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…
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.
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.
From Arrow Video comes the rarely seen early-1970s German serial killer drama, loosely based on the true story of Fritz Haarmann, aka the Butcher of Hanover. Produced by Rainer Werner Fassbinder and directed by Ulli Lommel, Tenderness of the Wolves was originally released on 29 June 1973, and became available on Blu-ray and DVD following a restoration by the Rainer Werner Fassbinder Foundation in November 2015.
Haarmann was responsible for the murders of 24 boys and young men during the so-called ‘years of crisis’ between the two world wars in the Lower Saxony capital before being executed by the guillotine in 1925. His grisly case partly inspired Fritz Lang’s 1931 classic M (starring Peter Lorre) as well as this near-forgotten gem from 1973, which I have been searching for ever since I read about it an issue of Stephen Thrower’s Eyeball magazine back in 1998.
In a supremely understated performance, a shaven-headed Kurt Raab makes his perverted boy killer a repellent, yet fascinating and (at times) sympathetic figure. He’s also one of cinemas most human monsters. Using his status as a police informant to procure his young victims – mostly runaways and street vagrants, the former petty thief dismembers their bodies, then sells their flesh on the black market to his friends and neighbours.
While uneasy to watch, Ulli Lommel’s film expertly utilises the true crime thriller genre to let a disturbing socio-political commentary on how poverty creates a climate of indifference to rear its satirical head.
The film’s real horror, meanwhile, is not in the killings (although they are made all the more frightening because they are alluded to rather than shown), but in the in-actions of those who support and nurture a vile creature like Haarman: including the police, his neighbours and lowlife friends (who dare not cast the first stone in case their own darkness comes to light).
And this horror is presented in two chilling scenes: when a store-owner laughs off Haarman eyeing up her young son (knowing full well what he does to them); while another, barely 10, accosts him for sexual favours, but is never seen again after knocking on his door…
THE 2015 ARROW VIDEO RELEASE
• New high definition digital transfer on Blu-ray DVD, with original uncompressed PCM mono 1.0 sound, and newly translated optional English subtitles
• Audio commentary, interview and introduction by director Ulli Lommel
• Photographing Fritz: interview with director of photography Jürgen Jürges
• Haarmann’s Victim Talks: interview with actor Rainer Will
• An appreciation by Stephen Thrower
• Trailer (in HD)
• Reversible sleeve featuring artwork by the Twins of Evil
• Collector’s booklet
The Almodovar Collection | Six of the best from the Spanish director – restored and in one beautiful box-set
From Studiocanal comes six newly-restored films from Spain’s celebrated filmmaker, Pedro Almodóvar – complete with brand new interviews and bonus extras – in one box-set on DVD and Blu-ray.
Dark Habits (1983)
Despite the commercial constraints that prevented Almodóvar from taking full flight, this is a ferociously funny satire of religious institutions and morality that still packs a punch. Cristina Sánchez Pascual plays a fugitive nightclub singer hiding out in an impoverished convent with a group of nuns, whose eccentric number include a heroin addicted Mother Superior, a writer of lurid pulp fiction and a acid head masochist with a tiger for a pet. Imagine Sister Act, dressed in day-glo and speeding on a cocktail of LSD and cocaine. Fabulous kitsch fun.
What Have I Done to Deserve This? (1984)
Almodóvar mercilessly sends up family life in this terrific hyperrealist black comedy starring Carmen Maura (the director’s favourite leading lady) as a blissfully clueless Madrid mother driven to amphetamine addiction by her ungrateful family. Her husband is forging Hitler’s diaries, one son sells drugs, while another is pimping himself to a lecherous dentist. Add in some sex maniacs, a pet lizard, and a mischievous mother-in-law (Chus Lampgreave) and you have Almodóvar at his most absurdist.
The Law of Desire (1987)
This kitsch camp melodrama was Almodóvar’s first film to be screened in the UK, and helped propel Antonio Banderas onto the international stage. It was also Almodóvar first explicitly gay movie as it spun an overblown tale about the complicated love lives of a gay film director (Eusebio Poncela), his hunky lover (Banderas) and a struggling transgender actress (Carmen Maura). Playing fast and furious with Spain’s beloved telenovella genre, this is a hilarious, albeit offensive, delight with more than whiff of early John Waters in its blackly comic approach.
Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown (1988)
Almodóvar scored a Best Foreign Film Oscar nomination for this OTT screwball comedy in which a pregnant actress (Carmen Maura in fabulous form) becomes embroiled in a chaotic series of misadventures when she desperately tries to track down her ex-lover. Irreverent and surreal, this stagey cult hit is pure slapstick of the wackiest kind.
