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L’Assassino (1961) | Elio Petri’s Kafkaesque thriller is a neglected cinematic gem

L’Assassino (aka The Ladykiller of Rome)Released within months of Federico Fellini’s La Dolce Vita and Michelangelo Antonioni’s La Notte, director Elio Petri’s dazzling 1961 debut L’Assassino (aka The Ladykiller of Rome) also stars Marcello Mastroianni, this time as sleazy thirtysomething antique dealer Alfredo Martelli, arrested on suspicion of murdering his older, far wealthier lover Adalgisa (Micheline Presle). But as the police investigation proceeds, it becomes less and less important whether Martelli actually committed the crime as his entire lifestyle is effectively put on trial…

L’Assassino (aka The Ladykiller of Rome)

Best known for Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion and The Tenth Victim (read my review here), Elio Petri was one of the finest and yet most underrated Italian directors of the 1960s and 1970s. Highly acclaimed on its original UK release but unjustly neglected since, L’Assassino is a remarkably assured debut from one of the cinema’s sharpest chroniclers of Italian social and political realities; fusing a thriller, a favourite genre of Petri’s, with elements of a mystery plot with a Kafkaesque air, while also being an explicit critique of the rising upper-bourgeois society in Italy in the early 1960s.

Written for the screen by Tonino Guerra (who also did Antonioni’s Blow-Up, Fellini’s Amarcord and Tarkovsky’s Nostalghia); lensed by Woody Allen’s favourite cinematographer, Carlo Di Palma; edited by Fellini regular Ruggero Mastroianni; and with music by Piero Piccioni (whose compositions have recently been used in American Hustle and Silver Linings Playbook), L’Assassino is certainly ripe for rediscovery.

L’Assassino (aka The Ladykiller of Rome)

THE UK 2014 BLU-RAY/DVD RELEASE
Following a high-definition restoration by Cineteca di Bologna, this is the first-ever UK home entertainment release of L’Assassino and comes in a Blu-ray and DVD combo pack from Arrow Films’ Arrow Academy label.

Alongside the 2k digital presentation of the film, there’s also a host of special features on offer, including the 52-minute documentary, Tonino Guerra – A Poet in the Movies, about the acclaimed screenwriter; an introduction by Italian cinema expert Pasquale Iannone; theatrical trailer; collector’s booklet (featuring some informative new and vintage writings on the film); and newly commissioned artwork by Jay Shaw.

Une Femme Est Une Femme (1961) | Jean-Luc Godard’s delightful tribute to the Hollywood musical

Une Femme est une Femme (1961)

Parisian striptease dancer Angela (Anna Karina) yearns to have a child, but her bookseller husband Emile (Jean-Claude Brialy) is only interested in cycling. Angela then turns her attentions to Emile’s best friend Alfred (Jean-Paul Belmondo) who ends up falling in love with her.

This delightful light comedy from 1961 was Jean-Luc Godard’s second feature, but his first to be shot in colour and in a studio. It also earned him and his then wife Anna Karina awards at the Berlin Film Festival.

Une Femme est une Femme (1961)

Channelling the spirit of American screwball comedies and musicals of the 1930’s, with an affectionate nod to director Ernst Lubitsch (Belmondo’s character is named after the Hollywood legend), this off-centre tribute is dominated by an engaging Karina as the naïve dancer and Belmondo as the gauche, tongue-tied Alfred. A colourful confection indeed.

Godard The Essential Collection

 

Une Femme Est Une Femme (Cert PG, 80min) is available on StudioCanal’s Jean-Luc Godard The Essential Blu-ray Collection five-disc box set alongside featuring Breathless, Le Mépris, Pierrot le fou and Alphaville.

The special features include and introduction by Colin McCabe, an interview with Anna Karina, and galleries of photos and posters.

 

Falstaff: Chimes At Midnight (1966) | Orson Welles’ personal best gets a 50th anniversary restoration release

Falstaff Chimes at Midnight (1966)

If I wanted to get into heaven on the basis of movie, it would be Falstaff’ Orson Welles

As part of the centenary celebrations of Orson Welles’ birth, 1966’s Falstaff Chimes at Midnight, one of the most radical and groundbreaking of all Shakespeare film adaptations and Welles’ favourite of his features, has been restored and released on DVD and Blu-ray from Mr Bongo Films.

