The latest DVDs and Blu-rays are given the once-over by our writers. Read first before reaching for your credit card.
Piecing together the collected works of easily the most prolific voices in Belgian cinema, ‘The Dardennes Collection’ charts the successive career of writer-director partners Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardennes by assembling for the first time their six extraordinary feature films, starting with La Promesse (1996) and rounded off with their latest, The Kid with a Bike (2011). Recurrent darlings of the Cannes Film Festival (they have won the coveted Palme d’Or twice, whilst their work has successfully courted further awards and acclaim), the Dardennes remain a constant voice in understated, ultra low-budget filmmaking, painting broad thematic strokes with bristles so sharp, penetrating and honest that each project is a breathtaking melange of stark minimalism and remarkable mortality, with effortless humanity seeping out of each low-key pore.
Debuting in June 2012 at the Edinburgh International Film Festival to widespread (largely positive) commotion, the second feature helmed by Peter Strickland (Katalin Varga) is a clever and claustrophobic exercise in the dark capacities of suggestion, fetishisation of (now relatively archaic, albeit pleasingly tactile) analogue processes and, most strikingly, life’s imitation of art.
It sounds, to say the least, like an unlikely mix – a young Swedish filmmaker, a cast of South African music geeks, and an obscure Detroit singer-songwriter of Mexican descent. But that's not the half of it, because this acclaimed documentary tells a tale that absolutely boggles the mind. It's like The Truman Show with acoustic guitars.
French director René Clement is best known as a purveyor of stylish thrillers, but he also found time to make this heartfelt adaptation of Zola's celebrated novel, L'Assommoir. A gritty tale about the blight of alcoholism among the Parisian working classes, it centres around long-suffering laundress, Gervaise (Maria Schell). When we first meet her, she's in her teens, but she already has a couple of kids by her lover, Lantier (Armand Destral), a womanising heel who abandons her on a whim. Seeking security for her two boys and determined to make something of herself, she marries Coupeau (Francois Perier), a kindly roofer, and opens a laundry shop. But when Coupeau has a nasty tumble and takes to drink, the family finances are put in peril and it seems like her dreams of independence will go down the plughole.