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Gabbeh

Blu-ray Review Round-up: Films by Joaquim Pedro de Andrade, Mohsen Makhmalbaf, Olivier Assayas & more!

AndradeJoaquim Pedro de Andrade: The Complete Films
Kino Lorber

Brazil’s Cinema Novo movement is woefully underrepresented on English-friendly home video. Likely the most recognizable figure, Glauber Rocha, doesn’t have a single film available on DVD in the US. (Mr. Bongo has put out some titles in the UK.)

That makes Kino’s three-disc set of the complete filmography of Joaquim Pedro de Andrade all the more remarkable, offering a comprehensive look at a shape-shifting filmmaker whose work hasn’t been easily available in this country. Eight shorts and six features are included, and as one goes through the set, it becomes clear how vital it is for all these films to be presented together. Macunaíma (1969) is unquestionably his most famous, but no single film encapsulates Andrade’s style or concerns, which can shift radically from one work to the next. Having everything in one package really helps the viewer appreciate the diversity.

Andrade’s feature-film career began with a documentary, Garrincha: Joy of the People (1963), on the soccer legend who met a tragic end, before he moved to fiction with The Priest and the Girl (1965), a drama that at points approaches Dreyer in its austerity. A newly ordained priest (Paulo José) finds his commitment to his principles wavering when he meets Mariana (Helena Ignez), a young woman controlled by her caretaker (Mário Lago), who’s determined to marry her. The strictures of “proper” behavior are felt in Andrade’s compositions, making the film’s eventual hints at sensuality all the more deeply felt. It’s a superb film, and a real outlier among Andrade’s more sardonic work to come.

Macunaíma is something truly sui generis, an outrageous comedy that careens from scenario to scenario at maximum volume and absurdity, satirizing Brazil’s racial politics and militarized society. Macunaíma is born a fully grown man (Grande Otelo) to an indigenous woman (Paulo José) in the Amazon jungle, and endures all manner of abuse before he’s magically transformed into a white man (José, in an especially odd bit of double-casting), which provides him the opportunity for easy social advancement as he moves to Rio. There, he gets caught up in revolutionary politics and even fathers a black child of his own (Otelo again). Among the easily describable elements of the film: Cartoonish violence, assaultive sound design and a surprisingly downbeat conclusion.

Andrade continued to reinvent himself: The Conspirators (1972) is docudrama with a fatalist edge (I was reminded of Lucrecia Martel’s Zama), telling the real-life story of Tiradentes’ failed anti-colonial coup. Conjugal Warfare (1975) parodies the popular Brazilian sex-comedy genre with a trio of interlocking grotesqueries, where hate and sex are two equal and cooperating forces. The Brazilwood Man (1981) explodes the biopic, portraying writer Oswald de Andrade (no relation) by a male (Flávio Galvão) and female (Ítala Nandi) actor, both often sharing the screen and interacting with others in distinct ways.

The short films are mostly documentaries, aside from Tropical Lane (1977), a segment from an erotic omnibus film about a guy who wants to fuck a watermelon. Andrade contained multitudes.

The 1080p transfers, all sourced from new 2K restorations, are consistently impressive, from the beautiful grayscale separation of The Priest and the Girl to the riot of colors in Macunaíma. Elements appear to be in excellent shape across the board, with very minimal damage. Clarity, stability and fine detail are excellent. The uncompressed 2.0 mono tracks are consistently clean as well. No on-disc extras are included, but a booklet features a nice overlook of Andrade’s career in an essay by critic Fábio Andrade.


Cold WaterCold Water 
(L’eau froide, 1994)
Criterion Collection

It’s a good time to be an Olivier Assayas fan, what with Arrow’s recent UK Blu-ray releases of Irma Vep and his first two features, Disorder and Winter’s Child. Even better: Criterion’s rescue of Cold Water, a film that never even got a non-festival US theatrical release, but is one of the French filmmaker’s greatest achievements, now finally available on home video.

Portraits of disaffected youth don’t get more fully realized than this, with Assayas’ on-the-verge-of-chaotic handheld camera work putting the viewer square in the middle of the frame of mind of teenagers Gilles (Cyprien Fouquet) and Christine (Virginie Ledoyen). There’s a class divide between these two, and their interests don’t seem particularly aligned, but their shared agitation at their lives’ stasis makes for a combustible attraction. First, they steal an armful of records from a store, leading her to get caught and pushing her into an even more precarious living situation when her dad hands her over to a mental institution. Then, their gambit to break out of bourgeois boredom escalates with a decision made during the film’s centerpiece sequence, a party at an abandoned house.

