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S E A R C H    D V D B e a v e r

(aka 'The Secret Life of Words')

Directed by Isabel Coixet
Spain
2005

 

I recently reviewed Beowulf and Grendel. It had a renowned Canadian actress named Sarah Polley. I had never seen her before (to my knowledge) but something about her performance, as a seductive loner witch, intrigued me enough to look up her work on IMdb. It seems she was in a film that was recommended to me recently by a good friend. The movie has the ubiquitous arthouse-sounding title 'The Secret Life of Words' which also stars Tim Robbins (who I tend to enjoy). Hmmm....

Upon further investigation it turns out that Miss Polley (actually 'Mrs.' - I see she's married - dang) often rejects large commercial roles in support of what she deems as more 'meaningful' cinema. Bravo - this type of discerning performer is rare indeed to find in the mainstream circles of modern film production where mercenaries follow cash. Aside from some limitations with her eastern-block accent she is nothing short of captivatingly stellar in this film.

Who is the director? - It seems this is not the first collaboration for Spanish writer-director Isabel Coixet and Canadian actress Sarah Polley. They also were in My Life Without Me from 2003 that won Polley her third Best Actress Genie (Canadian film performance award). The often 'brilliant' Almovodar bothers produced 'The Secret Life of Words'. But I entered my viewing without any of this knowledge.

Evolving like the work of master realist Eric Rohmer we are presented with a very sedate story of mysterious, and obviously wounded, individuals - the physical, for both, juxtaposing the psychological. These are, refreshingly, not glamorous people - not rich people - not gun toting people. Hanna (Sarah Polley), is a deaf Balkan refugee who has been quietly working at a silk plant in England for the past four years without taking a single sick day or any holiday vacations. She eats the same thing every day - chicken, rice and an apple. Yes... we are curious. One day she is more-than-gently persuaded by her boss to take a month off inferring that her excessive competence makes other, less fiduciary-minded, employees 'uncomfortable'.

 

We begin to learn important details through subtle inference - for example; she was once a nurse. This leads her to utilize her time off by agreeing to medically tend to Josef (Tim Robbins) who has had a severe accident on an oil rig (where he is bedridden) - sporting serious contusions and excruciating burns. Complexities arise from these simplistic circumstances and we, at a deliberate pace, find details about our damaged protagonists. They have valid reasons to be closed off. So life, and the narrative, transpires...

The film is nothing short of a masterpiece infusing symbols involving emotional distancing (the oil rig is essentially barren of employees after the fire). Communication is limited between all characters and correspondingly Hanna is totally deaf without the use of her hearing aid. Even the most gregarious persona, the oil rig chef, played by Javier Cámara, is relegated to minor character status. The effective cinematography bears witness to the intensity of Hanna and Josef's inner demons with constant close-up and frequent hand-held modulations. Even the dim lit room of her soul-purging to him. The film is a beautiful dissertation on being human - surviving, coping, opening up, reaching out and moving forward. This is one of the better films I have seen this year. Highly recommended!

Posters

Theatrical Release: September 1st, 2005 - Venice Film Festival

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Comparison:

Universal - Region 1 - NTSC vs. Universum (Germany) - Region FREE - Blu-ray

1) Universal - Region 1 - NTSC - LEFT

2) Universum - Region FREE - Blu-ray - RIGHT

 

Box Covers

  

Distribution Universal Home Video - Region 1 - NTSC Universum
Region FREE -
Blu-ray
Runtime 1:55:00  1:55:14.616 
Video 1.78:1 Aspect Ratio
Average Bitrate: 8.55 mb/s
NTSC 720x480 29.97 f/s 

Disc Size: 23,836,326,658 bytes

Feature Size: 18,392,745,984 bytes

Total Bitrate: 15.99 Mbps

Single-layered Blu-ray MPEG-4 AVC

NOTE: The Vertical axis represents the bits transferred per second. The Horizontal is the time in minutes.

