As with Artificial Eye's first French Collection release, this is a three film set of loosely associated titles, and is presumably designed either as a catch-up for those who didn't buy the films the first time around or as an introduction to modern French cinema for those who have yet to sample its delights. The link here is one of genre – all are thrillers, but if your exposure to that particular genre has been through the Hollywood definition of the term then you may have a slightly tougher time here. Hopefully it will also prove an enlightening and involving one.
Of the three, the most conventional in structure is Jacques Audiard's The Beat That My Heart Skipped, which is actually a remake of James Tobak's 1978 cult independent American film Fingers, which is an absolute bastard to track down at present for comparison purposes. Audiard's version is still a hell of a movie, with a storming central performance from rising star Romain Duris (mind you, the original had Harvey Keitel) and is the easiest route in for newcomers to French thrillers.
Lemming plays with metaphor, is quirkily engaging and features a splendid performance from Charlotte Rampling, but for my money is a less involving work than director Dominik Moll's debut feature Harry, He's Here to Help, a film I'd heartily recommend as an introduction to modern French thrillers. Lemming still has its devoted admirers, though I've always thought the connection that has been made to the works of Hitchcock and David Lynch to be nowhere near as substantial as some have claimed.
The cream of the bunch, but also the most challenging, is Michael Haneke's Hidden, a compelling study of a bourgeois family in the throes of self-destruction that touches on a number of social issues and includes a typically heart-stopping moment of unexpected violence, one that prompted a collective gasp of horror in the cinema. Something of an opinion divider, a small critical backlash has developed fuelled by those who believed it was over-praised, but what would a Haneke film be with its vocal detractors?
As with Volume 1, there's a slight irony in the fact that only one of the three shining examples of modern French cinema included here was directed by a French native, though all three directors regularly work in France and Moll even teaches at France's national film school, La Fémis. All three films are worthy of your attention and if they're new to you then this set may well be one to grab, especially as you can already find it quite heavily discounted if you look around.
You can read reviews of the original DVD releases by following the links below:
The Beat That My Heart Skipped [De battre mon coeur s'est arrêté]
Note that the versions of both Lemming and Hidden included here are identical to the original releases, including the extra features detailed in the above reviews. The Beat That My Heart Skipped, however, is disc 1 of what was originally a 2-disc set, and all of the extra features detailed in that review were on the missing disc. If it's just the films you're after then this won't be an issue – the picture and sound are exactly the same – but if you want those extra features then you'd be better off hunting out the stand-alone release.