Needle-drop soundtracks tend to be derided for their thudding literalness, but Assayas shows it doesn’t have to be that way, first with the undulating weirdness of Bryan Ferry’s voice coming from Gilles’ and his brother’s radio, as they tune in to “Virginia Plain,” like a dispatch from another world. And then, during that party sequence that makes up the bulk of the film’s second half, the classic-rock hits pile up onto one another, an unseen DJ spinning Janis Joplin, Bob Dylan, Creedence and Alice Cooper. Nothing is a deep cut, and in plenty of other contexts, these familiar songs could seem uninspired. Instead, they feel true to what these kids would be interested in, and with no source ever visible, they straddle a strange divide between diegetic and non-diegetic that perfectly accompanies Assayas’ swooning camera. As Gilles and Christine make plans that are almost certainly doomed, it’s still impossible to not get swept up in the romance of the moment. Then: the ultimate puncturing of the fantasy in Assayas’ brutally perfect final shot.

Criterion’s 1080p, 1.66:1 transfer, sourced from a new 4K restoration, is excellent, showcasing the 16mm-shot film’s grain structure perfectly. Despite the on-the-fly nature of the imagery, which can be soft and/or out-of-focus at points, the image looks very nice, even projected on a large screen. Colors are muted but consistent. Damage has been almost completely eradicated. The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack is obviously at its best during the party sequence, but dialogue-heavy sequences are also solid, with clean and clear audio.

Extras are minimal: New interviews with Assayas and cinematographer Denis Lenoir are interesting but brief, and are accompanied by an excerpt from a 1994 French TV show that has interviews with Assayas and his two leads. An insert with an essay by critic Girish Shambu rounds out the supplements.

les parentsLes Parents Terribles (The Storm Within, 1948)
Cohen Media

A true polymath, Jean Cocteau left his mark on the worlds of poetry, literature, theater and of course, film, where his adaptation of Beauty and the Beast and his trilogy of Orpheus-myth films are some of cinema’s most beloved fantasias. Given his diversity of artistic feats, it shouldn’t be a surprise that Cocteau’s filmmaking prowess wasn’t limited to surreal flights of fancy. Les Parents Terribles, based on his own play, is a clear-eyed dose of tragedy, and a sterling example of a theater-to-film adaptation that uses imaginative camerawork to open up the story’s confines.

Probably titled the way it was as a play on Cocteau’s earlier novel Les Enfants TerriblesLes Parents Terribles (retitled in English as The Storm Within) features a family full of dysfunction from all corners. The setup is classic farce: Grown son Michel (Cocteau regular Jean Marais) dares to break the bond with his overbearing mother (Yvonne de Bray) by venturing into a relationship with Madeleine (Josette Day). Mom isn’t happy, but neither is Dad (Marcel André), who unbeknownst to all, has also been seeing Madeleine.

What follows hews closer to melodrama than comedy, though Marais is a source of not insignificant humor as an oblivious man-child, clearly stunted by his unhealthy connection to his mother. De Bray’s performance borders on the overwrought, but for her, her son’s attentions are a literal lifeline, and her outbursts begin to make sense as we see just how intertwined the two are. What Cocteau does brilliantly is peel back the outward concern each character seems to be showing for one another to reveal the deeply rooted self-interest propelling each person. That’s especially true of Aunt Léo (Gabrielle Dorziat), who initially seems to be a responsible, selfless caretaker before her own past wounds come to light.

Besides a brief foray to Madeleine’s apartment, the whole film takes place in the seemingly labyrinthine family home, Cocteau’s camera peering down passageways or above from the ceiling. The setting is anything but homey, and in every room in the sprawling estate there seems to lie a secret that will tear these people apart.

Cohen’s 1080p, 1.37:1 transfer is sourced from a new 2K restoration, and the result is quite pleasing, with strong clarity and stability and healthy levels of fine detail. The image can appear a little soft, and there are a few quality dips, but it’s a solid presentation overall. Uncompressed 2.0 mono is clean, but limited by its age.

Extras include a new, enthusiastic introduction by Richard Peña, an archival interview with assistant director Claude Pinoteau and several camera tests. The original and re-release trailers are also included.

unnamedMohsen Makhmalbaf: The Poetic Trilogy
Arrow Academy

When it comes to Iranian cinema, my mind immediately goes to the cerebral meta-fictions of Abbas Kiarostami and Jafar Panahi (obviously a reductive way to describe these two masters’ films, but a quick shorthand). The three films by Iranian filmmaker Mohsen Makhmalbaf in Arrow’s extraordinary new set are working in a different mode, though the most recent and least successful has some meta flourishes. In Gabbeh (1996) and The Silence (Sokout, 1998) especially, Makhmalbaf’s sensual imagery is astounding, using vibrant color and intricate sound design as its primary narrative tools. Both films’ fable-like stories blossom into something profound by sheer force of their imagery.

