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  • Carrie Specht

The Criterion Collection New Releases for March 2021

Come March, the Criterion Collection will be releasing a nother slate of films that have received their special treatment. Included in the list of honorees is Céline and Julie Go Boating, Defending Your Life, Secrets & Lies, and Touki bouki. But don't constrain yourself. Let these films lure you in to the whole Criterion library and swim around. It's an experience that will change the breadth of your personal classic film collection.

I have to admit that I have seen only two of these fine films, and that's Mike Leigh's Palme d’Or–winning Secrets & Lies and Albert Brooks Defending Your Life. I've always wanted to see Céline and Julie Go Boating, but have never gotten around to it. And now I'm glad I've waited so long. This new 4K restoration seems to be the best way to see the film short of an actual theatrically experience. And the former film is something I've long wanted to revisit. I'm pleased to anticipate doing so in such a fabulous new format. But you don't have to take my word for it in regard to either film. Do your research. Look around the Internet (not forgetting IMDb), and see the vast amount of articles and sites that agree; these are must sees. The following is a brief discription of each film based on its press release.


Jacques Rivette’s most exuberantly inventive and utterly enchanting films of the French New Wave, Celine and Julie Go Boating is making its debut on home video through this Criterion release. Director Jacques Rivette, working in close collaboration with his stars and coconspirators Juliet Berto and Dominique Labourier, set out to rewrite the rules of cinema in the spirit of pure play; moviemaking as an anything-goes romp through the labyrinths of imagination. The result is one of the most exuberantly inventive and utterly enchanting films of the French New Wave, in which Julie (Labourier), a daydreaming librarian, meets Céline (Berto), an enigmatic magician, and together they become the heroines of a time-warping adventure involving a haunted house, psychotropic candy, and a murder-mystery melodrama. Incorporating allusions to everything from Lewis Carroll to Louis Feuillade, Céline and Julie Go Boating is both one of the all-time-great hangout comedies and a totally unique, enveloping cinematic dream space that delights in the endless pleasures and possibilities of stories.

Acerbic everyman Albert Brooks' Defending Your Life travels to the afterlife in a divinely entertaining feat of philosophical filmmaking costarring Meryl Streep. The film poses the question: is there love after death? Acerbic everyman Albert Brooks finds a perfect balance between satirical bite and romantic-comedy charm as the writer, director, and star of this wonderfully warm and imaginative existential fantasy. After he dies suddenly, the hapless advertising executive Daniel Miller (Brooks) finds himself in Judgment City, a gleaming way station where the newly deceased must prove they lived a life of sufficient courage to advance in their journey through the universe. As the self-doubting Daniel struggles to make his case, a budding relationship with the uninhibited Julia (Streep) offers him a chance to finally feel alive. Buoyed by a brilliant supporting cast that includes Rip Torn, Lee Grant, and Buck Henry, Defending Your Life is a rare feat of personal, philosophical filmmaking that happens to also be divinely entertaining.

Making its BLu-Ray debut, Secrets and Lies is a devastating exploration of the fault lines running beneath a family’s ordinary life. Writer-director Mike Leigh reaches a new levels of expressive power in his ongoing contemplation of humanity. The film explores the deceptions, small and large, that shape our relationships to those we love. When Hortense (Marianne Jean-Baptiste), a Black optometrist who was adopted as a child, begins the search for her birth mother, she doesn’t expect that it will lead her to Cynthia (Brenda Blethyn, winner of the Cannes Film Festival’s best actress award), a desperately lonely white factory worker whose tentative embrace of her long-lost daughter sends shock waves through the rest of her already fragile family. Born from a painstaking process of rehearsal and improvisation with a powerhouse ensemble cast, Secrets & Lies is a Palme d’Or–winning tour de force of sustained tension and catharsis that lays bare the emotional fault lines running beneath the surface of everyday lives.

Senegalese iconoclast Djibril Diop Mambéty’s debute effort is the convention-shattering debut, Touki bouki. With a stunning mix of the surreal and the naturalistic, Mambéty paints a fractured portrait of the disenchantment of postindependence Senegal in the early 1970s. In this picaresque fantasy-drama, the disaffected young lovers Anta and Mory, fed up with Dakar, long to escape to the glamour and comforts they imagine France has to offer, but their plan is confounded by obstacles both practical and mystical. Alternately manic and meditative, Touki bouki has an avant-garde sensibility characterized by vivid imagery, bleak humor, unconventional editing, and jagged soundscapes, demonstratimg Mambéty’s commitment to telling African stories in new ways.


There you have it. Challenging. Entertaining. Even familiar. The Criterion always prepares a smorgasborg for every monthly release. Bon Appetit.