Bitrate:

Bitrate: Blu-ray

Audio English (Dolby Digital 5.1) 

DTS-HD Master Audio English 1888 kbps 5.1 / 48 kHz / 1888 kbps / 16-bit (DTS Core: 5.1 /
48 kHz / 1509 kbps / 16-bit)

DUB: DTS-HD Master Audio German 1935 kbps 5.1 / 48 kHz / 1935 kbps / 16-bit (DTS Core: 5.1 /
48 kHz / 1509 kbps / 16-bit)

Subtitles English (CC), Spanish, French, None English, German, None
Features

Release Information:
Studio: Universal Home Video

Aspect Ratio:
Original Aspect Ratio 1.78:1

Edition Details:

• none

DVD Release Date: May 8th, 2007

Keep Case
Chapters: 20

Release Information:
Studio:
Universum

 

Disc Size: 23,836,326,658 bytes

Feature Size: 18,392,745,984 bytes

Total Bitrate: 15.99 Mbps

Single-layered Blu-ray MPEG-4 AVC

 

Edition Details:
• Making Of (31:10)

•  4 Deleted Scenes with optional commentary (8:23)

•  Interviews (Polley - 4:52 Robbins - 3:33 Coixet - 18:45)

•  Music Video (5:19)
• Theatrical trailer and TV Spots (3:04)

•  B-Roll (1:58)

•  IRCT (International Rehabilitation For Torture Victims)
 

Blu-ray Release Date: October 28th, 2011
Standard Blu-ray case

Chapters 14

 

 

 

Comments:

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

ADDITION: Universum - Region FREE - Blu-ray February 15': Well, this German 1080P is an upgrade - although a limited one. It certainly looks superior to the SD, but I still see some softness that might have tightened-up if the transfer was dual-layered. It shows more information in the frame and is in the original 1.85:1 aspect ratio. It looks very acceptable in-motion - and IS progressive.

We get a reasonable DTS-HD Master in 5.1 surround at 1888 kbps. There is depth and a few instances of notable range. There is no score pre-se but there is a soundtrack with the likes of Clem Snide's Forever Now and Then, Pour vous aimer, Gioco d'azzardo, Tom Waits, David Byrne, Blood Sweat & Tears You've Made Me So Very Happy among other effective musical pieces supporting the film. All sounding pleasing via the lossless. There are optional English and German subtitles and the Blu-ray disc is region FREE.

The big bonus here are the extensive extras. We get a half-hour Making Of (like most extras - in English with German subtitles), four deleted scenes with optional commentary by director Coixet. There are about 25-minutes of interviews with the three principals (Polley - 4:52 Robbins - 3:33 Coixet - 18:45), a Music Video, Theatrical trailer and TV Spots, about 2-minutes of B-Roll footage and a Public Service Announcement for the IRCT (International Rehabilitation Council For Torture Victims).

Not an ideal HD transfer, but a proper 1080P AVC rendering with lossless audio and some worthwhile extras. Ohh yeah - and that is Julie Christie! and Pedro Almodóvar was an executive producer! WATCH THIS FILM!

***

ON THE DVD: Efficient - if bare-bones DVD edition from Universal. It is dual-layered, progressive and anamorphic - coded for region 1 in the NTSC standard. Detail can look quite good at times. Overall there are no flaws. I suspected colors to have been enhanced when I watched 2 scenes with excessively green grass - but see it was shot in Northern Ireland - figures. I found no signs of digital manipulation. It looked a shade better than average.

There are optional English, Spanish or French subtitles to support the, never tested, English 5.1 audio. Once again competent - no surprises.

Devoid of supplements which would have been a nice touch considering how strongly I feel about the 'The Secret Life of Words'. In the vein of work like Todd Field's In the Bedroom, I strongly recommend this film that probes continuously at the gut before taking its expected knockout blow. Funny, it was so good I wanted it to end without the 'milking Hollywood finale', that thankfully never transpires. I enjoyed this very much.  

Gary W. Tooze

 

 


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1) Universal - Region 1 - NTSC - TOP

2) Universum - Region FREE - Blu-ray - BOTTOM

 

 

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Box Covers

  

Distribution Universal Home Video - Region 1 - NTSC Universum
Region FREE -
Blu-ray




 

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