In Gabbeh, an elderly couple (Hossein Moharami and Rogheih Moharami) washes their gabbeh, a traditional Persian rug, in a stream before being visited by the woman (Shaghayeh Djodat) depicted in the rug’s design. She tells them about her romantic longing for a man on a horse, but her prospects are continually dashed by societal forces that push her desires as a woman to the background. Djodat’s expressive face suffuses the film with longing and Makhmalbaf’s images of a teacher plucking colors from the fields and the sky or fabrics being dyed (flashes of Sergei Parajanov’s The Color of Pomegranates) gives the film a hypnotic quality that’s quite striking.

In The Silence, a young blind boy, Khorshid (Tahmineh Normatova), uses his superhuman hearing to make money for his family by tuning instruments. But he’s easily distracted by the noises around him, often losing his way on the way to work because of a musician’s song or even workers pounding and shaping metal containers. With the landlord impatiently waiting for the rent back home, Khorshid’s inability to do his job becomes even more consequential, but his earthly failures only allow him to fully embrace the mysticism of living in a world of sound. Again, Makhmalbaf’s use of color is stunning, converting the film’s spirituality to tangible images.

In documentary The Gardener (2012), Makhmalbaf struggles to make that same leap, as the film’s engagement with spiritual ideas sits on the surface, and the digital imagery only contains hints of the beauty that came before. With his son Maysam, the filmmaker visits a Bahá’í Faith center in Israel, and the bulk of the film plays out like a promotional testimonial video made by the center itself, as worshippers explain their attraction to the faith. The meta wrinkle involves Maysam and Mohsen filming each other with their small consumer digital cameras and discussing the purpose of the film. An early bit of narration asserts that Maysam will focus on the negative aspects of religion while Mohsen will focus on the positive aspects, but aside from a few forced conversations between the pair, this never really plays out. A third, unseen cameraman captures a lot of the interaction between the two, which weakens the film’s supposed dual-perspective approach. There are some nice shots here, particularly those using a mirror, and Maysam chiding his dad for shooting so much boring footage of the gardener is amusing. But the film never feels fully formed.

Arrow’s 1080p, 1.85:1 transfers for the two earlier films, sourced from new 2K restorations, are gorgeous: filmlike, vibrant and sharp, with superb levels of fine detail. The Gardener, presented in 1.78:1, has the expected digital artifacting due to its source, but looks pretty good, all things considered. The uncompressed mono audio in the earlier films is clean and reasonably dynamic, while the stereo track for The Gardener is adequate, if expectedly a little thin.

A nice selection of extras accompanies the films: an audio commentary for Gabbeh from Godfrey Cheshire, whose extensive 1997 Film Comment piece is also reprinted in the booklet, as well as two interviews with Makhmalbaf, one newly conducted by Jonathan Romney and an archival one focusing on The Silence. Trailers and stills are also included, while the stacked booklet also features an introduction from Makhmalbaf and an essay by Negar Mottahedeh.

ShampooShampoo (1975)
The Criterion Collection

One could make a strong case that Shampoo is Hal Ashby’s best film, infused with the right amount of chaos and just far removed enough from the era it depicts to skewer it with perfectly calibrated cynicism. I can certainly understand preferences for Ashby’s warmer comedies; every laugh in Shampoo is a bitter one. But the way the freewheeling self-absorption of Warren Beatty, who cowrote with Robert Towne, slowly evaporates, culminating in a stark “the party’s over” final shot, makes for a film propelled by its own withering stare at its protagonist.

Of course, hairdresser George Roundy (Beatty) is also on the receiving end of plenty of withering stares from the women he beds in between supremely confident but unfruitful attempts at starting his own salon. Girlfriend Jill (Goldie Hawn) can barely keep his attention for more than a few minutes, while older lover Felicia (Lee Grant, in an Oscar-winning performance) knows he’s only using her for her wealth. George sees her husband Lester (Jack Warden) as a prime candidate to lend him the money he needs, but he gets distracted by Lester’s mistress, Jackie (Julie Christie). Even Lester and Felicia’s daughter (Carrie Fisher) looks at George with condescension. She gets what she wants from him too.

Set on the night of the 1968 presidential election, just before Watergate was set to explode into public view, the film depicts shallow people obsessed with trivialities, though the women tend to be much more self-aware than the men. In the midst of this energetic farce, Beatty’s George stands as the perfect avatar of oblivious American self-interest. Made seven years after the film’s events are set, it’s clear this guy wouldn’t have learned anything in the intervening years. Same goes for the intervening decades since the film was released.

Criterion’s 1080p, 1.85:1 transfer is sourced from a new 4K restoration and looks excellent, handling the fairly grainy film with aplomb, with fine detail never getting lost even during low-light scenes. The color palette is on the drab side, but is consistent, and damage is basically nonexistent. This is easily the best the film has looked on home video. An uncompressed mono track sounds excellent, while a 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track doesn’t add much.

