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Blu-Ray Review: Kino Lorber’s Is Paris Burning? (KL Studio Classics) 

Is Paris burning

René Clément’s amazing wartime epic Is Paris Burning? comes to Blu-ray from Kino Lorber with a beautiful 4K Restoration

The Film 

Viva la France!! 

Director René Clément’s Is Paris Burning? is a vision of the weeks and days before the liberation of Paris. Armed with an all-star cast, real-life locations, and resources to recreate one of the most iconic moments of WWII the director and company deliver one of the most humane and thrilling Epics of the era.  

Similar to Jean-Pierre Melville’s masterpiece Army of ShadowsIs Paris Burning? Concerns itself with the sacrifices that the ordinary Frenchperson took to ensure their city was not destroyed to ash and rumble.  Melville’s film looked at the psychological toll the anxiety and fear took at the darkest hours of WWII on those French that rebelled against the Nazi Occupation. Clément’s film celebrates the humanity and release of joy that is brought on by the liberation of Paris in the waning days of the war.  

Urban Warfare was never delivered the way that Clément delivers it with both the joy, the fear, and the strange humanity that it invokes.  Part of how he is able to create so much tension within a story that we all know the outcome.  How Clément and Co achieve this is by adroit use of their all-star cast.  Stars like Kirk Douglas, Glenn Ford, Anthony Perkins, Robert Stack, and Orson Welles only appear as cameos or die on screen leaving people unsteady and unsure of what will happen to the faces we’re watching on screen.  Even the French stars (many who were not stars at the time) like Leslie Caron, Yves Montand, Jean-Paul Belmondo, Alain Delon, Bruno Cremer, Jean-Pierre Cassel, or Charles Boyer are familiar faces as well that have fates similar to the American stars.  

Is Paris Burning? makes great use of its 174-minute run time packing the movie wit enough action, drama, comedy, political strife, romance, and sacrifice to fill two films.  Yes, it is a bit languid in parts but always at the service of the humanity of the piece. Moments like two soldiers sharing a glass of wine, the French making phone calls for the various soldiers, an infight at a movie theater give credence to situations that are never seen but really happened.  Giving light and joy during the end of truly harrowing and dark times.  

Few wartime films give us time with the street-level fight and the human struggle that Is Paris Burning? shows us so artfully and intelligently.  One may find themselves falling in love with this minor key masterpiece like this reviewer has. 

The Transfer

This transfer has been digitally restored from a 4K scan of the 35mm Original Camera Negative by Paramount Pictures in Association with American Zoetrope and Francis Ford Coppola.  The restoration is a wonderfully astute representation of the Black and White photography.  The Black and White image is clear with wonderful subtle contrast levels and black detail – which thankfully doesn’t crush the blacks in any way.  Again, Kino has pushed the limitations of what’s possible with a Blu-ray transfer.  One will be shocked at how great it looks.  The only way that the film could look even more strikingly cinematic is if Kino were to release a 4K disc.  

The Extras

They include the following;

  • NEW Audio Commentary by Film Historians Daniel Kremer and Howard S. Berger
  • Trailers

The all-new Audio Commentary by Film Historians Daniel Kremer and Howard S. Berger opens with the duo’s credentials and a discussion of Maurice Jarre’s score and the Overture.  Some of the other details include the similarity to other massive WW2 projects from other studios; how this was a Roadshow film – a description of what a Roadshow film was; the two day premiere of the film – which was not a norm; the rise of Paramount at the time; the box office success worldwide and specifically in France; the work and personal life of Gert Fröbe – his association with Fascism in Germany, his heroic acts during the war; this leads to a larger discussion in the film and how Clément shows the humanity and the details of humanity not only here but in his entire filmography; the reasons why the film was shot in black and white; the reference and call to attention of films within film in this movie and a larger discussion of it in in Clément’s work; the use of wartime footage intercut with the production footage – which is one of the first productions to do this stylistic decision; the work of Orson Welles – and his relationship with Clément; a larger discussion of Clément and what younger French filmmakers thought of him and his work; the work of screenwriter Francis Ford Coppola; which leads to a larger discussion about the development of the script and the many screenwriters that worked on the film; the compromises made by Clément to be able to film in Paris for the production and development to satisfy Charles de Gaulle at the time; Spike Lee and other director’s feelings on this film; the critical response to the film; a larger discussion about the New Wave and the old guard in France and how actors worked and did not work with each of the groups and the dynamics at play during the production of this film – which was one of the biggest productions in France at the time; the history of this kind of Roadshow Epic and various films of similar ilk; Clément’s use of space and camera in the film; some of the troubles that they had during the production because the war was still very fresh for France;  a hilarious discussion of double taps for VHS releases and specific Paramount’s use of them; how this was the entry for Gulf + Western into the Studio Business and their purchasing of Paramount – a huge discussion of this and the turmoil that caused for this and the studio at the time; there is a larger discussion of the all-star cast that was cast in this film – both the American and French actors; a discussion about the eventually passing of the intelligent Epics with full control of the Director in the 1970s and eventually came to an end with Heaven’s Gate and the 1980s; and much more.  There is literally no time wasted during the three-hour runtime by the duo on this informative and fascinating commentary track – including talking through the intermission music.  

Rounding out the special features are trailers for The Day and the Hour (4:13), The Train (4:26), The Great Escape (2:45) 

The Final Thought 

Kino Lorber has brought Is Paris Burning to life with a new 4K Restoration.  Highest recommendations!!! 

Kino Lorber’s Blu-Ray edition of Is Paris Burning is out now 

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