalone DVD. Encoded for Region B, the disc offers up a good if not great presentation and a 30-minute retrospective featurette. César et Rosalie appears in its original 1.66:1 aspect ratio with original French mono soundtrack and optional English subtitles. It’s in near-pristine condition, with just the odd fleck of dirt or tiny scratch putting in a rare appearance. Contrast levels and colour tones also appear to be correct, though StudioCanal have been somewhat overzealous in their scrubbing up. As such detail isn’t particularly great, whilst shadow detail also suffers. However, there are no signs of edge enhancement suggesting, at least, that no digital sharpening has been applied after the fact. The soundtrack, presented here in DTS-HD Master Audio form, is comparatively problem-free. Sarde’s score is perhaps a little emphatic, though this may very well have been true of original theatrical screenings.
The sole on-disc extra, entitled ‘Serenade for 3’, makes for a welcome look back at César et Rosalie’s production. Made up of various talking heads and interview snippets with surviving cast and crew members, it touches on both the film’s themes as well as the more straightforward ‘making of’ aspects. Given the relative low profile of the movie here in the UK it should easily satisfy those seeking to discover a little more about the picture. Almost all of the interviews are conducted in French with optional English subtitling.
César et Rosalie isn’t the most obvious contender for a British Blu-ray release – in fact, it’s down...