By 1978, writer/director Just Jaeckin was known for his erotic films Emmanuelle (1974), The Story of O (1975), and Madame Claude (1977). Seeking a break from this, Jaeckin developed romantic comedy Le dernier amant romantique (The Last Romantic Lover) with co-writers Ennio De Concini (Black Sunday) and César Fernández Ardavín (Skin Deep), with the hope being that he could offer audiences a little of what they’ve come to expect from the creative while providing a more general audience-friendly tale. Some 44 years later, home release boutique Cult Epics is offering a brand-new restoration of The Last Romantic Lover so that modern audiences might re-find Jaeckin’s sweet-though-slightly-absurd tale, perhaps giving it new life four decades after release. For home viewing proponents or Jaeckin fans, the restoration includes approved video restoration, three audio tracks to choose from, a feature-length commentary track from author Jeremy Richey, and three exclusive featurettes.
Upon the sudden loss of their lion, an entire circus troupe fears that their futures are done for until ringleader Max (Fernando Rey) learns of a magazine competition to find “The Last Romantic Lover” with a first-place prize of $30,000. After a lot of convincing, lion-tamer Pierre (Gérard Ismaël) enters the competition, the weight of success and failure on the line with each round of competition. Frustrated at the pageantry and the ogling that occurs while on display, upon learning that he’s won a prize, Pierre claims contest organizer Elizabeth (Dayle Haddon) as his contracted companion, neither realizing what such a decision will do to the other.
In preparation for the home release viewing, my research on Jaeckin had me thinking that Lover would be more like the late-night films that adorned Cinemax in the late ‘90s. To my absolute delight, Lover is not only tame with its nudity, but the presentation is entirely appropriate and in keeping with the general silly and romantic tone set by the narrative. There’s no shame in being naked, there’s no denial of pleasure when it comes to sex, and much of the film is progressive in its presentation of a women’s desires. There are quite a few aspects, in fact, that would seem out of place by today’s standards, further supporting the notion that for every step forward toward making what puritanical systems consider risqué far more normalized, there’s always a big step back. For instance, the press conference that Elizabeth heads discussing the already-in-motion competition is met with the same kind of self-aggrandizing misogynistic energy as would appear decades later in satirical comedy Parks and Recreation (2009-2015). Why should men feel reduced (either generally or specifically) by being judged in such a way whereas women are subjected to such a leveling of ideals all the time? Proper equity allows for women to be just as liberated sexually as men, meaning that men should also be fine with being propped up, examined, and judged based on their *actual* ability to be sexy.
Smartly, while Elizabeth is presented in modern feminist form (of the era) and the majority of competitors align with a certain smarmy confidence, Pierre is constructed in the vein of the homely, quiet, disinterested role usually given to the female counterpart in a similar narrative. He is not ashamed of where he comes from (the circus) nor is he bashful with his body, but to sell himself via the competition doesn’t rest well with him and, if not for the sake of his family, would not be doing this at all. This is where some of the comedy comes from, first in him trying to run from Max’s various schemes to make Pierre presentable, then in the ways that the troupe tries to prepare Pierre for competition, and then the competition itself. If there is a problem to be levied against the film for the relationship between Pierre and Elizabeth, it’s that it makes little sense that he would select her as his companion as the two barely engaged with one another (therefore making the choice seem specifically pointed and vicious, which is out of character from what we’ve seen). Then, when the pair are set to be together for 10 days, per the competition contract, though they do follow the more-or-less expected path from mutual prickliness to lovers, it’s almost too quickly in the presented run-time. More specifically, so much time is spent getting through the contest that too little time is left for the pair to go back to the circus together, for the pair to become lovers, and then for the film to come to its thematic head of modern female versus conservative male. It’s so dizzying that the very end of the film is a flurry of images that one can’t help but wonder if it’s a dream or a concrete resolution.
Regarding the restoration itself, fans and new viewers are going to be delighted. The 4K HD transfer is gorgeous, our first glimpse of just how good it is via the lion’s funeral, stunningly presented by cinematographer Robert Fraisse (Ronin). Fraisse approved of the transfer, evidentially sourced from an original 35mm negative, so it’s not surprising that from the opening to the final frame, there’s a beauty to the story. There’s a bit of soft lens throughout (to be expected of the era), but there’s a warmth to every scene, implying a liveliness, a joy, an intimacy that the narrative itself supports. For this review, I used the Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround track and noticed barely an issue with audio. The few I did seemed to be more in the film itself (ADR that’s just a little off, for instance) than the restored audio. If a person’s mouth doesn’t seem to be speaking the dialogue we hear, that’s not something to be addressed or fixed via audio restoration. In short, the look and sound of the Lover offers a renewed life to Jaeckin’s romantic comedy.
As for the on-disc bonus features, there’s a feature-length commentary track and three featurettes to help enhance the viewing experience. The commentary track from author Jeremy Richey is strangely dry, as though he’s reading from a text rather than conversing with the home viewing audience. Perhaps it’s that the bulk of commentaries are more conversational in tone, especially with the restorations completed by Arrow Video, that Richey seems to be dictating rather than chatting takes some getting used to, though it is filled with knowledgeable nuggets. The three featurettes do have the intimate and conversational tone one comes to expect via two solo interviews, one with Jaeckin recorded in 2020 and one with Haddon recorded in 2022, as well as a 2022 presentation conducted at Cinematheque Francaise. Each of these three featurettes provides a different insight into the making of the film, enabling home viewers an opportunity to listen and learn from several of the principals involved in making the film.
This is the first Cult Epics restoration I’ve had the chance to explore and, frankly, if their other releases are handled with the same or similar care, even just on the transfer and audio, theirs will be a boutique to watch. Especially with The Last Romantic Lover being such a surprise in content and explored themes, there’s a certain amount of curiosity toward the rest of the releases to come. For now, though, if visiting or revisiting Jaeckin’s The Last Romantic Lover is on your list, take comfort in knowing that it’ll be a quality experience from start to finish.
The Last Romantic Lover Special Features:
- New 4K HD Transfer (from original 35mm negative) supervised by cinematographer Robert Fraisse
- Original LPCM 2.0 Mono French track
- New Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono French track
- New Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround
- Audio Commentary by Jeremy Richey (Author of the book Sylvia Kristel: from Emmanuelle to Chabrol) (1:43:10)
- Interview with Just Jaeckin (2020, HD) (18:02)
- Interview with Dayle Haddon (2022, HD) (23:24)
- Presentation at the Cinematheque Francaise (2022, HD) (15:04)
- Cult Epics Trailers
- Dual-layered Disc
Available on Blu-ray and DVD October 25th, 2022.
For more information, head to Cult Epics’s official The Last Romantic Lover webpage.
To purchase, head to MVD Entertainment Group’s official The Last Romantic Lover webpage.
Categories: Films To Watch, Home Release, Home Video, Recommendation, Reviews
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