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A view on Blu-ray by Gary W. Tooze

Blanche [Blu-ray]

 

(Walerian Borowczyk, 1972)

 

Also available in the Walerian Borowczyk Collection Boxset:

 

Review by Gary Tooze

 

Production:

Theatrical: Abel & Charton

Video: Arrow Video / Olive Films

 

Disc:

Region: FREE / Region 'A' (as verified by the Oppo Blu-ray player)

Runtime: 1:33:35.818 / 1:33:36.652

Disc Size: 46,428,826,874 bytes / 23,021,834,492 bytes

Feature Size: 27,423,487,104 bytes / 18,521,800,704 bytes

Video Bitrate: 34.98 Mbps / 22.78 Mbps

Chapters: 13 / 8

Case: Transparent Blu-ray case / Standard Blu-ray case

Release date: September 8th, 2014 / April 25th, 2017

 

Video (both):

Aspect ratio: 1.66:1

Resolution: 1080p / 23.976 fps

Video codec: MPEG-4 AVC Video

 

Audio:

LPCM Audio French 1152 kbps 1.0 / 48 kHz / 1152 kbps / 24-bit

 

DTS-HD Master Audio French 2138 kbps 2.0 / 48 kHz / 2138 kbps / 24-bit (DTS Core: 2.0 / 48 kHz / 1509 kbps / 24-bit)

 

Subtitles (both):

English (where necessary), none

 

Extras:

Introduction by Schalcken the Painter director Leslie Megahey (3:54)
Ballad of Imprisonment, a documentary about the film featuring producer Dominique Duvergé-Ségrétin, assistant director André Heinrich, camera operator Noël Véry and assistant Patrice Leconte (28:28)
Obscure Pleasures: A Portrait of Walerian Borowczyk, a newly edited archival interview in which Borowczyk discusses painting, cinema and sex (1:03:15)
Gunpoint, a documentary short by Peter Graham produced and edited by Borowczyk (11:04)

Behind Enemy Lines - The Making of Gunpoint (5:16)
Reversible sleeve featuring original poster designs
Collector's booklet

 

Introduction by Schalcken the Painter director Leslie Megahey (3:56)
Ballad of Imprisonment, a documentary about the film featuring producer Dominique Duvergé-Ségrétin, assistant director André Heinrich, camera operator Noël Véry and assistant Patrice Leconte (28:25)

 

Bitrate:

1) Arrow - Region 'B' - Blu-ray TOP

2) Olive Films Region 'A'  - Blu-ray BOTTOM

 

 

Description: One of the greatest of all medieval films, not least for its utterly distinctive realization of a recognizable yet alien world, Walerian Borowczyk's third feature was widely hailed as a masterpiece from the moment it first appeared and is still regarded as one of his greatest films.

Based on Juliusz Sowacki's 19th-century play Mazepa but relocated to 13th-century France, Blanche tells the story of the beautiful young wife (Ligia Branice) of a nobleman many decades older (French acting legend Michel Simon). As innocent as her name suggests, Blanche becomes the unwilling centre of attention in a power struggle between her husband, the visiting King and his page, the latter a notorious womaniser. Its unique visual style resembles a medieval fresco, and its period-instruments soundtrack, adapting the ancient Carmina Burana song book, was years ahead of its time.

Blanche is presented in a brand new high-definition restoration from original 35mm elements.

 

 

The Film:

Based on the drama "Mazeppa" by Juliusz Slowacki – the protagonist of which had also served as inspiration for Lord Byron, Victor Hugo, and Bertolt Brecht – the film shifts its focus from the titular character to the object of his desire, her called Blanche (Ligia Branice, BEHIND CONVENT WALLS) the young, saintly wife of a much older lord (Michel Simon, BOUDU SAVED FROM DROWNING). Secretly loved by her stepson Nicolas (Lawrence Timber), Blanche does not even realize that she is a bird trapped in a gilded cage – despite being told it by various characters – innocently engendering the desires of the visiting king (Georges Wilson, THE THREE MUSKETEERS) and his roguish page Bartolomeo (Jacques Perrin, CINEMA PARADISO) whose advances she staunchly rebuffs. Taking his page's cloak, the king skulks down to Blanche's bedchamber by nightfall, but her anonymous protector Nicolas wounds the man's hand with his sword. Not knowing how to avoid awkwardness for overstepping his host's hospitality, the king prepares to leave until Bartolomeo wounds his own hand to divert suspicion. The next day, the king tells his host that his page was attacked in the night in order to play the offended party and graciously forgive the act; that is, until his host discovers blood outside of Blanche's chambers and accuses Bartolomeo. The king agrees to send Bartolomeo back to court to avoid awkwardness, not realizing that his host has sent Nicolas ahead to give the page a thrashing. Cunning Bartolomeo talks his way out of the skirmish but soon discovers his own master's intended betrayal of his host in order to possess Blanche. Unfortunately, his attempt to prevent disaster sets off a chain of misunderstandings and betrayals that leads to a bloodbath.

