It's become increasing common at this time of year to wander into the DVD section of any large supermarket and see it plastered with box sets in which a number of previous stand-alone releases have been united under a single banner. Some are more convincingly linked than others – The Bourne Trilogy or the Harry Potter box set at least make sense. But once you get into linking by star or genre alone – a set that includes Princess Bride, Willow and Legend, or The Departed, Donnie Brasco and Gangs of New York – you know this is a Christmas trick to shift some older titles that have passed their selling prime. It gets really silly when the titles have little in common except their country of origin, as with the set I saw yesterday containing Million Dollar Baby, Brokeback Mountain and Hotel Rwanda. There's probably a Kevin Bacon Game style party activity to find the shortest route between that lot.
Artificial Eye have put out the odd box set in their time, but they've usually fitted neatly into group one of the above, films that were part of a series or linked by a common director. Many of these have been first releases, such as the Aki Kaurismäki Collections or the Leos Carax Collection, but there have also been collective re-issues such as The Three Colours Trilogy and the Michael Haneke Collection.
The French Collection, Vol. 1 falls into that second grouping, three films united only by their star and their country of origin. Even the directors are of varying nationalities (French, Polish and Austrian) and different enough in style to start arguments in wine bars over their merits or demerits. All, I would argue, are excellent examples of modern French cinema at its most creative, and if the purpose of the set is to introduce such films to that friend who keeps watching Hollywood movies and just knows that there's something better out there but won't get off their arse and buy the films themselves, then the set here could well act as a varied if challenging introduction.
The common denominator here is the lead actress, and it's as an introduction to the work of Juliette Binoche that the set scores the most points, three roles that showcase both her extraordinary talent and her iconic beauty. And that second observation is not just a fan boy's swooning – in two of the films here we need to believe that others would fall head-over-heels for her in spite of her involvement with other men, while in the third she needs to convince as an actress who would be cast in the lead role of a feature film. Which she is, of course.
All three discs included here are exactly as the original releases, with same transfers, sound mixes and extra features. For more detailed reviews of each disc, follow the links below:
Three Colours: Blue [Trois couleurs: Bleu]
Code Unknown [Code inconnu: Récit incomplet de divers voyages]
The Night is Young [Mauvais sang]
Overall this is a decent set that may seem a bit on the expensive side given the budget price you can pick up two of them for if you look around. It should be noted that The Night is Young is not otherwise available as a stand-alone and only as part of this set or the Leos Carax Collection.