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Central Office of Information and Agnes Varda among DVD highlights (3 stars)

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The Beaches of Agnes

Having exhausted the vaults of British Transport Films, The GPO Film Unit and the National Coal Board Film Unit the British Film Institute now turns to who else but the Central Office of Information. COI Collection: Volume 1 – Police and Thieves (BFI) ●●●● is actually a fascinating glimpse at old school policing, prevention and punishment. From Jack Lee's beautifully photographed Children on Trial about two Liverpool slum children’s experiences at ‘approved schools’ to the unsentimental Four Men in Prison these short monochrome films play like minute realist dramas and are far more compelling than they should be.

One of the releases of the year has to be Three Films by Jean-Marie Straub and Daniele Huillet (New Wave Films) ●●●●● , the long overdue collection of films by the French filmmaking team known for their intellectual rigour, Marxist overtones and austerity aesthetic. Their work is generally more admired and name checked than seen, but hopefully this lovely set of three of their films, The Chronicle of Anna Magdalena Bach (1968), Sicilia! (1998) and Une Visite au Louvre (2004), will change that.

The Agnes Varda Collection: Volume 2 (Artificial Eye ●●●● ) brings the work of the aging stateswoman of French cinema up to date with lovely documentary Jacquot de Nantes (1991, about her husband Jacques Demy), brilliant gritty drifter drama Vagabond (1985, feminist drama L’Une Chante, L’Autre Pas (1977) and her recent autobiographical portrait Beaches of Agnes.

The Little Box of Big Gay Love (and other stories) (Peccadillo) ●●● features 25 gay short films -– that's over seven hours of entertainment. As is the way with short film collections there is some dirt in with the pearls but either way this would make a great Valentine's Day present.

Finally let's spare a thought for original French bad boy Jean-Claude Brisseau. Brisseau is one of the baddest of the new French cinema extremists who include Gasper Noe, Catherine Breillat and Bruno Dumont. His most famous film is the immoral and erotic Les Choses Secretes (Secret Things). However, arrest and prison stalled his career in the mid noughties when he was done for sexual misconduct (with three women he was auditioning allegedly). Two of Brisseau’s earliest films Un Jeu Brutal/De Bruit et de Fureur (Axiom ●●●● ) are available for the first time on DVD. They are as rough, shocking and mad as anything he made later. Cinema does not come much more provocative, challenging or incendiary than this.

The Beaches of Agnes trailer

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