Saturday, 12 September 2015

Blu-ray Review: La Grande Bouffe (Arrow Academy)

Marco Ferreri's "La Grande Bouffe" caused quite a stir at the 1973 Cannes Film Festival, and if you focus soely on the darker side of this film, there's certainly plenty to get your teeth into.
However, this is really a story about friendship: four professionals who are at ease in each others company.
We have Philippe (Phillipe Noiret); a judge who enjoys sexual favours from his nanny and is a complete opposite to the more playful members of the quartet: Marcello (Marcello Mastroianni), an impotent airline pilot and Michel (Michel Piccoli); a TV executive who brings his own baggage to proceedings. The last member of this exclusive gentlemans club is Ugo (Ugo Tognazzi); a chef who brings an expensive set of knives to what is described as a "gastronomic seminar."
The men have decided to stay at the house of Philippe's parents, now solely occupied by their servant Hector (played by Michel Piccoli's father, Henri) and simply eat themselves to oblivion.
The men hire a trio of prostitutes to enliven the event, and Philippe's refusal to indulge in the pleasures of the flesh leaves him a prime candidate for the attentions of schoolteacher Andrea (Andrea Ferreol). When she appears with a group of children to view a lime tree that French poet Boileau used to sit under, we expect a rather staid lady who will soon depart from this den of iniquity. In fact, Andrea goes on to outperform the whores and match the men bite for bite, agreeing to become Philippe's wife and then proceed to indulge in carnal and culinary pursuits with great abandon.
When the hookers eventually bale out, it's left to Andrea to provide the entertainment, while endeavouring to become a calming influence amidst food chaos. In many ways, Ferreol is the absolute centre of this film, delivering a top-notch performance.

It has to be said the banqueting scenes are indeed grotesque: we witness oyster speed eating; beef, lamb, wild baor, guinea fowl, and pizza are shovelled down in a riot of cooking and consuming and - in one hilarious scene - the toilet even gives out, exploding in a white-flag moment that does nothing to deter the participants of this banquet from hell. This really is a tour de farce, with some great humour but possibly not for those with weak stomachs. There are, however, more sedate scenes that will haunt the memory for long after: witness dear departed friends placed upright in a cold room, watching over those still living. It's a scene that further amplifies the sense of comradeship that ties these men.
It's exquisitely performed by the stellar cast, and beautifully shot by Mario Vulpiani, whose work can be fully appreciated on Arrow Academy's Blu-ray presentation.

This is a fine restoration, scanned in 2K, with the mono soundtrack transferred from the original 35mm magnetic tracks. Image quality is excellent, enabling us to discern fine detail and better appreciate the colour schemes and, of course, that glorious (?) food.
The supplementary features begin with "The Farcical Movie: Marco Ferreri" (27m 9s)
This episode of "Morceaux de bravoure", directed by Georges Paumrer, was originally broadcast in April 1975.
Ferreri is asked what comedy means to him; explains that while he's a Bunuel fan, he doesn't like being compared to him, and cites comedy as being a "dangerous genre". He also mentions Tod Browning's "Freaks", Tex Avery and Bunuel's "Nazarin" and there are clips from "The Ape Woman" and "L'harem" amongst others.

Behind-The-Scenes (11m 35s)
An episode of "Pour le Cinema", broadcast in April 1973. Here, the male quartet of actors talk about the amount of improvisation in the film, with Togazzi stating a script was the last thing they saw.
Noiret talks about the use of chefs from top restaurants to cook the food and Ferreri is described as a man of poetic nature.

"Colours Around A Festival" (4m 28s)
Broadcast in May 1973, just weeks after the Cannes screening, this one also benefits from the input of the actors. Piccoli states he's proud of the film, while Noiret explains the actors brought more to this production than other films they were just instruments in: the fact that the main players all used their christian name for their own role is rather apt.

Forming Ferreri (18m9s)
Italian film scholar Pasquale Iannone serves up an excellent introduction to the director, covering his early days; his move to Madrid after getting nowhere in Rome and the troubles he had with censors. We hear about some of the great performers he worked with, and of his success on the festival circuit.

