Blu-rays of the Week
The excellent 2003 Canadian film of Igor Stravinsky’s classic ballet The Firebird—which features two supreme dancers, Greta Hodgkinson and Aleksandar Antonijevic, showing off James Kudelka’s spectacular choreography—also includes the Kirov Orchestra under the great Russian conductor Valery Gergiev performing Stravinsky’s irresistible music. In the 1991 documentary portrait Jiri Kylian—The Choreographer, the Czech master discusses his storied career from the former Czechoslovakia to Europe and America, alongside ample glimpses of his ballet work, making this a must for aficionados of dance.
In the third season of this series about the American entrepreneur whose innovative department store changed the face of London in the early 1900s, Selfridge has lost his beloved wife and throws himself into memoralizing her with a scheme to open a home for returning soldiers from the recently completed Great War. The storylines, which better integrate Selfridge’s grown children and his employees in often intriguing subplots, take the weight off the too-contemporary performance by Jeremy Piven in the title role; the rest of the ensemble picks up the slack considerably. The hi-def transfer is excellent; extras comprise behind-the-scenes footage.
Polish director Walerian Borowczyk has a fervid cult following, but I’ve never acquired a taste for his hysterical dramas that mingle the horrific and quotidian in obvious ways, like this risible 1981 riff on Robert Louis Stephenson’s Jekyll/Hyde story. In the title roles, Udo Kier and Marina Pierro are both inapposite, he too feminine, she far less so, while several pointless hardcore inserts add little to Borowczyk’s shrill, cartoonish vision. The movie looks sharp on Blu-ray; extras include an audio commentary, short films and interviews.
Turkish director Nuri Bilge Ceylan has distinguished himself as a master of deliberate character studies in which psychological insights are slowly unveiled by characters’ meandering conversations, like this 195-minute dissection of a middle-aged hotel owner who lords his arrogance over everyone—his young wife, his tenants, his neighbors, his colleagues. The penetrating dialogue and landscapes that are astonishing in their emptiness underscore the frayed relationships in this overlong but worthwhile drama. The hi-def transfer is first rate; too bad the 140-minute making-of documentary, available on other Blu-ray releases, wasn’t included.
DVDs of the Week
In this breezily entertaining TV series, veteran French actor Pierre Arditi is a wine expert who becomes an unofficial detective looking into the murders of people related to vineyards throughout France. Despite the inherent absurdity of the premise, Arditti has the right amount of vigor and amusement bordering on bemuseument, and the locales (Alsace, Burgandy, the Champagne region) are perfectly chosen for the dastardly deeds which are always solved, like Ellery Queen or Quincy, by each episode’s end.
In The Dance Goodbye, director Ron Steinman chronicles New York City Ballet star Merrill Ashley after her 1997 retirement following 31 years dancing with the company: a bright, articulate but restless woman, Ashley looks for her place in life once her career ends, and there are plentiful clips from her brilliant career that complement interviews with Ashley herself. Sagrada, Stefan Haupt’s documentary about the great Catalan architect Antonio Gaudi’s marvelous—and perpetually unfinished—cathedral soaring above his beloved Barcelona, brings together those working on this gigantic structure for decades since Gaudi’s death and those who knew him personally and professionally to create an illuminating portrait of a genius whose belief in both God and the brilliance of man was his enduring legacy. Extras are additional scenes.
In this DVD/CD release of new compositions performed by the Royal Concertgebuow Orchestra at its musical home in Amsterdam, Holland, the best of the batch is Mysterien by Louis Andriessen, one of the most high-profile of modernist Dutch composers; his first orchestral work since 1967 is played with verve by the musicians led by conductor Mariss Jansons, shown live in performance on the DVD. The CD comprises five other works, variable in quality, by other leading contemporary Dutch composers: the Violin Concerto by Michel van der Aa, given a scintillating performance by soloist Janine Jansen, is by far the most memorable of these.
In this straightforward adaptation of Diderot’s classic novel, actress Pauline Etienne gives a quiet but virtuosic portrayal of the eponymous 18th century nun who believes her calling is not the church and who withstands heresy, hypocrisy, physical and mental degradation and even lesbian overtures from a mother superior (played by Isabelle Huppert) to, she hopes, finally be free to decide for herself about her own life. There is also Guillaume Nikloux’s restrained direction, which provides the necessary understanding and honesty to his heroine’s story, which is slow-moving but ultimately shattering.