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The Criterion Collection (#110 of 93)

Review: Claude Autant-Lara’s Four Romantic Escapes from Occupied France

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Review: Claude Autant-Lara’s Four Romantic Escapes from Occupied France

The Criterion Collection

Review: Claude Autant-Lara’s Four Romantic Escapes from Occupied France

“A Certain Tendency of the French Cinema,” François Truffaut’s famously excoriating 1954 essay on what he reproachfully called his nation’s “cinéma de qualité,” has long kept the films and filmmakers discussed in the piece out of fashion, respect, or even visibility. Thankfully, the Criterion Collection’s new Eclipse series, Claude Autant-Lara: Four Romantic Escapes from Occupied France, takes a step toward curing that unfortunate side effect.

Claude Autant-Lara worked squarely within the establishment against which Truffaut railed, first as a set and costume designer, then as a helmer of French-language Buster Keaton imitations, and finally as a respected director in his own right—a specialist in a kind of frothy, Lubitschean entertainment laced with melancholy. All four films included in this box set adhere to a stylistic package common within the French studio system of the time—a polished mise-en-scène that spotlights fine costuming and set design, meticulous deep-focus staging that occasionally borders on stiltedness, and a conventionally sweeping score—but what Truffaut omitted in his condemnation is their subtle air of rebellion and discontent.