Falstaff Chimes at Midnight (1966)

‘Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown’
On the brink of Civil War, King Henry IV (John Gielgud) attempts to consolidate his reign while fretting with unease over his son’s seeming neglect of his royal duties. Hal (Keith Baxter), the young Prince, openly consorts with Sir John Falstaff (Orson Welles) and his company. Hal’s friendship with the knight substitutes for his estrangement from his father. Both Falstaff and the King are old and tired; both rely on Hal for comfort in their final years, while the young Prince, the future Henry V, nurtures his own ambitions…

Falstaff Chimes at Midnight (1966)

‘A magnificent film, clearly among Welles’ greatest work’ Roger Ebert
A reworking of his 1939 and 1960 play Five Kings, this is, in Welles’ own words, ‘a sombre comedy’ and a ‘lament for Merrie England’. It may have come late in his career, but it remains his masterpiece, containing the true and profound essence of both Shakespeare the dramatist and Welles the actor. His Falstaff was the role he was born to play, the embodiment of the richly human, honest and heroic qualities of medieval England whose openness and loyalty eventually become the very cause of his own destruction.

The talented supporting cast includes John Gielgud, Keith Baxter, Jeanne Moreau, Fernando Rey, Margaret Rutherford and Ralph Richardson as the narrator. The film’s harrowing war scenes have proven especially influential, cited in Kenneth Branagh’s Henry V and Mel Gibson’s Braveheart.

The Garden of the Finzi-Continis (1970) | Vittorio De Sica’s autumnal masterpiece is ripe for reappraisal

The Garden of the Finzi-ContinisVittorio De Sica’s 1970 masterpiece, The Garden of the Finzi-Continis, has long been out of distribution, but received a well-deserved restoration in 2011 which screens today at London’s BFI Southbank, as part of the Vittorio De Sica season.

As war breaks out, an aristocratic Jewish family (the Finzi-Contini) feels safe behind the walls of their grand estate as Fascism grips the country.

Living in a state a denial, Micòl (The Conformist’s Dominique Sanda) and her sickly brother Alberto (Helmut Berger, in his second film) carry on holding tennis games and summer parties with their friends, including Giorgio (who holds a torch for Micòl) and Bruno (a gentile with socialist sympathies).

But when the reality of Mussolini’s anti-Semitic restrictions finally hits home, the wealth, privilege and social position of the Finzi-Continis counts for nothing under the new world order. And when Italian soldiers rounding up the city’s Jewish population arrest them, the Finzi-Continis must then await their fate (deportation to a concentration camp) in a former classroom.

TheGarden of the Finzi-Continis

Drawing on Giorgio Bassani’s celebrated novel, De Sica spent a decade adapting it for the screen and scored the Oscar for Best Foreign Film for his efforts, and it certainly deserves reappraisal. With its stirring story, stunning setting, sumptuous visuals, majestic score and chilling final scene, De Sica’s autumnal film still retains all of its power to strike at the heart.

The Garden of the Finzi-Continis is also available on DVD in the UK from Arrow Academy, featuring the new transfer plus, as special features, interviews with actress Lino Capolicchio, screenwriter Ugo Pirro and composer Manuel De Sica, plus trailer and booklet.

 

Miracle in Milan (1951) | Vittorio De Sica’s sublime Italian fantasy parable is a ray of sunshine in a cynical age

Miracle in Milan (1951)In between making his gritty neo-realist masterpieces Bicycle Thieves and Umberto D, Italian director Vittorio De Sica lensed the fantasy parable Miracle in Milan, that would earn him the Grand Prize at Cannes in 1951.

Francesco Golisano (who tragically died at the age of 29 in 1958) gives a beautifully, understated performance as Toto, an orphan possessed by eternal optimism. Abandoned at birth, Toto was raised by the elderly Lolotta, who taught him to find joy and wonder in the simple things in life. Following her death, he is placed into an orphanage, but when he leaves, he ends up wandering the streets with the city’s beggars.

Finding refuge at an old rubbish tip on the outskirts of the city, Toto’s optimistic approach to life infects all those he encounters. Soon he and his fellow poor are creating their own mini-town, complete with street signs, main square and water fountains, and all is happy until Toto receives a magical dove that grants wishes. When the shantytown residents use the dove for materialistic purposes, two angels steal the dove back just when Toto needs it most – to stop the town from being razed to the ground by the new owners.

Miracle in Milan (1951)

In the 1950s, Italy experienced an economic miracle with industry booming and living standards rising sharply. However, there was still acute poverty throughout the country – especially in the south. De Sica’s fantasy is a direct response to this and to the universal themes of the great rich and poor divide – something that has special resonance today – especially if you think of the worldwide Occupy movement.

