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on 15 December 2011
French avant-garde and former French New Wave director Alain Resnais` third feature film which succeeded his highly acclaimed first feature film "Hiroshima Mon Amour" (1959) and "Last Year at Marienbad" (1961), was written for the screen by French poet Jean Cayrol (1911-2005) and tells the story about a middle-aged antique dealer named Hèlène Aughain who lives in her inner-city apartment in the provincial port-town of Boulogne-sur-Mer with her restless and secretive stepson Bernard who is haunted by a woman from his past named Muriel. Their lives changes when Hèlène is visited by her old lover Alphonse Noyard who has brought along a young woman named Francoise.

Masterfully directed by one of the greatest directors in cinema history, this character-driven and dialog-driven mystery, a metaphysical drama with rigorously composed visuals and sounds, about memories of love and war, where the past and the present is intertwined and where time dissolves, is a detailed and realistic portrayal of everyday life in a urban French town, a character in itself, where things much like the central characters are incomplete. Like Jean-Luc Godard`s "Le Petit Soldat" (1960), Alain Resnais` film pointedly deals with themes of the Algerian War of Independence which had ended the year before "Muriel, or the Time of a Return" was released.

The efficient use of cinematic devices and the creatively fragmented narrative is pivotal in this stringently structured and acutely written story, which is an enchantingly atmospheric and cryptic chamber piece with memorable acting performances. Like some of the greatest films made by directors Alfred Hitchcock (1899-1980) and Luis Buñuel (1900-1983), this symbolic, metaphorical and distinctly stylistic early nineteen sixties French-Italian co-production gradually decodes the consciousness of it`s characters. A truly engaging and elusive depiction of the human psyche which was awarded with the Volpi Cup for Best Actress - Delphine Seyrig (1932-1990) at the 24th Venice Film Festival in 1963.
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on 1 July 2015
Good movie, fairly average picture quality. I'd like this better on bluray, but it seems nobody cares enough about Muriel.
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on 24 May 2016
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on 4 April 2009
I have seen Muriel twice, first on the R1 DVD (Koch Lorber). This later Eureka/MoC R2 release differs by having better picture and a nice booklet. The colors and details are the same, but the aspect is correct on MoC, as the picture is slightly squeezed on the R1. (Also the subtitles on the R1 are yellow, which I find a little disturbing.)

The picture shows signs of age, it is not especially sharp and rather grainy. But the colors are vivid. Despite this I guess the quality of the transfer is as good as it can get (the R1 shows he same grain). And I watched it on a projector without any problems.

The Booklet contains two essays, the first (by B.Kite) is more theoretical and a little fluffy, and the other (by Anna Thorngate) sets the film in it's historical context and gives a more straightforward (and better) analysis. As a complement, I can recommend Richard Neuperts excellent book "A History of the French New Wave Cinema", where Muriel is analysed and set in the context of the 'new wave' and Alain Resnais other films.

Muriel, ou le Temps d'un retour came out 1963, shortly after the end of the algerian war. It takes place in Boulogne, a city which met a lot of destruction in WW2, and then rapidly modernized with big functionalist concrete buildings. Here Helene lives with her son Bernard, in an apartment where "everything is for sale" as Helene works as a antique dealer. They are visited by Alfonse, a lover of Helene since long ago. And Francoise, Alfonse's lover. The film then follows the characters during a period (we don't know for how long). Some themes of this complex film is memory, identity, and fragmentation (Helene's apartment is fragmented, as is the city and actually the relations of the characters and the characters themselves).

As both essays in the booklet point out, in Muriel Resnais doesn't take the subjective perspective of any of the characters, but rather a "collective point of view". (Thorngate). It's like the action and the characters are viewed through a mind that is zooming in and out and changing location all the time, maybe trying to get a grasp of it all. Sometimes in the film the camera jumps through the city (Boulogne), watches something else (objects, a building) while the characters talk, and sometimes we are shown a sequence of rapid and seemingly random cuts of what is happening to the characters on different locations. Like someone playing fast forward and skipping through chapters of a DVD. Interesting is how when Bernard shows his film from the war, the tempo slows down. Maybe this is the heart of the film. Also, different to Resnais other films Marienbad and Hiroshima, there are no actual flashbacks in time (but maybe some fast-forwarding?).

Well, this is a complex film with a rich content and a special form that can be seen several times. It's better to see it than read about it. But Muriel is no "easy" film with a clear narrative where everything is explained. If you like french cinema, or like the other films by Resnais, you will probably enjoy this.

All in all, that MoC have released Muriel, an important piece of cinema and part of the french new wave, on a high quality R2 DVD with a nice booklet is reason to buy. It would have been nice to have some more extra material, some interview with Resnais or commentary, but you can't get everything. Highly recommended to anyone interested in cinema!
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on 5 May 2009
I bought this film because so many reviews referred to it as a flawed masterpiece. Its is suppose to be a study of people haunted by war and other traumas and how it impacts their life and condition their perceptions. The main character, a middle age antique dealer in a provincial town wrote to an old lover at a whim, and he turned up with a girl he claims is his niece. Then their tales and lives unravel. The beginning and end of the film is the same day, but in the middle, somehow the narrative stretches into two weeks, with flashbacks from distant past. If that weren't confusing enough, Resnais also film shots as seen from characters pt of view, ie distorted, and sometimes he uses different actors to play the same part. This master of the dolly shot decided in this film to use only steady camera ( ie Ozu style) and he manages to turn a calming device into something that confuses even more by seldom using group shots even when they are together.

The reason none of the above works is because its too much a head game, and nothing came from the heart. Resnais decided to illustrate private worlds and states of mind by weird constructions rather than just letting it show and tell naturally.

Do see it, as its interesting as a period piece ( the sets and streets and superb cast are vividly de son temps) and as an experiment, but don't expect anything remotely enjoyable.
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VINE VOICEon 1 June 2009
Having just watched the film I can say it is a brilliantly structured, but flawed masterpiece. It’s an everyday story of the banality of petit- bourgeoise French people’s lives told to the background of the end of the Algerian War and WW2. A magnificent central performance by Dephine Seyrig as Helene, anchors the film emotionally in her desire to renew a love from the past. 'Muriel' explores past trauma through memory, and documentation, as Helene's step-son, Bernard , uses a film he shot in Algeria with his voiceover of memories, using a tape-recorder to relive the experience, about the torture and murder of an Algerian woman, Muriel, which he witnessed with other soldiers who took part. There is an element of music hall ,comic book and allegory as the bounder from the past, Alphonse, returns with his new mistress, disguised as his niece, and his list of tall stories and anecdotes, to win back the heart of Helene. Helene herself uses her apartment as a showroom where she sells furniture, that comes and goes, just like the people who come to buy it.

Also Boulogne, a town under on-going reconstruction, mixes the old with the new. Mother and son are trapped in a painful past they cannot free themselves from. All the characters are isolated in their separate lives, shown even when they’re in groups. The subjective point of view is synthesised into an objective narrative that isn't locked into one person’s consciousness. It portrays the personal pain of several characters by focusing on exteriors: furniture, a half-smoked cigarette, an empty train station. The editing captures the fragmentation and pace ofmodern life, the music by Heinze, captures the alienation of the people. What is frustrating is that the emotional heart of the story is strained through a modernist structure, which is scintillating, but cannot liberate the emotional intelligence.. When Helene draws back a curtain on some badly behaving dinner guests, it’s like Resnais’ exposure of France’s post-war guilt. The battle between style and content is won by the former.
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