Digital Week – April 23rd

Blu-rays of the Week

Diamonds of the Night (Criterion)

In Jan Němec’s dazzling 1964 debut feature, two young men escape a train heading to a Nazi concentration camp during a tense and seemingly endless night. A mere 67 minutes, Němec’s black-and-white classic is as taut and tight as a drum, and its inventiveness (marrying ultra-realism to surrealism) made it a spectacular addition to the then-burgeoning Czech New Wave. Criterion’s hi-def transfer is luminous; extras include a 2009 Němec interview, documentary short about the director and his 1960 student thesis film A Loaf of Bread.

Columbus (Oscilloscope)

In director Kogonada’s feature debut, the town of Columbus, Indiana—filled with architectural treasures designed by the likes of Eero Saarinen—is the star of a subdued but superficial exploration of two characters (a local architectural aficionado and the stranded son of an architectural scholar) who stumble into a connection. Kogonada smartly lets his two fine actors, Haley Lu Richardson and John Cho, do the heavy lifting, which makes his minimalist aesthetic less enervating that it might otherwise be. There’s a superior hi-def transfer; extras include deleted scenes, actors’ commentary and Kogonada’s short Columbus Story.

Farinelli (Film Movement Classics)

Gérard Corbiau’s 1994 costume drama isn’t much interested in history—it’s mainly fictional—as it tells the incredible-but-only-partly-true story about the celebrated 18th century Italian castrato whose remarkably high, rich voice made him famous and even feted by such an important composer as Handel. Exquisite-looking, well-acted and impeccably staged, the film is best watched as a juicy, gossipy guilty pleasure with the added cache of a “serious” subject (i.e., opera). There’s an excellent hi-def transfer; extras include a making-of featurette and on-set interviews.

On Her Shoulders (Oscilloscope)

Director Alexandria Bombach’s affecting study follows Nadia Murad, a 23-year-old from Iraq forced into sex slavery by ISIS who since her escape has become a tireless activist, speaking about what happened to her and others at the U.N. and around the world. Bombach’s documentary movingly shows how unexpected celebrity (becoming a U.N. ambassador and, following the filming of this, a Nobel Peace Prize) affects a young woman previously content to live her life in a small Iraqi village and records her inner strength as she takes on the scars, pain and hopes of countless others like her. There’s a crisp hi-def transfer; lone extra is a Bombach interview.

Replicas (Lionsgate)

In this sub-Twilight Zone thriller, Keanu Reeves plays a neuroscientist who recklessly breaches the law and medical ethics when he creates clones of his wife and children after they are killed in a car accident. A promising idea is given a thoroughly and disappointingly routine treatment by director Jeffrey Nachmanoff, despite a few impressive special effects sequences. The film looks fine on Blu; extras are commentary with Nachmanoff and executive producer James Dodson; the featurette Imprint Complete: The Making of ‘Replicas’; and deleted scenes.

DVD of the Week

School of Life (Distrib US/Icarus)

The circle of life is the subject of this warmhearted drama about a young orphan boy whose arrival at a French country estate causes anger between and rifts among family members—and, eventually, understanding and healing. Director Nicolas Vanier is not afraid to flirt with soap opera, but the sentiment is earned by a strong cast (Francois Cluzet, Valérie Karsenti, Eric Elmosnino and young Jean Scandel) that’s in top form and a loving visualization of how these people coexist with nature makes for an unusually satisfying two hours.