But unlike de Sica’s other neo-realist films – especially Il Tetto (The Roof), this is not a harrowing tale of misery, but a lesson in the power of optimism in the face of adversity. And while the later half of the film does become somewhat farcical, it is Golisano’s gripping performance as the Christ-like Toto that carries the film.

Miracle in Milan (1951)

Miracle in Milan screens Saturday 8 August and Monday 10 August at the BFI as part of the Vittorio De Sica season and is available as a Dual Format and Blu-ray release (both including Il Tetto) from Arrow Academy

 

La Dolce Vita (1960 | Federico Fellini’s iconic, influential visual delight finds a new home on Blu-ray

La Dolce Vita blu-ray cover

The Sweet Life!
In late-1950s Rome, over seven days and nights, cynical showbiz columnist Marcello Rubina (Marcello Mastroianni) has his eyes open to his soulless existence as he drifts from one wild party to another in Rome’s amoral high society. His affair with Maddalena (Anouk Aimée) causes his fiancée Emma (Yvonne Furneaux) to attempt suicide, he accompanies a film starlet (Anita Ekberg) to St Peter’s where she dresses as a priest, he awaits an abortive miracle, and takes his ailing father to a nightclub… But as Marcello’s crazy carousel ride spins out of control, will he ever find the answers he’s so desperately looking for?

La Dolce Vita (1960)

The Roman Scandals – Bound to shock with its truth!
Federico Fellini’s La Dolce Vita (aka The Sweet Life) is one of the most influential movies of all time and one of the most notorious films to emerge from 1960s world cinema. While time has rendered it less so, it has lost none of its power to delight, thanks to Fellini’s delirious visuals, which have become part of contemporary culture, inspiring legions of film directors, from Woody Allen to Paolo Sorrentino – whose Oscar-winning The Great Beauty is its brilliant offspring, as well as musical artists like Bob Dylan and Blondie. It even gave us the term ‘paparazzi’. A soaking wet Anita Ekberg in a strapless black gown in the Trevi fountain and a statue of Christ hanging from a helicopter are two of the most iconic images in this comically caustic tour through the empty pleasures of modern life. A must-have in any serious world cinema collection.

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While Fellini’s Palme d’Or and Oscar-winning masterpiece should really be seen on the big screen, watching it on Blu-ray is the next best thing. The legendary director’s immortal images are simply luminous, while Nino Rota’s Grammy nominated score is a perfect match to Fellini’s vivid imaginings. Future Andy Warhol superstar Nico plays herself in the 6th night sequence, while one-time TV Tarzan Lex Barker plays Ekberg’s fiancé.

La Dolce Vita (1960)

The Blu-ray, which is distributed by Nouveaux Pictures in the UK, is a new ‘Conservation clone’ remastered in 2010 from the restored Total Scope camera negative (scanned in 4K HD), as well as a 2nd print (to replace scenes that were badly damaged), using the restored 1995 Mediaset print as a print guide. The original 35mm optical-sound negative was also restored. The only special extras included is an interview with Anita Ekberg from 2004 (her account of filming the famous Trevi fountain scene is hilarious), plus trailers of four Fellini films and a host of Westerns and war classics from Argent.

Das Cabinet des Dr Caligari (1920) | The iconic German Expressionist silent masterpiece casts its mesmerising spell again in HD

Das Cabinet des Dr Caligari (1920)

At a local carnival in a small German town, hypnotist Dr Caligari (Werner Krauss) presents the somnambulist Cesare (Conrad Veidt), who can purportedly predict the future of curious fairgoers. But at night, the doctor wakes Cesare from his sleep to enact his evil bidding…

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One of the most iconic masterpieces in cinema history, German director Robert Wiene’s 1920 German expressionist silent Das Cabinet des Dr Caligari shook filmgoers worldwide and changed the direction of the art form. With its nightmarishly jagged sets, sinister atmospheric and psychological emphasis left an immediate impact in its wake – horror, film noir, and gothic cinema would all be shaped directly by it. But this diabolical tale nevertheless stands alone – now more mesmerising than ever in a new definitive restoration; presented in a dual-format special edition in the UK from Eureka Entertainment as part of The Masters of Cinema Series.

THE UK DUAL FORMAT RELEASE
• New high-definition presentation, from the extensive FWMS restoration
• Audio commentary by film historian David Kalat
• Video essay by film critic David Cairns
Caligari: How Horror Came to the Cinema (52min) Documentary on the film
• Re-release Trailer
• Commemorative booklet with new writing, reprints and rare archival imagery

Available from 29 September 2014

 

 

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The Beast (1975) | Is Walerian Borowczyk’s horny black farce the most outrageous erotic fantasy ever committed to film?

