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Cousin Jules

by Kilian Melloy
Tuesday Jun 17, 2014
Cousin Jules

Dominique Benicheti's unusual documentary about his cousin Jules Guiteaux and Félicie, his wife, is staged as a "day in the life," but was produced more like a feature film (over the course of five years), with storyboards and feature-quality production values that include wide-screen format, stereo sound recording, and polished camerawork.

All this technically sophisticated artifice was used in the service of telling a simple story -- or rather, creating an experience of simplicity. Jules, a blacksmith, wears wooden shoes and a leather apron, hammering away at hot metal to create implements by hand. Félicie peels potatoes with a knife and draws water from a well, her fingers gnarled from decades of domestic chores. Their life is simple, devoid of contemporary conveniences, carried out in a timeless spot in rural France near Burgundy, and improbably idyllic: So in accord are the two that they hardly need to speak to one another. (Of course, given that abut half their conversation is left untranslated and we have no idea to what they are referring in the half that does have subtitles, one can't be entirely sure about these things.)

This is a story of old-school self-reliance on par with last year's feature "Still Mine," but it unfolds with the kind of real-time leisure of "Le Quattro Volte." Less dramatic than delectable, this is the kind of movie you simply sink into with a sigh of contentment.

The main special feature here is a 13-minute look at the film's restoration, started in 2008, when Benicheti took up cotton swabs and began the laborious task of cleaning it up for its eventual 2K digital transfer. (He hoped it might be converted into 3D -- not necessary, on the strength of the finished Blu-ray.) The director died before finishing the project, but what's been gained is new access to a film that had almost become a legend: Highly acclaimed upon its release in 1972, but even then hardly seen (thanks in part to technical reasons having to do with how the film was shot).

The only other extra is a list of Cinema Guild titles that might also be of interest.

"Cousin Jules"

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Assistant Arts Editor. He also reviews theater for WBUR. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.


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