Walerian Borowczyk's second feature film BLANCHE is simultaneously a tragedy and a hilarious comedy of manners. The king and his host vie for effrontery while placing the blame on those beneath them: first Bartolomeo, and then Blanche whose innocence and ignorance is seen as pretense that has her husband and her stepson believing her so duplicitous and cruel to literally seal Bartolomeo's fate. The subsequent attempts of both Nicolas and Bartolomeo to prove Blanche's honor lead to more accusations by her husband of her faithlessness (even to the extent of her husband accusing her of bewitching his son). Blanche's attempts to defend Nicolas – mistaking his love for her as that of a son to a mother – lead only to more accusations against both of them. The ultimate tragedy is Blanche's inability to recognize desire, much less experience it; and that the only decisive action that she can take is to end her own life. Borowczyk's framing and lighting is intentionally flat, filming scenes head-on as if observing a tableau (indeed the images often directly mimic medieval paintings). Action usually wandering into the shot (or dancing past it) while more composed shots of characters usually represent a dramatic or psychological stasis (as such, inanimate objects almost becoming characters themselves). Merriment and pleasure is either clandestine – with Bartolomeo sneaking off to assignations and the king attempting to whisper propositions in Blanche's ear during the court dancing – or at a price (when a guest expresses curiosity about the high register of a singing minstrel, she is told that "he is jousting with a blunted sword"). A tragedy yet ultimately insignificant since the king is the only one of consequence to know even part of the truth and would likely bury it with the corpses, but certainly an explosion of erotic tensions that only Borowcyzk could so subtly realize (do note that the director's telling departs significantly from the more accessibly Byron poem, although I have no idea how close it is to Slowacki's version).

Eric Cotenas 

Image :    NOTE: The below Blu-ray captures were taken directly from the Blu-ray disc.

Blanche gets an impressive transfer to Blu-ray from Arrow Films in the UK.  It is dual-layered with a max'ed out bitrate for the 1.5 hour feature. Colors are passive but deeper and tighter than SD could relate and there is no noise in the darker sequences. The 1080P supports solid contrast exhibiting healthy, rich black levels and some minor depth in the 1.85:1 frame.  It's pristinely clean showcasing some hi-def detail and pleasing grain textures. This Blu-ray does a wonderful job of presenting the film's video and it seems devoid of imperfections of any kind.

 

Same restoration - less technically robust transfer - similar image quality - some pixel-shifting - Arrow is superior in-motion. Period.

 

CLICK EACH BLU-RAY CAPTURE TO SEE ALL IMAGES IN FULL 1920X1080 RESOLUTION

1) Arrow - Region 'B' - Blu-ray TOP

2) Olive Films Region 'A'  - Blu-ray BOTTOM

 

1) Arrow - Region 'B' - Blu-ray TOP

2) Olive Films Region 'A'  - Blu-ray BOTTOM

 

1) Arrow - Region 'B' - Blu-ray TOP

2) Olive Films Region 'A'  - Blu-ray BOTTOM

 

 

1) Arrow - Region 'B' - Blu-ray TOP

2) Olive Films Region 'A'  - Blu-ray BOTTOM

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Audio :

Arrow use an authentic linear PCM mono track at 1152 kbps in the original French language. Dialogue sounds predictably flat. The music in the film, with strong use of period instruments, is credited to a host of individuals; Christian Boissonnade, Annie Challan, Agnès Faucheux, Maurice-Pierre Gourrier and Florence Lassailly. The score, in lossless, adds to the realism and period atmosphere.  There are optional English subtitles and my Oppo has identified it as being a region 'B' - Blu-ray.

 

Similar again - Olive go DTS-HD Master (24-bit). My ears couldn't tell much of a difference - none that I could articulate, anyway. The Olive also has optional English subtitles (see sample.) Olive is Region 'A'.