Walerian Borowcyzk's The Beast

The night before her wedding, American heiress Lucy Broadhurst (Sirpa Lane) arrives at her aristocratic fiancé’s secluded French country estate and learns about a legendary beast that stalks the nearby woods. That night she dreams of an erotic encounter with the half-man half-beast…

MONDO MONSTRO!
This bizarre, yet beautifully shot erotic fairytale is Walerian Borowczyk’s most notorious film. Expanded from the planned Immoral Tales segment, The Beast (The Bête) sees the director at his most extreme. In turns silly, nasty, comic, disturbing and (for those of in the back row) voyueristically arousing, it cemented Borowczyk’s reputation as the ‘arty pornographer’, which began after he showed his vintage erotica short A Private Collection and an early version of Immoral Tales in 1974.

With its heavy overtures of bestiality and blatant appropriation of pornographic images, its no wonder censors around the world took a hefty pair of scissors to it or banned it outright. But, ever the provocateur, Borowczyk had a wry smile at the censors and his critics, because lurking behind what must be the most outrageous erotic fantasy ever committed to film is a playful satire on sex and desire.

Walerian Borowcyzk's The Beast

THE UK DUAL FORMAT RELEASE
Receiving its Blu-ray world premiere, this new 2k high-definition restoration by Argos Films. The Arrow Films dual format release (which includes a standard definition DVD) includes the following elements…
• New high definition digital transfers of the feature and the shorts, with uncompressed mono 2.0 PCM audio and optional English subtitles
• Introduction by film critic Peter Bradshaw (2014)
The Making of The Beast (2014), camera operator Noël Véry provides a commentary on footage shot during the film’s production
Frenzy of Ecstasy: The Evolution of the Beast, (2014), visual essay on the evolution of Borowczyk’s beast and the sequel that never was, Motherhood
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
• Original trailer

Akira Kurosawa’s five seminal Samurai films get a BFI Blu-ray box-set release

On 25 August, the BFI will release Akira Kurosawa’s five Samurai films – Seven Samurai, Throne of Blood, The Hidden Fortress, Yojimbo and Sanjuro in a 4-disc Blu-ray box set, and a standard Blu-ray edition of Seven Samurai (which got a Limited Edition SteelBook and DVD release back in April).

Akira Kurosawa Collection

This BFI Blu-ray box set features digitally re-mastered presentations of five of Akira Kurosawa‘s greatest films. These critically acclaimed films are accompanied by contextualising extras including interviews with directors George Lucas and Alex Cox, feature-length audio commentaries and original theatrical trailers.

Akira Kurosawa Collection

Seven Samurai (1954)
When the residents of a small Japanese village seek protection, they hire seven unemployed ‘ronin’ (masterless samurai). Paid only in handfuls of rice, the samurai remain distant from the villagers, knowing that their assignment may prove to be fatal. Unanimously hailed as one of cinema’s greatest masterpieces, Seven Samurai has inspired countless films, and was re-made in 1960 as The Magnificent Seven.

Akira Kurosawa Collection

Throne of Blood (1957)
In this brilliant re-imagining of William Shakespeare’s Macbeth, Toshiro Mifune plays a samurai fated to betray his friend and master in exchange for the prestige of nobility. Kurosawa’s bloody tale is a triumph of economic style, and the climactic battle scene is full of remarkable, and brutal, imagery.

Akira Kurosawa Collection

The Hidden Fortress (1958)
In this classic collaboration between Kurosawa and star Mifune, a warrior and a princess try against all odds to return to their homeland with their fortune. Acknowledged by George Lucas as the inspiration for Star Wars, The Hidden Fortress combines an epic tale of struggle and honour with modern comic sensibilities to masterful effect.

Akira Kurosawa Collection

Yojimbo (1961)
A drifting samurai for hire plays both ends against the middle with two warring factions, surviving on his wits and his ability to outrun his own bad luck. Eventually the samurai seeks to eliminate both sides for his own gain and to define his own sense of honour. Yojimbo provided the inspiration for A Fistful of Dollars.

Akira Kurosawa Collection

Sanjuro (1962)
This comedy of manners that follows a man fighting corruption in local government, offers a twist on the classic Samurai tale by gently, but perfectly parodying the conventions of the Japanese period action movie tradition.

