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Bronte Sisters, The

Release Year:         1979
Studio:         Cohen Film Collection
Format:          Colour; NTSC; Blu-ray; in French with English subtitles
Rated:         Not Rated
Running Time:         120 minutes plus 60 minute documentary and other extras
DVD Release Date:         July 30, 2013
Screenwriters:         Andre Techine, Pascal Bonitzer
Directors:         Andre Techine
Actors:         Isabelle Adjani, Isabelle Huppert, Marie-France Pisier, Patrick Magee
DVD Features:         SDH subtitles
E:Top Picks Rating:         9/10

Cohen Film Collection Write-up:
Three of France’s most enduring actresses star in this moody and atmospheric look at the reclusive lives of the Bronte sisters.

In a dreary presbytery in Yorkshire, living under the watchful eyes of their aunt and father, a strict Anglican pastor, the sisters write their first works that quickly become literary sensations. Their brother, Branwell, a gifted painter, becomes entangled in a complicated May-December romance that tragically affects everyone in the family.

Nominated for a Palme d’Or for Best Director and two Cesar Awards.

Jon Ted Wynne Review:
What a gorgeous film! Unfolding like a series of romantic paintings, THE BRONTE SISTERS captures the period, the flavor and above all the mood of the tortured and tumultuous world that spawned the brooding, intense artistry of Emily, Charlotte and Anne (and, to a much lesser degree, brother Branwell) Bronte who lived, all too briefly, in the first part of the 19th-Century in the northern moors of England.

Starring a trio of France’s most acclaimed actresses, the film offers a keen observation into the lives of this startlingly talented but doomed family.

Of course the story of the Brontes is thoroughly English, and it could be viewed as somewhat presumptuous of a group of French artists to attempt the definitive telling of this gothic tale. Wisely, as stated in the very good hour-long documentary that accompanies the film, this was never the intention. Rather, they set out to capture an impression of the lives of this melancholy family. The definitive treatment of the Bronte siblings was, in this reviewer’s opinion, realized a few years earlier than this film, in 1973, with a British television mini-series entitled The Brontes of Haworth, a brilliant production.

Having said that, the subject matter more than sustains both interpretations. And, given the world-wide appeal of such Bronte-written works as Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre, a non-English perspective is wholly appropriate and refreshing.

The slow pace of THE BRONTE SISTERS helps to define the world they occupied as well as the family’s world-view. For the most part this approach works wonderfully well. Where it may not succeed is in providing the viewer with sufficient insight into the personalities of the sisters.

Part of the reason for this appears to be the focus on brother Branwell, played by a newcomer at the time the film was made, Pascal Greggory, who simply does not have the acting pedigree of Isabelle Huppert, Isabelle Adjani and Marie-France Pisier. Then again, maybe that is the point: Branwell was a lesser talent than his sisters—or at least was so bent on self-destruction that his talent as a painter never flowered the way his sisters’ ability to paint with words did.

This imbalance is, curiously, repeated in the otherwise already mentioned fine documentary, made only a few years ago. Actor Pascal Greggory is interviewed at length, while not even a peep is heard from the actresses who played his sisters.

The beauty of THE BRONTE SISTERS lies in the haunting compositions and attention to period detail. Few are as brilliantly able to realize the soul of an historical film like the French. In this meticulously re-mastered edition of the 1979 production all the intended beauty of the piece is on glorious display for those who relish such films. Bravo to the Cohen Film Collection for bringing this classic of French cinema to North American audiences in the very best way possible.

Those who undertake the restoration and distribution of classic cinema deserve our utmost thanks and appreciation. Long may the worthwhile work of The Cohen Collection continue!