Saturday, 6 September 2014

Blu-ray Review: Blanche

Walerian Borowczyk's 1972 film saw his wife, Ligia Branice, play the role of a young woman whose innocence and beauty captivate the men around her. Her older husband (Michel Simon) is a Baron whose estate has become a virtual prison for his beloved; a barren desert where his lonely rose withers, devoid of the life she once hoped for. The Baron's son, Nicolas (Lawrence Trimble), has just returned from Egypt and exhibits strong feelings for his stepmother. The arrival of the King (Geroges Wilson) and his page Bartolomeo (Jacques Perrin) lengthens the line of would-be suitors, leading to jealousy, betrayal, violence and death amongst the four men in her life.
Heavily influenced by medieval paintings and by a 19th century play named 'Mazepo', 'Blanche' is a feast for the eyes, with Guy Durban's camera capturing the sumptuous sets and intricate lighting, while his inventive framing also adds much to the film. Performance-wise, Michel Simon gains in stature with his emotional-charged turn as a man whose world has been torn asunder by family and strangers, while Wilson and Perrin play against each other beautifully, each trying to best the other on the rocky road to acceptance.
'Blanche' really is a film to savour, even amidst the tragic elements of the story, and an important part of Arrow Academy's Borowczyk collection.

Image quality is outstanding, courtesy of the restoration taken from original 35mm elements, and provides us with painterly detail in every scene. Realism is an important part of this film, even down to the soundtrack which features period instruments and adapts the 'Cormona Burara' songbook. Viewers can opt to listen to a 5 minute introduction from director Leslie Megahey, who explains how 'Blanche' inspired him and showed him that everything is possible.
The supplementary material is of great value, beginning with Ballad Of Imprisonment: Making Blanche. This is a 28 minute documentary, beginning with a contribution from Patrice Leconte (second assistant director) who explains how two of his reviews for Cahiers du Cinema lead to him meeting Borowczyk and working on 'Blanche'. Andre Heinrich - first assistant director - and Noel Very - camera assistant to Guy Durban - also contribute, discussing storyboards and the challenges posed by their director's requirements. We also learn about the opposition to casting Branice in the lead role, and Dominique Duvage talks about the production and Borowczyk's methods for lighting and framing.

Obscure Pleasures: A Portrait Of Walerian Borowczyk
A 63 minute interview, where the director holds forth on animation vs film, art, sex and the freedom to make his kind of film. He explains he wasn't imbued with Polish art, and goes onto highlight various influences on his own extraordinary art.

Gunpoint 1972
Peter Graham's 11 minute short takes place on a vast estate where the aimless rich gather to indulge in a pheasant shoot. Here, 'beaters' are employed to drive the pheasants towards the guns, doubtless adding to the sense of accomplishment for these vacuous people. The sight of the group tucking in to dinner after a hard days work will be offensive to many, which was probably Graham's intention, and shows up this 'sport' for exactly what it is. Graham's short also briefly records the lifespan of these birds, from fledglings to full-grown prey.

Behind Enemy Lines: Making Gunpoint
Here, Peter Graham explains how Borowczyk helped him make this film; of a disagreement they had over the ending and the fact that 'Gunpoint' was not well received by the hutning party when they viewed it. 'Behind Enemy Lines' is an apt title.

'Blanche' can also be found on Camera Obscura:The Walerian Borowczyk Collection, which includes key films from a 25 year period, stretching from 1959 - 1984. This dual format release also includes a book edited by Daniel Bird and Michael Brooke, which includes newly commissioned essays on the director's films and art, and an account of the restoration process involved.

'Blanche' is accompanied by the following individual releases which are also included in the box set:

Goto, Isle Of Love
Walerian Borowczyk's second feature was just as original as his first. Almost entirely live action this time, it is situated on the archipelago of Goto, which has been cut off from the rest of human civilisation by a massive earthquake and has consequently developed its own arcane rules. Melancholic dictator Goto III (Pierre Brasseur) is married to the beautiful Glossia (Ligia Branice), who in turn is lusted after by the petty thief Gozo (Guy Saint-Jean) as he works his way up the hierarchy.

Its thinly veiled critique of totalitarianism saw it banned in both Communist Poland and Fascist Spain (to Borowczyk's delight), but the film is most notable for its uniquely original atmosphere, in which bizarre props and sets (designed by Borowczyk himself) are given as much weight as the human actors. Its grave beauty is underscored to perfection by one of Handel's organ concertos.

This brand new high-definition restoration from the original 35mm interpositive includes the haunting colour sequences that were sometimes omitted from earlier releases.