Special features
• All films presented in High Definition in their original aspect ratio, with PCM mono audio, in Japanese, with optional English subtitles
• Original theatrical trailers
The Art of Akira Kurosawa (2013, 49 mins): Asian-cinema expert Tony Rayns discusses Kurosawa’s career and influence
• Interview with George Lucas (2001, 8 mins)
• Interview with filmmaker Alex Cox (2003, 9 mins)
• Introduction to Sanjuro by Alex Cox (2003, 5 mins)
• Full-length audio commentary for Throne of Blood by Japanese-film expert Michael Jeck
• Full-length audio commentary for Yojimbo by film critic Philip Kemp
• Illustrated booklet with film essays, reviews and film credits

Pre-Order the Blu-ray box-set now (click here)

Watch the original Japanese trailer for Seven Samurai here:

Faust (1926) | FW Murnau’s silent gift to German cinema’s rich heritage of horror now on Blu-ray

Faust – Eine deutsche Volkssage (1926)

No man can resist evil! The bet is on!
Mephistopheles (Emil Jannings) bets an archangel (Werner Fuetterer) he can corrupt the soul of aging alchemist Faust (Gösta Ekman); and the stakes are the Earth itself. When a plague is unleashed and Faust is unable to find a cure, he rejects both God and science and invokes the aid of Satan. Mephisto appears and makes a pact with Faust: he will restore his youth in exchange for his soul. But its a pact the revitalized Faust wishes he never made after he falls for the innocent charms of Gretchen (Camilla Horn)…

Faust – Eine deutsche Volkssage (1926)

FW Murnau’s silent gift…
1926’s Faust: A German Folktale (Faust, eine deutsche Volkssage) was FW Murnau’s last German film before heading to the US. Featuring stylised photography, set and art direction, and ground-breaking special effects, it came at the pinnacle of the silent era and alongside 1922’s Nosferatu was Murnau’s silent gift to German cinema’s rich heritage of horror.

With screenwriter Hans Kyser, Murnau fused Faust’s script from German folk legend, the works of Goethe and Marlowe and the Charles Gounod opera, to render a highly individual work. And from that much-filmed legend Murnau conjured cinema’s devil incarnate in the form of Emil Jannings’ Mephisto – resplendent in black cloak and sporting a widow’s peak that has been much copied and parodied. Behold him enveloping a whole town in the blackness of his giant cloak, restoring the wizened Faust’s youth in a fiery blaze, or flying over the intricate model town to a lavish wedding feast. It’s wondrous stuff, made all the more so by Timothy Brock’s operatic orchestral score.

Faust – Eine deutsche Volkssage (1926)

Whilst the film was harshly met by critics of the day – calling it a vulgar sentimental love story (and it does lag somewhat during these scenes) – and derided Murnau’s decision in giving the tragedy a happy ending, the film’s compelling imagery is its enduring legacy. Murnau was fortunate in having two of the German film industry’s finest designers on board, Walter Röhrig, who created the iconic cubist sets for Das Cabinet des Dr Caligari, and Robert Herlth, as well as Fritz Lang’s favourite cameraman Carl Hoffmann, whose ‘dance of death’ sequence is a showcase for his artistry. Under Murnau’s fastidious eye, the team brought to the silver screen the director’s stylised vision as he wanted it, a battle of light and shadow that mirrors in celluloid the film’s metaphysical themes of good versus evil.

Faust – Eine deutsche Volkssage (1926)

THE RESTORED PRINT
Although numerous editions of the film exist, there were only two original negatives from which all other versions issued. Using the nitrate duplicate negatives printed by UFA in 1926 and an array of international sources, Murnau’s favoured domestic German version has been reconstructed by Filmoteca Espanola from which this newly restored transfer is sourced. It makes this version the closest we will ever get to see the film as the director intended. The Masters of Cinema Series presents the Friedrich-Wilhelm- Murnau-Stiftung restoration for the first time on Blu-ray in the UK in a two-disc dual format release with the following features.

Faust – Eine deutsche Volkssage (1926)

SPECIAL FEATURES
• Newly restored 1080p transfer of the domestic German print (1.33:1 aspect ratio), featuring different takes and much better resolution than the export print
• Original German intertitles and improved optional English subtitles
• Choice of viewing the film with Timothy Brock orchestral score, specially commissioned harp score by Stan Ambrose, or (on Blu-ray only) new piano score by Javier Pérez de Azpeitia
• Audio commentary by film critics David Ehrenstein and Bill Krohn
• Complete export version of the film
The Language of Shadows, 53-min German featurette on the film (Blu-ray only)
• Tony Rayns on Faust – a 20-minute video piece recorded in 2006
• Booklet with essays of the film’s history by Peter Spooner and R Dixon Smith, excerpts from Éric Rohmer’s analysis of the film, and archive prints.

 

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