Selected Scene Commentary (27m 15s)
Pasquale makes a welcome return for this featurette, which contains commentary for 5 scenes from the film, including a look at Andrea Ferreol who he notes was in her mid-twenties when this film was made. Paqual highlights Ugo's wonderful Brando impression and the careers of the four male leads, including their work for Ferreri.

Cannes Film Festival News Conference (1m 42s)
A brief snippet from Cannes, where the director defends his film with gusto.

The extras are concluded by a booklet featuring new writing on the film by Johnny Mains, illustrated with original archive stills and posters.
"La Grande Bouffe" is available to buy now, and is Region A/B.

Tuesday, 8 September 2015

Blu-ray Review: The Hourglass Sanatorium (Mr Bongo)

Based on the novel by Bruno Schulz, Wojciech Has' 1973 film begins in a rundown railway carriage, presided over by a blind conductor.
Jozef (Jan Nowicki) is on the way to see his ailing father Jacob (Tadeucz Kondrat) who is spending his final days at a sanatorium. Jozef encounters what first appears to be an empty, ramshackle building and soon discovers a displacement of time that gets progressively stranger.
Jozef walks through deserted corridors; a restaurant with unfinished meals and drinks, decorated by cobwebs and enveloped by a profound sense of loss. Here, time is late explains his father's Doctor, "By an interval I can't precisely define."

This is indeed a story which "goes beyond any fantasy" as Jozef is guided through a labyrinth of decay by girls from his younger days; his mother (Irene Orska); medical staff who inform him that his 'dead' father has not yet reached the final stage and colourful figures from pre-World War II eras.
Those of you who enjoy truly challenging cinema that poses many questions with few answers are in for a treat with this one.
Suppose we have already been privy to the landscapes and people we encounter in life?
Jozef has that same feeling on his own journey, seduced and unnerved by the sights and sounds he conjures up.
The director speculates that maybe we are responsible for our own dreams and nightmares, filling the roles of director, producer and primary cast member to populate the hours of sleep with a mixture of what has happened and what may happen.
Our most fervent wishes and deepest fears team up for a bewildering journey where sense of time and space are displaced, just like Has' own vision here.
Has also draws on other elements of Schulz's work here, immediately installing the author as a name to look up for those unfamiliar with his books.
For what it's worth, my own take on this film places Jozef permanently in that railway carriage, and close to death.
Everything in the film may well be his own fever dream where his life flashes before him in a combination of re-creation, profound regret and palpable fear.
The people we meet, those who cross our paths and remain unknown, and places we visit or imagine actually exist.
A lifetime rolled up into just a few minutes. Or seconds.
Has' film certainly inspires many theories and much speculation, borne out of mood and a series of rich imagery and a haunting soundtrack.
Jerzy Maksymiuk's score acts as a guide that cuts a line through places of darkness and light, perfectly tuned to the on-screen events, while the photography and set designs are striking in the extreme.

The Blu-ray transfer captures the rich costumes and interiors with striking clarity in a world of warm candlelit vigils; beautifully detailed mannequins and landscapes dusted with pure white snow.
Mr Bongo's Blu-ray is available to buy now and is region-free. It showcases a most absorbing film, and opens up a stimulating world for fans of international cinema.
Releases such as this are so very important, and I do respectfully urge you to support them.

Sunday, 6 September 2015

Blu-ray Review: Vivre Sa Vie (BFI)

The life of record store assistant Nana Klein (Anna Karina) is hardly a model for beautiful, bright young things to aspire to. Nana wears a sullen expression for her working hours, going through the motions of taking money and giving change with the grey mist of discontent shrouding her every move.
Outside, things are even worse with estranged husband Paul (Andre Labarthe) a source of mental exhaustion: "The more we talk, the less the words mean" really sums up their relationship.
Nana is looking for something more in her life. Something that will bring stability, enabling her to break free from her shackles.
Raoul (Saddy Rebbot) offers lucrative employment in the world's oldest profession; a job which accelerates her income and also her hastens her downwards spiral.
We see a succession of men: some handsome and confident, others plain and reserved. We hear exactly what is expected of a prostitute, including the numbers of clients she can expect each day and the sums she can earn. It's an almost unbearably sad world, and even the bright, eye sparkling moments in this film are tinged with unhappiness.
The scene where Nana measures herself with her hands for a job application form and a playful jukebox dance (which anticipates the famous sequence in Bande a Part) are part of an existence which kicks against one of the world's most romantic cities.