Extras are on the very thin side. All we get are an archival interview with Beatty from 1998 and a new conversation between critics Frank Rich and Mark Harris. Rich also contributes an insert essay. The transfer makes the disc an easy recommendation, but a fuller selection of supplements would’ve been nice.

La Belle

Blu-ray Review Round-up: Films by Jacques Rivette, Derek Jarman, Frank Borzage & more!

La BelleLa Belle Noiseuse
Cohen

Jacques Rivette’s engrossing La Belle Noiseuse, surely one of the swiftest four-hour films ever made, at once affirms the quasi-mystical draw of the creative process and punctures the mythos of the artist-muse relationship.

Erstwhile painting great Edouard Frenhofer (Michel Piccoli) is enlivened by meeting Marianne (Emmanuelle Béart), the girlfriend of a younger artist who idolizes Frenhofer. He resurrects an old project with Marianne as his nude model, and he quite literally controls the physical boundaries of their relationship, repositioning her with a utilitarian brusqueness that only amplifies her vulnerability.

Outside of the studio, the emotional repercussions are less violent but more complicated, given the histories between Frenhofer and his wife, Liz (Jane Birkin), and Marianne and her boyfriend, Nicolas (David Bursztein). Liz was once her husband’s model and Nicolas’s idolization of Frenhofer prodded Marianne into agreeing to model. But feelings have a way of changing.

Rivette, a great chronicler of the minutiae of the artistic process, devotes languorous but orderly scenes to Frenhofer’s work, moving from rough sketches, the scraping of the pen on paper acting as an evocative soundtrack, to the fits and starts of moving to a larger scale. Piccoli’s performance has a focused detachment that makes his sudden emotional shifts feel all the more capricious. Béart defiantly asserts Marianne’s boundaries with a fire in her eyes, a counterpoint to the more knotted feelings that emerge when she truly discovers the power imbalance in this partnership. These knots don’t unravel easily in La Belle Noiseuse, and in fact get more tangled the longer the film goes on.

Cohen’s Blu-ray release, sourced from a new 4K restoration, presents a 1080p, 1.37:1 transfer of the film, split over two discs. (The film has an intermission built in.) Largely, this is a fantastic presentation, with perfectly managed grain, beautiful levels of fine detail and exceptional clarity throughout. This is easily the best the film has ever looked on home video. Unfortunately, there is a teal-ish hue to the film’s color palette that wasn’t there on previous home video versions. While it’s possible this was the original theatrical look, it does seem to fall in line with a fairly common trend in new restorations. This is far from the worst offender; scenes in natural light appear mostly normal and colder-hued scenes appear to just be pushed a little further blue.  The 2.0 PCM mono track is excellent: clear, crisp and free from distraction.

Extras include a new audio commentary by film historian Richard Suchenski and archival interviews with Rivette and screenwriters Pascal Bonitzer and Christine Laurent, ported from previous DVDs.

Cohen Media Group / 1991 / Color / 1.37:1 / 238 min / $34.99

SacrificeThe Sacrifice
Kino Lorber

If not exactly dismissed outright, Andrei Tarkovsky’s final film, The Sacrifice, doesn’t quite have the cachet of most of his other films, which range from mere masterpiece to staggering works of sublime, life-changing art. Made while he was exiled from the Soviet Union and dying of cancer, The Sacrifice is ponderous, ungainly, gorgeous and sometimes pointedly nonsensical. It’s an odd, misshapen thing, capable of inspiring awe and dismissiveness. As Robert Bird notes in his essay for Kino’s new re-release, the film is caught between sparseness and theatricality; large, sometimes ridiculous gestures play out on a palette unmoored from narrative structure. But make no mistake: the stakes couldn’t be higher.

In some ways, the irreconcilable peculiarities of The Sacrifice are the only logical response to the madness of nuclear war, which invades the life of a Swedish family living on a remote Baltic island and the birthday celebrations for its patriarch, Alexander (Erland Josephson).

The film opens as he plants a withered tree with his beloved son, Little Man (Tommy Kjellqvist). He relates a story about a dead tree unerringly tended to that came to life and asserts that a single action performed with conviction can have far-reaching consequences.

Later, the family gathers in their home, where Alexander is surrounded by his wife Adelaide (Susan Fleetwood), his older daughter Marta (Filippa Franzén) and mercurial mailman Otto (Allan Edwall), among others. The celebration is cut short by a TV report declaring World War III to be imminent, sending everyone, particularly Adelaide, into an emotional tailspin.

