On DVD: The Meridian Collection Launches with The Red Violin and Diva

Look out, Criterion. Lionsgate Home Entertainment, the independent film company and DVD supplier that for years has provided a steady supply of family, horror, and action films on home video, is now reaching for the arthouse market. Lionsgate's new label, the Meridian Collection, debuts in June to give DVD buyers a new source of acclaimed and influential films from around the world. Through the Meridian Collection, Lionsgate will release two high-end DVDs every three months, drawing from its own library, which includes more than 2,000 European films from Studio Canal.

The Collection officially launches June 3 with the release of The Red Violin and Diva, two celebrated and newly remastered titles that (by accident or design) make for a lush double-feature pairing. One from Canada, the other from France, both are sensuously produced movies of obsession and violence that, at their center, find their memorable stories in the power of music. France? Music? "Lush"? Before you automatically categorize these films as high-brow boredom, note that one features Samuel L. Jackson and the other is a stylish crime thriller with a cult following.

Winner of the Academy Award for Best Original Score, François Girard's The Red Violin stars Jackson in an intense and focused performance as Charles Morritz, an appraiser of rare musical instruments. When he discovers a one-of-a-kind red violin at a prestigious Montreal auction house, he is convinced that he's found an authentic long-lost masterpiece.

As the movie takes us on an epic adventure of mystery and obsession across centuries, continents, and generations, Morritz uncovers the spectacular journey of the fabled violin, how it changed hands and the lives of all who touched it.

Lionsgate/Meridian Collection's 'The Red Violin'We're taken back in time as the violin passes around the world from owner to owner. It originates in Italy, where its maker's wife dies in childbirth, an event integral to the violin's mystique and its maker's grief-fueled plan for its immortality. Next it surfaces in the eighteenth century as the instrument of a child prodigy. In the nineteenth century, we find ourselves in England, where the violin's owner, a composer, is having a passionate affair. In twentieth-century China, it must be hidden to prevent its destruction by Maoists.

Finally, when Morritz unlocks the violin's shocking, emotionally devastating secret, he must wrestle with his own demons and choose between burying the truth and risking everything.

Along with Jackson, the cast includes Greta Scacchi, Colm Feore, Don McKellar, and Jason Flemyng.

With an image significantly superior to previous DVD editions of the film, the Meridian Collection's new disc of The Red Violin features a beautiful digitally remastered transfer (widescreen 1.78:1, 16x9 enhanced). The new 5.1 Dolby Digital sound gives a lovely, warm treatment to the orchestra and solo violin (played by famed violinist Joshua Bell) in John Corigliano's stirring, Oscar-winning musical score.

The extras give us an audio commentary with co-writer/director François Girard and co-writer/actor Don McKellar. Also here are two featurettes -- "The Oscar-Winning Chaconne" with composer John Corigliano (Joshua Bell appears as well), and "The Auction Block," which over 18 minutes looks at the rarefied world of record-breaking, international violin auctions and the appeal of Stradivarius violins.

Until this edition comes out in Blu-ray (no announcement of that yet), this is the definitive disc of The Red Violin. Recommended with enthusiasm.




Lionsgate/Meridian Collection's 'Diva'Director Jean-Jacques Beineix's genre-mixing, atmospheric cult classic thriller Diva was one of the first French films to let go of the realist, harsh mood of 1970s French cinema to launch the colorful "Cinema Du Look" movement, which embraced slick visuals, a focus on young and alienated characters, and a blending of "high" culture, such as the opera music of Diva, with pop culture references.

Diva follows Jules (Frédéric Andréi), a young postal worker who illegally records a concert by a beautiful but reclusive American opera singer (Wilhelmenia Wiggins Fernandez). Jules' attempts to woo the diva are interrupted when Taiwanese bootleggers come after the recording. Unknowingly, Jules also comes into possession of another important tape: the testimony of a prostitute exposing a high-ranking policeman as a racketeering mob boss. The prostitute slips the recording into Jules' bag moments before she is murdered. The events set a pair of psychopathic enforcers onto Jules' trail. In danger from the thugs as well as from the Taiwanese gangsters seeking the opera tape, Jules seeks refuge with his new friends, the mysterious bohemian Serge Gorodish (Richard Bohringer) and his young muse Alba (Thuy An Luu). Gorodish devises a plan to manipulate Jules' enemies into destroying each other.

Featuring remarkable cinematography and a celebrated chase through the Paris Metro, Diva earned César Awards for Best Music, Best Cinematography, and Best Directorial Debut. Time Out Film Guide called Beineix's film the "most exciting debut in years ... unified by the extraordinary decor -- colour supplement chic meets pop art surrealism -- which creates a world of totally fantastic reality situated four-square in contemporary Paris." Originally released in 1981, Diva was re-released theatrically across the country last November to rave reviews. Entertainment Weekly proclaimed "everything once new about Diva seems new again." New York Magazine hailed "this is style as a force of nature," and the San Francisco Chronicle observed that Diva is "still an excellent model on how a crime thriller should be done."

The Meridian Collection DVD of this intricate and good-looking French favorite also features a digitally remastered transfer approved by director Jean-Jacques Beineix. This gorgeous new image (widescreen 1.66:1, 16x9 enhanced) is more faithful to the source and noticeably more vivid that the edition Anchor Bay released in 2000. So if you already love and own the film, consider this new DVD a worthwhile upgrade and the new "reference" edition of Diva on home video. Also excellently remastered is the French Dolby 2.0 monaural audio.

Lionsgate/Meridian Collection's 'Diva'Extras start with a scene-specific audio commentary by Beineix. Totaling about 45 minutes, you can access these seven scenes individually through a separate menu, or play them altogether. Beneix speaks in French with a voiceover English translation, and his commentary offers fluff-free insights into the film as well as his own understandable pride in its long-tern success.

"Searching for Diva" is a collection of ten contemporary featurettes with cast and crew members, ranging in duration from about six to twelve minutes each. They start with an introduction by Professor Phil Powrie, author of the biography Jean-Jacques Beineix. That's followed by interviews with Beineix, director of photography Philippe Rousselot, set designer Hilton McConnico, composer Vladimir Cosma, and cast members Frédéric Andréi, Richard Bohringer, Dominique Besnehard, Dominique Pinon, and Anny Romand.

The Meridian Collection is one of three new labels at Lionsgate. The first, The Director’s Series, launched last year with a boxed set of early movies by Alfred Hitchcock. Another new line, The Celebrity Series, launches June 10 with the release of boxed sets of movies starring Sophia Loren and Catherine Deneuve.