This outrageous satire on television journalism follows an overly optimistic Madrid beautician named Kika (Veronica Forque) whose tangled relationships with an underwear photographer, an expat American novelist and a psychotic escaped rapist turn into tabloid TV fodder by an unscrupulous reporter (Victoria Abril). Attracting controversy over its rape scene, Kika is one film in Almodóvar’s canon that deserves re-assessment and revisiting, especially in how the director approaches his favourite theme – the power of women. It also marked the first time the director collaborated with fashion designer Jean-Paul Gautier.
The Flower of My Secret (1995)
This precursor to Almodóvar’s critically-acclaimed success, All About my Mother, is amongst the director’s most elegant and emotive works. Ditching the kitsch in favour of a more low-key approach, Almodóvar weaves a sentimental tale in which Marisa Paredes (in a career best role) plays a bestselling novelist of pulp romance at the crossroads in her professional and private life. Nominated for multiple Goya awards, this is an intimate yet comic portrait of suffering and pain, and marked a big turning point in Almodóvar’s filmmaking, which makes it the perfect final feature to complete this box-set.
Each disc includes brand new interviews with the director, his producing-partner brother Agustín, plus his stable of stars, including Marisa Paredes, Mercedes Guilamon, Javier Camara, Carlos Areces, Anabel Alonzo, Esther Garcia, Alberto Iglesias, Elena Anaya, Javier Camara, Rossy di Palma, Victoria Abril and Loles Leon.
Pierrot le fou (1965) | Jean-Luc Godard’s anarchic on-the-road crime thriller romance still fascinates
Tired of his bourgeois wife and materialistic lifestyle, restless TV executive Ferdinand (Jean-Paul Belmondo) escapes to the French Riveria with his former girlfriend-Marianne (Anna Karina), who is being hunted by some gun-running gangsters.
But their carefree new life is quickly interrupted by their pursuers, and a man called Fred (Dirk Sanders), who may or may not be Marianne’s brother…
Belmondo scored a BAFTA nod for his performance in Godard’s anarchic tale about a couple unable to escape fate no matter how far they flee. Made off the cuff, but with meticulous attention, this free-wheeling road movie certainly displays the director’s love for American pulp fiction and pop culture, while also delivering an allegorical view of the Vietnam war.
Godard regular Raoul Coutard provides the beautifully mounted visuals, that evoke pop art and comics, while a cameo from American cult director Samuel Fuller serves to reminds us that what we are experiencing is not a film as such but ‘an attempt at cinema’. His theory that ‘Film is like a battleground. Love. Hate. Action. Violence. Death. In one word… emotion!’ perfectly sums up Godard’s fascinating, and somewhat frustrating, revolutionary post-modern experiment.
Pierrot le fou (Cert 15, 113 mins) is available on StudioCanal’s Jean-Luc Godard The Essential Blu-ray Collection five-disc box set alongside featuring Alphaville, Le Mépris, Breathless, and Une Femme est Une Femme.
The special features include the following…
• Introduction by Colin McCabe
• Anna Karina interview
• Godard, Love and Poetry (53min)
• Film Analysis by Jean-Bernard Pouy
• Trailer (2min)
• German TV advert (4min)
The Hourglass Sanatorium (1973) | Wojciech Has’ mind-blowing psychedelic classic restored on Blu-ray
Set in the pre-World War II era, a young man named Joseph (Jan Nowicki) visits a strange dilapidated Sanatorium to see his dying father Jakob (Tadeusz Konrat). Upon arrival he finds a hospital crumbling into ruin, where time is slowed down in order to maintain his father’s life signs. Joseph must venture through the many rooms of the sanatorium, each filled with sinister worlds conjured from his memories, dreams and nightmares…
Adapted from a collection of short stories by Polish-Jewish writer Bruno Schulz, and funded by the Polish Arts Council, the 1973 Polish film dispenses with traditional narrative, fashioning an audiovisual mosaic that blurs the line between reality and fantasy. Truly mind-blowing
The Hourglass Sanatorium is now available in a restored version on Blu-ray from Mr Bongo Films.
Slick and sexy and filmed from the hip (literally) on the streets of a picture postcard Paris, Godard (with the help of his Nouvelle Vague cohorts, Francois Truffaut, Claude Chabrol and Jean Pierre Melville) threw out the rulebook for this sly, avant garde take on American gangster films.
Jean-Paul Belmondo plays a small-time villain turned killer on the run with a fixation for Humphrey Bogart, while Jean Seberg is the chic American girlfriend he’s recklessly in love with. Despite the cops breathing down their necks, the couple live life on the edge set to a jazzy-cum-Mozart soundtrack… and their motto is ‘only live for the moment’. This one set the standard for cinematic cool.
Breathless (À Bout de Souffle, Cert 15, 115min) is available on StudioCanal’s Jean-Luc Godard The Essential Blu-ray Collection five-disc box set alongside featuring Alphaville, Le Mépris, Pierrot Le Fou, and Une Femme est Une Femme.
