Another month, another calendar of Blu-Ray and DVD titles from the Criterion Collection that will drain the financials in your bank account. Criterion has released its July slate and while it’s an exciting bunch of overdue releases, many of them are expected. No doubt the rosetta stone of the announcement to many cinephiles is the arrival of Andrei Tarkovsky’s sci-fi mind-bender, “Stalker”. Released in 1979 and on the shorter side of Tarkovsky’s usually-sprawling, three-plus hour films (161 minutes long), “Stalker” is an enigmatic and metaphysical sci-fi film about two men looking for answers in a post-apocalyptic landscape known as The Zone. The only persons who can act as a guide through the treacherous realm are the men known as stalkers. In some circles (ours), “Stalker” is known as one of the greatest films of all time and it’s hard to argue that the hypnotic movie isn’t a gargantuan experience (the irony is many people will be witnessing “Stalker” for the first time on Criterion and it is absolutely an ESSENTIAL film-going experience – buy your tickets and then buy the Blu-Ray). The inclusion of “Stalker” isn’t much of a surprise given the fact that the title already lives on Criterion’s streaming channel FilmStruck (if you want to see what’s coming to Criterion physically, just take a tour of FilmStruck for early releases), it’s also going on tour (essentially) around the nation through Janus Films who are inextricably linked to Criterion releases. Essentially, if you see Janus re-releasing some film into repertory theaters, bank on a Criterion release shortly thereafter.
Speaking of titles that are a long time coming, Robert Bresson’s masterwork swansong, “L’Argent,” has been part of the digital Criterion Collection for years going back as far as the early days of Criterion on Hulu (remember those days?). A pitch-dark tragedy, “L’Argent” essentially follows the life of a counterfeit bill that ends up in the hands of an unsuspecting and innocent man. Through his connection to the forged bill, that man’s reputation and life is slowly ruined, falling deeper and deeper into despair. Released in 1983 (though his last film, Bresson would eventually pass away in 1999 at the age of 98), “L’Argent” is loosely inspired by the first part of Leo Tolstoy’s novella “The Forged Coupon.” It’s a bleak and depressing and yet utterly essential Bresson movie that goes out on a career-ending high.
Also, coming to Criterion in July is Albert Brooks’ 1985 road trip comedy “Lost In America,” co-starring Julie Hagerty, and Roberto Rossellini’s epic “War Trilogy” box set. The latter trilogy, already available on the Collection in regular DVD format, now is as good a time as any to catch up with this indispensable series of pictures. Arguably Rossellini’s all-time finest films and centering on the harrowing realities of post-world war life, the box set includes neorealist classics that are all shades of heartbreaking including the devastating “Germany Year Zero,” “Rome Open City” and “Paisan.” The monthly Criterion announcement is always an emotionally complicated time; one is filled with elation for the release of their soon-to-be-favorite new film, but also the dread in knowing how much poorer you soon will be.