Blu-rays of the Week
Armenian director Sergei Parajanov’s 1969 masterpiece—a riotous blend of color, music, sound, poetry and religious imagery—is an impressionistic biography of the 18th century Armenian troubadour Sayat-Nova; but even if the mainly abstract tableaux make his film difficult to “get,” the director’s stunning visual and aural artistry is always in evidence. Criterion’s restored hi-def transfer has given this hard-to-see classic its best “look” on video, while several extras give context to Parajanov’s singular cinema: critic Tony Rayns’ commentary; video essay on the film’s symbols and references; scholar James Steffen interview; Sergei Parajanov: The Rebel, a 2003 documentary; The Life of Sayat-Nova, a 1977 documentary; and a 1969 documentary, The Color of Armenian Land.
This dazzling recreation of the musical pageant that followed the 1715 death of the French monarch is set in the gorgeous chapel at the palace of Versailles, where the Sun King lived and reigned, and features a procession of funereal music by many French court composers. The setting is truly spectacular, the music is equally magnificent, and the performances by the ensemble Pygmalion, choir and soloists are also first-rate; the only quibble is that, at 100 minutes, it all starts to overstay its musical welcome.
The renowned Japanese cult director made a voluminous number of films in his lengthy career, so it’s problematic to place him in any kind of box other than this second boxed set of five of his earliest efforts. Although all over the stylistic and narrative map, they’re linked as studies of low-lifes and other shady characters, all shot in an exuberant manner. Of the five, the most interesting are The Sleeping Beast Within and Smashing the O-Line (both 1960), each featuring actor Hiroyuki Nagato in vastly different roles: but all are definitely worth a look. Hi-def transfers are first-rate; extras comprise an O-Line commentary by critic Jasper Sharp and critic Tony Rayns interview.
One of the earliest Merchant-Ivory productions, this 1965 comic drama follows a British classical theater troupe on tour through India and the romantic and other entanglements that ensue throughout. The movie suffers from obvious writing (by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala), stilted directing (by James Ivory) and wooden acting in several key roles: its saving grace is its depiction of mutual condescension between colonizer and colonized. On Blu-ray, the restored B&W film looks superb; extras include interviews with Ivory, Merchant, and actors Shashi Kapoor and Felicity Kendal.
Roger Donaldson’s 1977 drama helped put the New Zealand film industry on the map, and its resonant depiction of a democratic nation overtaken by martial law feels all too relevant. A then-unknown Sam Neill is fierce and vivid as an everyman caught up in an anarchic political climate, and Warren Oates provides down-and-dirty support as an American army man trying to restore order. The hi-def transfer is good and grainy; extras a commentary by Donaldson, Neill and actor-writer Ian Mune; The Making of Sleeping Dogs (2004), a 65-minute retrospective documentary on the film’s production; and The Making of Sleeping Dogs (1977), an archival on-set featurette.
DVD of the Week
The sensational murder trial of young American woman Elizabeth and German boyfriend Jens—both given life sentences for killing her parents—is recounted in Marcus Vetter and Karin Steinberger’s engrossing and unsettling documentary. Centered around an interview with Jens, currently in prison and recanting his confession, the film is a disturbing dive into the intricacies and unfairness of our justice system. Imogen Poots and Daniel Bruhl provide the voiceovers for both protagonists.