French classics available on video

Jacques Becker never gained the towering reputation of a Robert Bresson, and he had less influence than Bresson fans like Jean-Luc Godard and Franois Truffaut, who revolutionized French film with their New Wave movement in the early 1960s. Becker's star has been rising in recent years, though, as great pictures like his prison drama "The Hole" and his art-world biography "Montparnasse 19" have surfaced in revival theaters and filmfests.

His stock may leap again now that Water Bearer Films is bringing two more of his spirited concoctions to home video. Both date from the 1940s, but each has the freshness and charm of a thoroughly modern romp.

The most acclaimed is "Antoine et Antoinette," a winner at Cannes in 1947. The story uses a misplaced lottery ticket to spark a series of encounters between the title characters, a Paris couple scraping by in a walk-up apartment, and a lively assortment of friends and neighbors. What lifts the picture way above standard romantic comedy is its surprisingly sharp portrait of the modern city as a place full of traps and hazards, making the heroes' happy domestic life seem as fragile as it is beautiful.

"Rendezvous in July," made a year later, broadens its scope to portray a whole group of young Parisians, bubbling with dreams and plans but often lacking the boldness and imagination to make these into realities. One is a would-be movie director who wants his companions to join him on an African filmmaking excursion, certain he will change the world if he can only raise the money for the trip. His exuberance reflects the life-affirming energy that Becker put into this and other fine works that are gaining more appreciation every year.

Both available from Water Bearer Films at

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