Alexander’s grasps wildly for a self-flagellating solution. He’ll get rid of all his possessions. He’ll have sex with a woman who’s an alleged witch. Why would these actions avert nuclear war? That’s almost as crazy as the very notion of a nuclear weapon itself.

Kino’s new Blu-ray release, sourced from a new 4K restoration, features a 1080p, 1.66:1 image that is largely an upgrade over its previous Blu-ray, which looks particularly muddy in its drained-of-color middle section now. The new image is tighter, with a better defined grain structure, better clarity and much better shadow delineation. Detail isn’t lost in low-light scenes. The one area of potential complaint? Surprise, surprise: It’s the color, which leans in a distinct greenish direction. (Hey, it’s not teal.) This is a pretty big departure from the previous look, though taken by itself, the pleasing aspects of the transfer outweigh this slightly off hue. Audio is a nice 2.0 uncompressed mono track.

This edition has also received a bump in the extras department. A new audio commentary features Layla Alexander-Garrett, Tarkovsky’s on-set translator, and the booklet features excerpts from the filmmaker’s diaries alongside Bird’s essay. Like the previous release, a second DVD disc has feature-length making-of doc Directed by Andrei Tarkovsky.

Kino Lorber / 1986 / Color / 1.66:1 / 146 min / $39.95

MoonriseMoonrise
The Criterion Collection

One of my least favorite storytelling crutches is the kind of overt psychologizing that explicates a character’s action by tying it directly to an event from their past. This is essentially the beginning of Moonrise, one of Frank Borzage’s last films, as young Danny is tormented by his father’s execution for murder, and shortly commits one himself once the film catches up to the present.

But Borzage — one of the great atmosphere conjurers of the silent era — suffuses this prologue with a nightmarish dread that can’t help but spill over into the main events of the film. Danny (Dane Hawkins) is basically stuck in an awful dream he can’t escape from, and a series of reckless decisions involving self-destructive violence don’t break the spell. Borzage uses ultra-thick noirish shadowing; everything and everyone seemingly coated in an extra layer of darkness. Hawkins, his face often conveying an amoral blankness, plays Danny less like a tortured soul and more like a man who knows his actions don’t matter.

Danny’s stupor is partially broken by alluring schoolteacher Gilly Johnson (Gail Russell), who just so happens to be the fiancée of the man Danny killed, and his moral compass gets recalibrated thanks to the advice of swamp-dwelling Mose (Rex Ingram, who deepens his clichéd wise black man role). The plotting of Moonrise, which was based on a now-obscure novel, is stock, but Borzage’s filmmaking elevates the material. Even an old noir standby — the carnival scene — gets a new look with a Ferris wheel scene where matched head-on shots of Danny and his pursuer heighten the panic and pin him further inside his own head.

Criterion’s 1080p, 1.37:1 transfer is sourced from a new 4K restoration, and it handles the film’s darkness very well, maintaining healthy levels of detail and avoiding any issues with crush or artifacting. The image has some intentional softness and a few isolated instances of damage are visible, but this is a strong example of this kind of black-and-white filmmaking on the format. Uncompressed mono audio is reasonably clean.

Aside from a booklet essay from Philip Kemp, the only extra is a new conversation between film historians Peter Cowie and Hervé Dumont.

Criterion Collection / 1948 / Black and white / 1.37:1 / 90 min / $39.95

Intimate LightingIntimate Lighting (Intimní osvětlení)
Second Run

There’s a scene in Ivan Passer’s impeccably observed Intimate Lighting around a dinner table, where pieces of a roast chicken get passed around, everyone trying to defer to one another and making the whole affair much more complicated in the process. This is one of the more action-packed scenes in Passer’s film, which is a wisp — but a delightful wisp.

This scene — and all of the scenes in this episodic slice of life — unassumingly lays out the underlying expectations of its characters. A moderately successful musician, Petr (Zdeněk Bezušek) has returned to the small town where he grew up, and in visiting old pal Bambas (Karel Blažek), there’s that little tinge of benign tension that can occur between friends who haven’t seen each other in some time.

Calling Intimate Lighting a comedy of manners would probably be overstating things, but Passer is very interested in the gentle peculiarities of human interaction, and he lets them play out in scenes of a string quartet struggling to perform Mozart or a late-night rendezvous in an unfamiliar house or a toast that doesn’t quite go according to plan. The films’ charms are as elusive as its plot is simple.

Passer, like his Czech New Wave collaborator Miloš Forman, found his greatest success in the US. But this debut film is a unique jewel that displays some of the wryness of his films he co-wrote with Forman, but without the sharper satirical edge. That it feels so effortless as it occupies this tonal balance is part of what makes the film so enchanting.

