Fine performances in 1972 TV jewel `Cousin Bette'

Critics' picks: New DVDs

January 28, 2007|By MARY CAROLE MCCAULEY

COUSIN BETTE -- Acorn Media -- $39.99

The woman howls. There is no other word for it.

In Cousin Bette, which is being released Tuesday on DVD, actress Margaret Tyzack's mouth contorts into a yawning chasm when her character learns that the young sculptor whom she rescued is betrothed to another.

Her lips are wet with saliva.

One arm rises above her head in a gesture that is savage but oddly lacking in force, a reminder of the way extreme passion can simultaneously galvanize and weaken us. She goes into a half-crouch.

"I saved his life!" she cries. "He is mine!"

It is one of the most terrifying moments I ever have witnessed on the screen.

This is the digital version of a TV miniseries of Honore de Balzac's classic novel that began airing on Masterpiece Theatre in 1972. And what a rip-roaring, scenery-chomping, nasty little tale it tells:

Bette (Tyzack) is the homely, poor relation of upper-crust relatives who treat her with a callous condescension. When she learns that her cousin's daughter, Hortense, has conspired to wed Bette's handsome protege, she sets out to systematically destroy the entire family.

In its jaundiced view of human nature, Cousin Bette has much in common with such films as Stephen Frears' Dangerous Liaisons (1988) and Neil LaBute's In the Company of Men (1997).

The 220-minute DVD set contains not a single truly admirable character, from the sculptor (Colin Baker) who falsifies the age and origins of his artwork to fool potential buyers, to Bette's winsome neighbor, Valerie, who trades sexual favors for expensive gifts.

As magnificent as Tyzack is in the role, the young actress playing Valerie gives her a run for the money, by combining a genuine gutlessness with the accounting acumen of a moneylender. In fact, you can currently find this particular actress on other screens locally, where she is playing the title role in The Queen.

Yep -- it's Helen Mirren.

Special features

The DVD package also contains a biography of Balzac and biographies of the cast and creators.

ALSO ANTICIPATED

VIVA PEDRO: THE ALMODOVAR COLLECTION --Sony Pictures -- $117.95

This is the DVD version of the traveling, eight-film retrospective by the Spanish director, who is considered one of the edgiest, most innovative filmmakers of this generation.

The nine-disc set contains Almodovar classics mixed with a few lesser-known early movies: Talk to Her (2002), Bad Education (2004), All About My Mother (1999), Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown (1988), Live Flesh (1997), Flower of My Secret (1995), Matador (1986) and Law of Desire (1987).

Special features

The DVD set includes eight postcards, plus a bonus disc with three featurettes consisting of interviews with Almodovar's costars.

MARY CAROLE MCCAULEY

mary.mccauley@baltsun.com

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