 

Extras :

Filmmaker Leslie Megahey (SCHALCKEN THE PAINTER) appears in a brief introduction where he credits BLANCHE with his realization that period drama could be done "differently" from the British film and TV conventions. "Ballad of Imprisonment" is a retrospective making-of piece featuring contributions from the film's trainee assistant director Patrice Leconte (DOGORA), its assistant director André Heinrich, camera operator Noël Véry (ART OF LOVE), and producer Dominique Duvergé . Leconte had become a fan of Borowczyk upon seeing some of his animated features at a film festival, and was recommended by his film school professors to review THE THEATRE OF MR. AND MRS. KABAL and later GOTO, ISLAND OF LOVE for Cahiers du Cinema before he would assist on BLANCHE (his only film as an assistant director). Heinrich and Duvergé discuss how they had gone behind Borowczyk's back to obtain additional funding from co-star Perrin who then halted production, insisting on replacing Branice with Catherine Deneuve (REPULSION) as well as Borowczyk's stubbornness. Duvergé and Leconte also discuss Borowcyzk's "DIY genius" in his designs of the sets and several of the film's props (which are almost characters themselves) while Véry talks about the director's liking for Méliès-type trick shots.

 

"Obscure Pleasures" is a lengthy unreleased 1985 interview – newly-augmented with clips from the new film masters and re-edited by Daniel Bird (who has contributed special features for BFI and Second Run releases) – with the director conducted by Keith Griffiths for the BFI that focuses on the director's transition from graphic art to animation and filmmaking, with Borowczyk stating that it is the differences between the mediums that interest him. The bulk of the discussion is rather academic but soon becomes adversarial when Griffiths asks about the director's preoccupation with sex (and even calls him a pervert), and Borowczyk turns the argument around to ask why the spectator is not implicated in consuming eroticism. The featurette also includes Noël Véry's home movies on the set of Borowczyk's THE STREETWALKER/LA MARGE with Sylvia Kristel (EMMANUELLE) and Joe Dallessandro (PAUL MORRISSEY'S TRILOGY).

 

Also included on the disc is the 1970 short film GUNPOINT by Peter Graham – a British writer, film critic, and translator living in France – shot by Borowczyk, Very, and BLANCHE cinematographer Guy Durban (IMMORAL TALES) about pheasants raised from egg to their ends at a shooting party. Graham appears in the featurette "Behind Enemy Lines" to discuss Borowczyk's collaboration on the project, and how he proposed documenting the hunt to its host (who did not smell a rat until he saw the finished film screened). The original limited boxed set contained a 344-page tête-bêche-bound book featuring extensive essays and reprinted archival pieces on Borowczyk on one side and translations of nine Borowczyk short stories on the other side. The shorter booklets for the individual editions have not been provided, but presumably the BLANCHE booklet contains Philip Strick's 1973 review and Daniel Bird's 2014 essay on the film.

Eric Cotenas

 

Olive include the Leslie Megahey (SCHALCKEN THE PAINTER) introduction where he credits BLANCHE with his realization that period drama could be done "differently" from the British film and TV conventions, and the "Ballad of Imprisonment" retrospective making-of piece. That is all though.

Arrow - Region 'B' - Blu-ray

 

 

Olive - Region 'A' - Blu-ray

 

 

BOTTOM LINE:
Wow - another treasure from Borowczyk. You certainly can't say that this guy's work is predictable or mainstream in any way. Those keen on the mediaeval-French period and forbidden love aspects of the film will find this highly interesting. The Arrow Blu-ray provides an excellent a/v presentation with very appreciated supplements. This is easy to recommend - quite the 'rich' film experience!

 

The Olive is very decent - but an obvious notch below the Arrow. Still plenty of value here for Region 'A'-locked fans. Visually splendid film. I see more each time I revisit. 

Gary Tooze

December 12th, 2014

April 21st, 2017

Also available in the Walerian Borowczyk Collection Boxset:


 

About the Reviewer: Hello, fellow Beavers! I have been interested in film since I viewed a Chaplin festival on PBS when I was around 9 years old. I credit DVD with expanding my horizons to fill an almost ravenous desire to seek out new film experiences. I currently own approximately 9500 DVDs and have reviewed over 5000 myself. I appreciate my discussion Listserv for furthering my film education and inspiring me to continue running DVDBeaver. Plus a healthy thanks to those who donate and use our Amazon links.

Although I never wanted to become one of those guys who focused 'too much' on image and sound quality - I find HD is swiftly pushing me in that direction.

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60-Inch Class (59.58” Diagonal) 1080p Pioneer KURO Plasma Flat Panel HDTV PDP6020-FD

Oppo Digital BDP-83 Universal Region FREE Blu-ray/SACD Player
Momitsu - BDP-899 Region FREE Blu-ray player
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Gary W. Tooze

 

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