Reviewed by Colin Jacobson
Columbia-TriStar, widescreen 1.85:1/16x9, languages: French Dolby Surround [CC], subtitles: English, Spanish, French, single side-single layer, 28 chapters, production notes, rated R, 88 min., $27.95, street date 12/14/99.
Directed by Alain Berliner. Starring Michele Laroque, Jean-Philippe Ecoffey, Helene Vincent, Georges Du Fresne.
Ludovic is waiting for a miracle. With seven-year-old certainty, he believes he was meant to be a little girl - and that the mistake will soon be corrected. But where he expects the miraculous, Ludo finds only refection, isolation and guilt - as the intense reactions of family, friends, and neighbors strip away every innocent lace and bauble.
As suburban prejudices close around them, family loves and loyalties are tested in the ever-escalating dramatic turns of Alin Berliner's critically acclaimed first feature. Winner of the Golden Globe for Best Foreign Language Film and a favorite at festivals around the world, this unique film experience delivers magic of the rarest sort through a story of difference, rejection, and childlike faith in miracles.
Oddest thing I've seen on a DVD case lately: a quote from a critic who calls Ma Vie En Rose "This season's It's a Wonderful Life!" While I suppose both have the same "appreciate what you have" message, it seems tremendously strange to compare Frank Capra's warmhearted classic with this unusual tale of a seven-year-old transsexual.
Don't interpret that last phrase to mean the boy's had "the operation." No, physically he's still male, but Ludovic (Georges Du Fresne) pines to be a girl and feels that he was supposed to be female; God just made a mistake.
Anyway, I found MVER surprisingly interesting and provocative. Although the subject matter seems unique, the story really is (unfortunately) one that's been told many times, for the movie concentrates mainly on the bigotry and intolerance that greet Ludo's wishes. First the community and then parts of his own family turn on him and alienate him.
MVER goes for some laughs, but treats the story mainly as a dramatic offering. I must admit it surprised me, mainly because of some interesting character twists that I won't reveal. I also guess that I hadn't imagined the French could be so uptight and close-minded; we Americans are sold the myth of the extreme social liberalism of Europeans, but if this movie's taken as an example, I guess it isn't true.
MVER is not a classic by any stretch of the imagination, but it is an interesting and frequently provocative story and it's both well-produced and nicely acted, especially by Du Fresne in what had to be a tough role. As I noted, tales of intolerance and vindictiveness are nothing new, but MVER adds an unusual twist that makes the movie worthwhile. Unlike It's a Wonderful Life, however, I doubt this one will become a Christmas classic. (For the record, MVER has nothing to do with Christmas.)
Ma Vie En Rose appears in its original theatrical aspect ratio of about 1.85:1 on this single-sided, single-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Like many Columbia-Tristar (CTS) titles, MVER provides a very strong picture, though not one without flaws.
Sharpness seems nice and crisp for the most part, though a vague softness affects some scenes; mainly these are fantasy segments that require (poorly-executed) special effects work. Shimmering pops up on more occasions than I would have liked, though the problem isn't severe. The print used for the transfer seems fairly clean, though some speckling and spots appear; these also arise mainly during the special effects scenes. I also noted one horrible blob that pops up at the top of the screen about 23 minutes into the film; it's one of the ugliest flaws I've seen!
Colors are a highlight of this DVD and they appear absolutely magnificent. The film offers a very bright palette and the picture reproduces these hues with richly and boldly. Black levels also appear strong, and shadow detail seems clear and precise. Much of MVER looks almost flawless, and while a few notable problems knock it down to a "B+" it still offers a fine visual experience.
Ma Vie En Rose provides a Dolby Surround 2.0 soundtrack that seems perfectly adequate for the film. The forward soundstage appears quite broad and wide but remains nicely localized as well; effects, music and even some dialogue spreads across the front three speakers. The monaural surround channels are less ambitious but nonetheless solid; music and effects add a nice ambiance to the film.
Quality is uniformly excellent. While I had no idea what they were saying, dialogue sounded rich and natural, with no distortion; presumably it would be perfectly intelligible if I spoke French. The music sounded warm and rich, and effects were clear and realistic. MVER won't dazzle anyone with its audio, but it sounds quite satisfactory all the same.
In regard to supplements, MVER is a surprisingly featureless effort from CTS. The only extra comes from some brief but mildly interesting production notes in the DVD's booklet. There's no trailer or any other form of supplement on the disc itself. That's quite strange from a solid studio like CTS.
Two other things about this DVD surprised me. For one, I don't understand why no fullscreen version appeared. CTS usually include one when a film is short enough, and at only 88 minutes, MVER definitely qualified. And yet we only receive a letterboxed edition. I don't care about fullscreen, but this lack of consistency with their other efforts seems odd.
I did miss, however, a dubbed version of the soundtrack. While this may offend purists, I often prefer English dubs to watching a movie with subtitles; as I've noted in other reviews, the captions make me feel like I'm reading a movie instead of viewing it, and I appreciate at least having an option between the two. MVER doesn't offer that choice; we get the French audio with English subtitles (actually, French and Spanish captions are also available). This omission is probably more the responsibility of the film's producers than the distributor, but I still missed the English option.
Ultimately, Ma Vie En Rose is a fairly compelling and entertaining little tale about an unusual little boy. The DVD provides very good picture and sound but skimps on supplements. While I liked the film, I can't imagine it's something I - or many others - would want to revisit on too many occasions. As such, I'd recommend it as a strong rental title.
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