The special features include the following…
• Introduction by Colin McCabe (5min)
• Godard, Made in USA (51min)
• Room 12. Hotel de Suede (79min)
• Jean-Luc According to Luc (8min)
• Jefferson Hack interview (8min)
• Tempo: Godard episode (17min)
• Jean Seberg featurette (12min)
• Trailer (3min)
Nymph()maniac (2013) | Lars von Trier’s sex marathon is a surprisingly funny exploration of female sexuality
The 2013 film tells the story of Joe (played by Charlotte Gainsbourg and newcomer Stacy Martin), a self-diagnosed nymphomaniac, from birth to the age of 50. One night, a celibate middle-aged intellectual named Seligman (Stellan Skarsgård) finds Joe beaten up in an alley. After taking her to his flat he cares for her wounds and questions her about her life, listening intently as, over the film’s eight chapters, she recounts the lusty, labyrinthine story of her wayward life…
By turns profoundly moving, viscerally shocking and intellectually resonant, Nymph()maniac is a dazzling, daring and devilish work of cinematic art from the world’s foremost maverick director, Lars von Trier, and a surprisingly funny explorationg of female sexuality. Just sit back and enjoy the ride…
THE UK HOME ENTERTAINMENT RELEASE
The full 5½ hour long director’s cut, passed completely uncut by the BBFC, is also available on double-disc release (Blu-ray and DVD) from Artifical Eye in the UK, and includes a trailer, interviews with Charlotte Gainsbourg, Shia LaBeouf, Stacy Martin and Stellan Skarsgård,; and a live Q&A with actors Stellan Skarsgård, Stacy Martin and Sophie Kennedy Clark.
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.
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.
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.
Rocco and His Brothers (1960) | Lucino Visconti’s working class melodrama is a gritty, gripping masterpiece
From Eureka Entertainment comes the worldwide Blu-ray release of Luchino Visconti’s melodramatic 1960 masterpiece Rocco and His Brothers.
In 1950s Italy, recently widowed Rosaria Parondi (Katina Paxinou) and her four sons, Simone (Renato Salvatori), Rocco (Alain Delon), Ciro (Max Cartier) and Luca (Rocco Vidolazzi), leave their impoverished home in Bari in the south for metropolitan Milan where they hope to lodge with their eldest brother Vincenzo (Spiros Focás). But, on discovering he is to be engaged to young Ginetta (Claudia Cardinale) without her consent, Rosario makes a scene that insults his potential in-laws.
Finding temporary housing in the basement of an unheated block of flats, the family struggles to fit into a city where southerners are treated with the utmost disdain. Simone and Rocco soon begin to train as boxers, while Ciro sets about studying, and Vincenzo begins a family with Ginetta. Over time, however, Rosaria finds her southern values challenged, while her sons’ tight-knit bond becomes sorely tested…
Taking inspiration from the novel Il Ponte della Ghisolfa by Giovanni Testori, Lucino Visconti weaves a working class melodrama that might seem grim, grey and angry on the surface, but it’s full of intensity and energy borne out by the sublime performances of Alain Delon, Renato Salvatori and Annie Girardot, whose characters are at the heart of this powerful, often violent tale of love, passion and morality.
Delon delivers one of his finest roles as the noble Rocco, a gentle soul who will go to the ends of the Earth to save his boxer brother Simone from the moral abyss that confronts him. Playing Caine to Delon’s Abel, Salvatori is a standout: raw, rough and the epitome of wounded pride; and as the spirited prostitute in love with both brothers, Girardot is totally captivating and makes for a truly tragic screen heroine. (Incidentally, Girardot and Salvatori married two years later).
But watch out for Katina Paxinou, her protective matriarch Rosario is the Italian mother personified. Her scene unleashing her wrath (complete with southern dialect profanties and gestures) on Girardot’s Nadia is one of the film’s most memorable, and identifiable, moments.
The film’s social statements may walk a thin line at times, but Visconti brings a neo-realist eye and an operatic sensibility to his episodic epic that grips you until the bittersweet end. But kudos go to cinematographer Giuseppe Rotunno’s film for bringing Visconti’s powerful imagery to luminous life. From the framing of the film’s four male stars in all their masculine beauty to the sweeping city vistas; and from the dark side-streets and shadow-lit boxing ring to Milan’s deserted Ravizza park where the film’s most violent scenes play out, Rotunno’s monochrome camerawork is breathtaking, while Nina Rota’s hypnotic jazz score is an atmospheric highlight.
Eureka’s Blu-ray, released as part of The Masters of Cinema series, features a HD presentation of the film (which reinstates two scenes cut by the censors) from a new 4k restoration, which also feature the following extras…
- Optional English subtitles
- Two audio choices; the original Italian, and the French dub
- Les coulisses du tournage, a 2003 French documentary about the film
- 1999 interview with cinematographer Giuseppe Rotunno
- Interview with actress Claudia Cardinale
- 2002 interview with actress Annie Girardot
- Luchino Visconti: A 60min documentary about the director’s life and career
- Two vintage newsreels
- Original Italian trailer