Criterion Collection: Judex [Blu-ray] (Version française)
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This effortlessly cool crime caper, directed by Georges Franju (Eyes Without a Face), is a marvel of dexterous plotting and visual invention. Conceived as an homage to Louis Feuillade’s 1916 cult silent serial of the same name, Judex kicks off with the mysterious kidnapping of a corrupt banker by a shadowy crime fighter (American magician Channing Pollock) and spins out into a thrillingly complex web of deceptions. Combining stylish sixties modernism with silent-cinema touches and even a few unexpected sci-fi accents, Judex is a delightful bit of pulp fiction and a testament to the art of illusion.
New 2K digital film restoration, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray. Interview from 2007 with the film’s cowriter Jacques Champreux, the grandson of Louis Feuillade, co-creator of the silent serial Judex. Interview from 2012 with actor Francine Bergé Franju le visionnaire, a fifty-minute program from 1998 on director Georges Franju’s career and imagination. New English subtitle translation. Plus: a booklet featuring an essay by film scholar Geoffrey O’Brien, along with reprinted writings by and excerpted interviews with Franju.
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After the international success of EYES, Franju decided to pay homage to France's great serial filmmaker Louis Feuillade (1873-1925) whose LES VAMPIRES (1916) would influence crime and crimefighter films for decades. He chose JUDEX because of its BATMAN like qualities which he thought a modern audience could relate to. Although set in 1917 and shot in stunning black & white, the film is deliberately anachronistic with contemporary fashions and make-up and the overall look of the French New Wave. American magician Channing Pollock makes a suitably imposing Judex although he's dubbed and the young Edith Scob (HOLY MOTORS) is a thoughtful if somewhat melancholy damsel-in-distress. The score by Maurice Jarre complements the action perfectly.
The show belongs to Francine Berge' (just as it did her predecessor Musidora) as the villainous Diana Monti. Her black outfit is straight out of THE AVENGERS although Diana Rigg's Emma Peel wouldn't show up until 2 years later. The story is essentially the same as the silent. An unscrupulous banker "dies" in the film's most remarkable set piece only to find himself captive of a black clad figure (complete with cape) intent on justice. Meanwhile a greedy governess plans to murder his daughter in the hopes of getting the family's money. After a series of abductions, rescues and narrow escapes, all works out for the best. This was reportedly illustrator Edward Gorey's favorite movie and it is truly one-of-a-kind. The Criterion Blu-Ray and the DVD transfers are stunning!
Franju is clearly interested in the visual impression he makes. The plot and acting are rather secondary. We never know, for example, what Judex is avenging (the original made this clear). He filmed "Judex" using orthochromatic cinematography, which produces a harsh tonal contrast that is key to the stunning visual impact of this movie. It is filmed in black and white but is also literally black and white, using strong contrasts of black clothes and capes with white dresses; dark furniture and white stone and so on. The final fight to the death between two women has one dressed in black and one in white. Undoubtedly, for me, the best scene in the movie is a long shot that slowly reveals Judex in evening wear and sporting a large bird's head mask and holding an apparently dead dove which he carries slowly through a masked party. It is both surreal and frightening, supported by music by Maurice Jarre. This scene alone makes the movie worth having and it must rate as one of the best shots in movie history. Criterion's Blu-ray release showcases the magnificent photography.
The story is relatively straightforward. A wicked banker (a convincing Michel Vitold), who is shown willing to kill, is apparently murdered by an unidentified avenger, Judex (played in a rather limited way by magician, Channing Pollock). In fact, due to the virtues of his daughter (the almost Pre-Raphaelite Edith Scob ), Judex has decided to imprison him for life. However, the plot is complicated by a wicked ex-governess, marvelously played by Francine Berge, who proceeds to kidnap and attempt to kill various characters. In the end, of course, right wins out and the hero gets the girl. Berge is really evil and there is good comic relief from a private detective and a young boy(Jacques Jouanneau and Benjamin Boda respectively).
Franju makes a movie that is a homage to a melodrama of the past, an early version of camped-up superheroes, a morality play and a surreal dream. Hard to accurately describe, "Judex" is the work of a master film maker.
This film will please new viewers, as it has always pleases me, with its atmosphere a nostalgic sense of "innocent fun' that channels some of the trappings of the Louis Feuillade's serials circa 1916 without following all of the plot points (One of the screenwriters of this verision of "Judex" was the grandson of Louis Feuillade). The central character of Judex is a a bit of a cipher in this film, and Franju pretty obviously did not care about fleshing out the character; what we need to see and know about Judex is conveyed adequately by the rather stiff performance of Channing Pollock, a professional magician who was later the mentor of a friend of mine (now also a professional magician).
Above all, what makes this film work, if it "works" at all, are the surreal visuals (the ball at which all the guests and Judex himself wear bird masks, the black-garbed associates of Judex scaling the rough stone walls of an old building at night) and the amazing performance of Francine Berge as the wonderfully, wicked and scheming Diana Monti . . . her character is an homage to the femme fatale played by Musidora in Feuillade's Les Vampires. Jacques Jouanneau turns in a subtly comic performance as Cocantin, a private detective who stumbles onto scene after scene at nearly the right time, later with the help of a small boy who is smarter than he is.
JUDEX is a little ethereal in its pace, but I like it...the masquerade sequence stands on its own.
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