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A century of French cinema in just two DVDs: Kenneth Turan's pick

August 30, 2012|By Kenneth Turan | Los Angeles Times Film Critic

Two new DVDs feature films almost a century apart that, taken together, remind us how strong and wide-ranging the French passion for film has been.

The older of the films — and much the longer — is "Les Vampires," the legendary French serial from 1915 and 1916. Directed by Louis Feuillade, these 10 episodes extend over 6½ hours of enigmatic adventure cinema.

Les vampires, as it turns out, is the name of a vast criminal association that a crusading journalist (is there any other kind?) attempts to unmask. Keep an eye out for the deadly Irma Vep, clad in black and played by the single-named Musidora.

"Le Havre," though it came out last year, displays a particular brand of deadpan absurdism that  echoes the accomplishments of silent film. Seeing it makes one think that Buster Keaton isn't dead, he's alive and well in Finland.

For though "Le Havre" is filmed in French in France, it is written and directed by Finland's Aki Kaurismaki, the master of droll odes to the downtrodden and dispossessed. This story of a shoe shiner who gets involved in the life of a young African refugee fits right into that class.

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