This is a winning performance from Karina who conjures up conflicting moods exceptionally well, her every look, her every gesture commanding our attention. She's a beauty behind bars who can never break free: even a visit to the cinema - an escape for most of us - reminds her of her own sad life. Witness the clip from Carl Dreyer's "The Passion Of Joan Of Arc" which leaves Nana in tears: a scene I was reminded of years later when I watched the reaction of Naomi Watts and Laura Harring to Rebekah Del Rio's heartbreaking rendition of "Llorando" in "Mulholland Drive".
"Vivre Sa Vie" is a beautifully structured piece, of its time and yet also of our own time. Some things never change.
To quote Edith Wharton, "next to death, life is the saddest thing there is." That certainly holds true for one of Jean Luc-Godard's finest films.

The BFI blu-ray presentation offers excellent image quality, with an abundance of exquisite detail.
It's worth noting that the British theatrical version incorporates title cards and intertitles taken from an original 35mm duplicating print of the British theatrical version held by the BFI National Archive. The picture for both versions has been restored, removing dirt, scratches and warps, with damaged frames and stability issues repaired.
The supplementary features begin with a commentary track from the excellent Adrian Martin, who explains Godard's 4th feature is different to its predecessors with regard to a more controlled, structured opening. Adrian also notes how Godard films conversations here; talks about the theme of being caged and of another world that lies outside the windows of Nana's prison, and that even exterior scenes have a claustrophobic feel. He also highlights the finale as being a homage to Rossellini, with a nod to Antonioni, and has a lot to say about Anna Karina.
It's a commentary rich in sharp observation, and required listening for us all.

Anna Karina In Conversation With Alistair Whyte is a 36m 15s interview, recorded in 1973.
Alistair asks Anna about her directorial debut "Vivre Ensemble" and why she decided to direct. He also asks about her reaction to wtaching herself on film, and she talks about working with Godard, Cukor and Visconti.

"Charlotte et Veronique" (20m 28s) aka "All The Boys Are Called Patrick".
This 1959 short film is the first of three on this disc. Its screenplay was written by Eric Rohmer and involves two friends, Charlotte (Anne Colette) and Veronique (Nicole Berger) who are both picked up by the suave Patrick (Jean-Claude Brialy). The girls discuss their new admirer and soon work out they've been duped by a serial seducer who arranges to meet them separately while he's already on the way to his next target. It's an enjoyable dash, and fair warning that if something seems to good to be true, then it almost certainly is.

Un Histoire d'eau (A Story Of Water) 1961 12m 14s
Vileneuve-Saint-Georges is flooded each February by an avalanche of snow that melts and engulfs the village.
A girl (Caroline Dim) is stranded by the floods and meets Jean-Claude Brialy during her efforts to reach Paris. The sight of the waterlogged countryside is a constant, but it's their growing relationship that's at the centre of things en route to the capital and a ftiing monument to their newfound love. This engaging short was a collaboration with Francois Truffaut.

Charlotte et son Jules 1958 13m 13s
A homage to Jean Cocteau, this one features Anne Collette and Jean-Paul Belmondo as ex-lovers who meet again when Charlotte returns for a reason that become hilariously clear at the end. Charlotte is on the receiving end of severe lectures from her former lover, barely getting a word in as Belmondo's character goes on and on.
It's a postcard of the poverty of failed relationships, but light-hearted and entirely fascinating to watch the two leads at work. Godard himself recorded Belmondo's dialogue as military service reared its head before Jean-Paul could record his contribution.

The main feature offers an optional introduction by Leslie Hardcastle, recorded before the Vivre Sa Vie screening at London's National Film Theatre in 1968. Godard had been invited to introduce the screening and had accepted, but didn't show up. Leslie explains what happened and his efforts to persuade Godard to attend.
There's also a 2m 20s theatrical trailer (which gives the game away with regard to the downbeat finale) and a 2 page booklet with reviews from Virginie Selavy and John Russell Taylor and an essay by David Thompson.
Highly recommended, and a treasure trove for Godard buffs.