Second Run’s region-free Blu-ray release features a 1080p, 1.37:1 transfer sourced from a new 4K restoration by the Czech National Film Archive. This is a nice-looking disc, with solid levels of clarity and detail. Grain is handled well, and the appearance is convincingly film-like throughout. 2.0 uncompressed mono audio is very clean.

Extras include Passer’s debut short film, A Boring Afternoon (1964), an interview with Passer and a booklet featuring essays from Trevor Johnston and Phillip Bergson.

Second Run / 1965 / Black and white / 1.37:1 / 74 min / £19.99

EdwardIIEdward II
Film Movement

Derek Jarman’s adaptation of Christopher Marlowe’s Elizabethan play is a study in contradictions. Pulsing with sensual imagery, yet affecting a cool, removed manner, the film is both formally austere and tonally nimble. One can feel a chill in the air from the stage-like environs of the unadorned castle the film was shot in, but each tableau is impeccably designed, whether it’s a sexually charged bedroom scene, an anachronistic gay-rights protest or a headlong leap into pop fantasy when Annie Lennox materializes, singing Cole Porter.

Jarman extracts and expands on the homoerotic undertones of Marlowe’s play, in which new king Edward II (Steven Waddington) exercises his newfound authority to bring back his lover, Piers Gaveston (Andrew Tiernan), from exile. Gaveston is historically known as Edward’s “favourite,” a term that couldn’t much more transparently imply a sexual relationship, but in Jarman’s telling, there’s no need for such a euphemism. The pair flaunts their relationship in front of an increasingly irritated Queen Isabella (Tilda Swinton) and her lover, Mortimer (Nigel Terry), prompting plans for a coup.

Most complaints about the film have to do with a lack of cohesion or simplistic renderings of Marlowe’s dense play and complex characters, but Edward II is one of those films where the greatness of the parts makes up for a whole that might not exactly come together. These complaints aren’t totally off-base, and there’s a haphazardness to the modernizing that’s reminiscent of many current stagings of hundreds-year-old plays, but Jarman’s eye for arresting production design and interesting compositions — not to mention his righteous political anger — make for a bracing experience where every image has a renewing effect on the viewer’s attention.

Film Movement’s new Blu-ray presents the film in 1080p, 1.85:1 transfer that’s a big improvement over the previous DVD release, which I remember as a murky, frustrating mess. Billed as coming from a “new digital restoration,” this transfer has a bit of a hazy look, with some fluctuating image density. Small flecks are common, though they’re mostly unobtrusive. Grain appears to be in good shape, and fine detail is acceptable, given the shadowy look of the film. It’s not a stunning transfer, but it’s quite watchable. Audio is an excellent 2.0 LPCM stereo track.

Extras include an interview with producer Antony Root and a booklet with an appreciation from Swinton and an essay by filmmaker Bruce LaBruce.

Film Movement / 1991 / Color / 1.85:1 / 90 min / $39.95

 

 

Dusty Somers is a Seattle-based writer and editor who splits his critical ambitions between writing Blu-ray & DVD reviews and theater criticism. He’s a member of the Online Film Critics Society and Seattle Theater Writers.

 

 

 

 

 

Women1

Blu-ray Review Round-up: Films by Hou Hsiao-hsien, Ken Russell, Robert Altman and more!

WomenWomen in Love (1969)
The Criterion Collection 

Sex and death are an inextricable pair in Ken Russell’s film version of D.H. Lawrence’s Women in Love, adapted by Larry Kramer. The imagery is striking but not subtle: Glenda Jackson reclining on a gravestone while discussing the merits of marriage, or two drowned lovers, entwined together and caked with river mud, their bodies melded like an ancient, discarded statue. But who wants subtlety? Russell, after a few minor entries, directing the first of many masterpieces, injects the film with sensual energy, the spryness of his camerawork working in concert with the physicality of his actors.

And what a cast. Jackson, who won her first Oscar for the role, exudes both free-spirited sanguinity and serious-minded practicality, her enigmatic outlook leavened by her sister’s (Jennie Linden) more straightforward approach. They fall in love with a pair of best friends (Oliver Reed, Alan Bates), whose own relationship is underpinned by significant homoerotic tones. (Again, not subtly; there’s an extended nude wrestling scene.) Everyone wants to fuck in Women in Love, but they also want emotional fulfillment and deep, lasting commitment — but not necessarily in the same way their companions want it, to sometimes tragic ends. Maybe it’s not sex that death is so closely linked to here.

Criterion’s 1080p, 1.75:1 Blu-ray transfer, sourced from a new 4K restoration, is glorious. The verdant English countryside, dank underground mines and snow-covered peaks are rendered in exceptional detail in a deeply film-like transfer. Extras are a thorough combination of archival and new material, including audio commentaries from Russell and Kramer, Russell’s 1989 self-biopic, 1972 D.H. Lawrence short-film adaptation Second Best and interviews with Russell, Jackson, Linden, Bates, Kramer, alongside newly shot ones with cinematographer Billy Williams and editor Michael Bradsell. A trailer and an insert with an essay by scholar Linda Ruth Williams are also included.