Introduction by artist and Turner Prize nominee Craigie Horsfield
The Concentration Universe: Goto, Isle of Love – A new interview programme featuring actor Jean-Pierre Andréani, cameraman Noël Véry and camera assistant Jean-Pierre Platel
The Profligate Door – A new documentary about Borowczyk's sound sculptures featuring curator Maurice Corbet
Original theatrical trailer

Immoral Tales
Although it has much in common with Walerian Borowczyk's earlier work, Immoral Tales marks the point where his reputation as an arty pornographer began, and was sexually explicit enough to have caused problems with the censors on its original UK release.

It tells four stories revolving around particular taboos (virginity, female masturbation, bloodlust, incest), each delving further back in time, as if to suggest that the same issues recur constantly throughout human history and in all walks of life, whether it's Lucrezia Borgia (Florence Bellamy) or Erzsébet Báthory (Paloma Picasso in her only screen role) or the anonymous teenagers of the earlier episodes.

This high-definition restoration by Argos Films is being released on Blu-ray with English subtitles for the first time. The film is presented in two versions: the familiar four-part edition, and the original five-part conception, including the short film The True Story of the Beast of Gévaudan that was later expanded into Borowczyk's later feature The Beast. The disc also includes both cuts of A Private Collection (1973), the short film that scandalised film festival audiences with its witty and often graphic study of vintage erotica.

Introduction by Borowczyk expert Daniel Bird
Immoral Tales: L'Age d'Or Cut – featuring a fifth episode, The True Story of the Beast of Gévaudan
Love Reveals Itself: Immoral Tales – A new interview programme featuring production manager Dominique Duvergé-Ségrétin and cinematographer Noël Véry
Boro Brunch: A reunion meal recorded in February 2014 re-uniting members of Borowczyk's crew, featuring Philippe D'Argila, Florence Dauman, Dominique Duvergé-Ségrétin, Dominique Ruspoli, Noël Véry and Zoe Zurstrassen
A Private Collection
A Private Collection: Oberhausen Cut
Original theatrical trailer

The Beast
Originally turned down flat by the British Board of Film Censors and initially released exclusively in London in a version heavily cut by its nervous distributor, The Beast is Walerian Borowczyk's most notorious film, although it's much wittier and more playful than its subject matter might suggest.

Lucy Broadhurst (Lisbeth Hummel) is due to inherit a substantial fortune, but on condition that she marries the son of her late father's best friend. But Mathurin de l'Espérance (Pierre Benedetti) seems more interested in his horses than in his bride-to-be, and when Lucy finds out about the story of his 18th-century ancestor Romilda (Sirpa Lane) and brings her to life in one of the most outrageous dream sequences in cinema history, we begin to realise just how bizarre Mathurin's bloodline truly is.

Receiving its Blu-ray world premiere, this new high-definition restoration by Argos Films is supported by the original short-film version of The Beast, and Venus on the Half-Shell (1975), Borowczyk's portrait of the painter Bona Tibertelli de Pisis and her erotic fusions of men, women and molluscs.

Introduction by critic Peter Bradshaw
The Making of The Beast: Camera operator Noël Véry provides a commentary on footage shot during the making of The Beast
Frenzy of Ecstasy – A new visual essay on the evolution of Borowczyk's beast and the sequel that never was, Motherhood
Venus on the Half Shell
Original theatrical trailer

The Short Films & Theatre Of Mr and Mrs Kabal
For the first decade of his career, Walerian Borowczyk exclusively made short films, initially in his native Poland, but then mostly in France, where he settled permanently in the late 1950s. This disc includes the vast majority of the shorts that he made between 1959 and 1984, apart from ones that were originally intended to accompany specific features.

Far from being prentice work or optional extras, the shorts include many of his greatest films, such as the cut-out Astronauts, the reverse-motion Renaissance and the extraordinary Angels' Games, a one-off masterpiece of the macabre that would alone establish Borowczyk as one of the cinema's most innovative artists.

In 1967, Borowczyk made his feature debut, a grotesque and surreal fantasy about the physically and temperamentally mismatched couple Mr & Mrs Kabal. Made with a tiny production team at a time when animated feature films were far scarcer than they are now, it's almost the polar opposite of a Disney film, with angular, mainly monochrome graphics bringing the Kabals' universe to startlingly vivid life. Both this and all the short films are presented in brand new high-definition restorations from original 35mm elements.

Introduction by filmmaker Terry Gilliam
Film is not a Sausage: Borowczyk's Short Films – A new interview programme featuring Borowczyk, producer Dominique Duvergé-Ségrétin, assistant André Heinrich and composer Bernard Parmegiani
Blow Ups – A new visual essay by Daniel Bird concerning Borowczyk's works on paper
Borowczyk's commercials

The above titles will be released by Arrow Academy on 8th September, and stack up as important releases for students of world cinema.

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