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Samurai Trilogy, Jean Gremillion films: Kenneth Turan's DVD picks

August 03, 2012|By Kenneth Turan, Los Angeles Times Film Critic

The intrepid folks at Criterion have put out a fine pair of three-disc sets, each one celebrating a little-known but gifted foreign-language director who has a very particular place in film history.

Perhaps most familiar to American audiences is the Samurai Trilogy of Japan's Hiroshi Inagaki, the 1950s trio starring Toshiro Mifune that began the West's enduring fascination with the samurai genre.

Mifune plays a fictionalized version of the legendary 17th century swordsman Musashi Miyamoto as he takes the now-familiar journey from country bumpkin to wise killing machine. The first film in the series, "Musashi Miyamoto," won the Oscar for foreign-language film, but the other two, "Duel at Ichijoji Temple" and "Duel at Ganryu Island," are just as good.

Less well known in this country, even though he made nearly 50 films, is French director Jean Gremillon. An exponent of the character-driven dramas known as poetic realism, Gremillon saw three of his best works released while France was under German rule, and all three are included in a boxed set Criterion is calling "Jean Gremillon During the Occupation."

Though "Le Ciel Est A Vous" was Gremillon's most popular film, the other two -- "Lumiere d'ete" and "Remorques" -- were both written by Jacques Prevert, best known for writing the luminous "Children of Paradise." "Remorques," the story of a salvage boat captain whose marriage is tested, has an especially powerhouse cast top-lined by Jean Gabin, Madeleine Renaud and Michele Morgan.

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