Criterion Collection / 1969 / Color / 1.75:1 / 131 min / $39.95

DaughterDaughter of the Nile (1987)
Cohen Media Group

Not many filmmakers evoke the hazy romanticism of memory of like Hou Hsiao-hsien, one of the most criminally underrepresented contemporary filmmakers on home video. Besides his most recent film, The AssassinDaughter of the Nile is the first Hou Blu-ray release in the US, and it one-ups the UK Masters of Cinema release with a slightly more robust slate of extras.

Though much of the milieu is a burgeoning crime underworld in Taipei, Daughter of the Nile skirts around the edges of gangster-film plotting, its screenplay by Chu T’ien-Wen based on personal experience and its most striking imagery reflecting impressions of urban life (neon-soaked streets, a massive KFC) and domestic life (recurring interior framings reinforce the familiarity of home).

Lin (Lin Hsiao-yang) finds purpose in caring for her family, including her increasingly reckless brother, but she finds herself drifting further and further into a fantasy life, facilitated by a manga series the title of the film refers to. The film itself straddles that line between reality and dreams, chronicling melancholy but mundane everyday living, but also hinting at something more nebulous and mysterious. An actual dream sequence threatens to upend the equilibrium Lin has developed between the disparate parts of her life. The realization that it’s only a dream may be only a small comfort; dreams have a lot of weight in this world.

Cohen’s 1080p, 1.85:1 transfer, sourced from the same 4K restoration as the MoC disc, is exceptional, offering a clear, sharp image that turns ecstatic whenever Hou pivots from naturalistic colors to the almost-unreality of Taipei’s neon. The uncompressed mono audio does have some unpleasant distortion that comes and goes, but is overall fine. An extensive Tony Rayns interview is duplicated from the MoC disc, while an audio commentary from scholar Richard Suchenski is new to this edition.

Cohen Media Group / 1987 / Color / 1.85:1 / 91 min / $30.99

SilenceSilence and Cry (1968)
Second Run

The high-definition upgrades of Miklós Jancsó’s films continue from Second Run, this time with earlier work Silence and Cry (Csend és kiáltás), a slow-burn drama about the poisoning effect of fascism on everyday lives. Consisting mostly of the long takes Jancsó was known for, the film punctuates stretches of uneasiness with sudden acts of horror, like an early murder, carried out perfunctorily. The matter-of-factness only deepens the chilling effect.

A former Communist soldier is trying to avoid that same fate, so he hides out from the Hungarian nationalists on a quiet farm. But this is hardly a refuge, as the farm owner has already drawn the attention of the casually cruel gendarmes, who force him to stand out in a field every day as punishment.

There’s a distancing effect to Jancsó’s approach, with the camerawork consistently more expressive than the performances, which feel boiled down to only the most elemental gestures. The overwhelming feeling here is not one of paranoia, but of resignation to an eventual terrible fate. As always, the virtuosity of Jancsó’s fluid camera movements makes this mostly riveting viewing.

Second Run’s 1080p, 2.35:1 transfer, sourced from a new HD remaster, is excellent, offering healthy levels of fine detail, beautiful grayscale separation and a mostly clean image, with only minor flecks here and there. There’s a clarity to the long shots here that’s essential to enjoying the film. Who wants to puzzle over a fuzzy speck in the distance? Extras are also worthwhile: A trilogy of Jancsó shorts (Presence I, II and III) are included in HD, along with a booklet essay from Tony Rayns, as perceptive about Hungarian cinema as he is about Asian filmmaking.

Second Run / 1968 / Black and white / 2.35:1 / 77 min / £19.99

OldestThe Oldest Profession (1967)
Kino Lorber

Like most Euro-anthologies, The Oldest Profession offers a highly variable collection of shorts, with the duds dragging down the experience enough that you find yourself wishing you were watching one of the better ideas expanded to a feature.

Consisting of takes on prostitution through the ages, most of these films rely heavily on gender stereotypes and corny humor. Mostly all of it is way too toothless to even approach offensiveness. Three of the shorts come from filmmakers whose most notable credits are in other omnibus films (Franco Indovina, Mauro Bognini, Michael Pfleghar), and maybe it’s not a coincidence that these are the weakest three, with Indovina’s prehistoric tale of men being fooled by makeup and Bolognini’s rather chaste idea of the Roman empire serving as two wrong steps right off the bat. Pfleghar at least has a charming Raquel Welch in his film about a prostitute mistaken for a socialite.

Philippe De Broca’s French Revolution tale would be more fun if it didn’t turn Jeanne Moreau’s character into an utter fool, though it’s idea is novel enough. Claude Autant-Lara’s “Paris Today” is the most obvious candidate for full-length treatment, as its story about two women using an ambulance to hide their prostitution business only starts getting ramped up before the film ends. Given that he’s easily the best filmmaker here, it’s no surprise that Jean-Luc Godard’s “Anticipation” is the film’s standout, even though it feels totally tossed off. For fans of Alphaville, it’s fun to see Godard working again in sci-fi mode, as Jacques Charrier attempts to understand love in a dystopian future, with the help (or maybe not so much) of Marilù Tolo and Anna Karina.

The Kino Blu-ray features a 1080p, 1.66:1 transfer that’s quite clean, detailed and stable, though some shots exhibit that teal-ish pallor that seems to afflict a number of recent Gaumont restorations. This is hardly the most overwhelming example though. Extras include the shorter English dub of the film and a trailer.

Kino Lorber / 1967 / Color and black and white / 1.66:1 / 115 min / $29.95

ImagesImages (1972)
Arrow Video

Though there are numerous films that might be cited as counterexamples, I think Robert Altman always brings something interesting to the table. And even if you want to outright dismiss, I don’t know, Dr. T and the Women (I like it), it’s harder to dispute the relevance of his 1970s output, which is jam-packed with masterpieces and endearing oddities.

Images, rescued by Arrow Video after the MGM DVD spent a long stretch in OOP-land, is probably more the latter, though it’s compelling enough I wouldn’t scoff at an assertion of the former.

While Altman would more thoroughly evoke an atmosphere of mental instability with 3 Women, Images is kind of a looser — much looser — take. There’s not a scene that can be definitively labeled as reality or hallucination, which ultimately works to blunt the film’s impact, but should we really be complaining about a great Susannah York performance, filmed by Altman and cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond in full-on roving camera excess mode?

York stars as a children’s book author whose shaky grasp on reality becomes shakier when she learns that her husband (Rene Auberjonois) is cheating on her. Or is he? A retreat to a cottage in Ireland should be just the thing to patch this all up, right?

Arrow’s 1080p, 2.35:1 transfer, sourced from a 4K restoration, includes some dupe shots, and the drop-off in quality can be noticeable, particularly in a film that tends toward the grainy side. But for the most part, this is an excellent transfer, with well-resolved grain and solid clarity despite the film’s intentionally hazy look. Extras include a new commentary track by Samm Deighan and Kat Ellinger along with an archival Altman selected-scene commentary. A making-of from the previous DVD release, an interview with supporting actress Cathryn Harrison and an appreciation by Stephen Thrower are also included.

Arrow Video / 1972 / Color / 2.35:1 / 104 min / $39.95

BaalBaal (1970) 
The Criterion Collection

Volker Schlöndorff’s adaptation of Bertolt Brecht’s first play, largely unseen for decades since its release, isn’t exactly a diamond in the rough. It’s more like rough on top of rough. Abrasive, disjointed and shot in a variety of locations that seem to be competing amongst each other for an ugliness trophy, Schlöndorff’s 16mm primal scream isn’t Brechtian in the traditional sense, but it has its own aesthetic distancing effects that are a good fit with the material.

Just as his directing career was getting started, Rainer Werner Fassbinder stars as the titular poet, a monstrously egotistic artist who flouts polite society before they can reject him, bedding every woman he can along the way. Fassbinder is perfectly cast as the freewheeling degenerate — he has the right amount of grimy charm to earn both the loving and loathing he receives in his crusade against bourgeois society. (Which again, mostly involves copious amounts of drinking, sex and leaving the broken husks of the people he encounters in his wake.)

Criterion’s 1080p, 1.37:1 transfer, sourced from a 2K restoration, isn’t as rough as Baal, but it’s close, with some ragged and/or Vaseline-smeared edges and some instances of dirt and debris that haven’t been cleaned up. Much of this is keeping with the aesthetic goals of the film, and the underlying image shows off some of the detail and depth one would expect from a 16mm-sourced image. Extras include two interviews with Schlöndorff, a newly filmed interview with co-star (and Schlöndorff’s collaborator and ex-wife) Margarethe von Trotta, an interview with historian Eric Rentschler and a conversation between Ethan Hawke and playwright Jonathan Marc Sherman, who recently collaborated on a Baal adaptation. Dennis Lim contributes an insert essay.

Criterion Collection / 1970 / Color / 1.37:1 / 84 min / $39.95

 

 

Dusty Somers is a Seattle-based writer and editor who splits his critical ambitions between writing Blu-ray & DVD reviews and theater criticism. He’s a member of the Online Film Critics Society and Seattle Theater Writers.