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All Day Entertainment presents
The Cry of the Owl (Le Cri du Hibou) (1987)

"You may not know it, but shooting people's illegal."
- Lt. Gregoire (Jean-Pierre Kalfon)

Review By: Mark Zimmer   
Published: May 12, 2002

Stars: Mathilda May, Christophe Malavoy
Other Stars: Jacques Penot, Jean-Pierre Kalfon, Virginie Thevenet
Director: Claude Chabrol

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (violence, sexual themes)
Run Time: 01:42m:00s
Release Date: March 19, 2002
UPC: 014381150223
Genre: suspense thriller

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer

DVD Review

Novelist Patricia Highsmith is responsible for the novels that are the basis of some well-known film thrillers, including Hitchcock's Strangers on a Train and the numerous versions of The Talented Mr. Ripley. Less well-known but nonetheless effective in its dark ambiguity is this thriller, where, like the owls, not all is as it seems.

Juliette Voland (Mathilda May) is being watched by a peeping Tom, the mentally unbalanced artist Robert Forestier (Christophe Malavoy). When she discovers him, she falls in love with him, which is fine at first. Then she starts demonstrating obsessions of her own. Complicating factors are the jealous boyfriend Patrick Soulanges (Jacques Penot) and Robert's vicious ex-wife Veronique (Virginie Thevenet). When Patrick disappears after a fight with Robert, the latter becomes the prime suspect in a homicide case. But if that's the case, who is shooting at Robert?

The theme of peeping and watching (like an owl) is pervasive in the picture, from the opening shot where Robert (and the audience) peeps upon Juliette going about her life. Yet Robert unluckily discovers that seeing someone's life from the outside isn't quite the same as knowing them. Much of the film is cast in shades of blue, oftentimes so dark as to make the picture quite murky indeed. This murkiness that occasionally obscures the action parallels the ambiguous moral status of the protagonists. Indeed, the darkness grows deeper as they cast themselves into a moral abyss, discussing what lies they will tell to the police about Patrick. The fight between Patrick and Robert is similarly shrouded in darkness, not permitting the audience to see with clarity what's happening so that we're nearly as in the dark as are the police. When Juliette first sees Robert, the scene is dark, but he is shot through a flickering orange flame (of burning garbage, perhaps another comment on his position in the world), consumed with a flame of desire.

Mathilda May is probably best known for prancing about nude during the entire running time of Lifeforce, but here she keeps her clothes on for the entire running time. She strikes an admirable balance between the helpless waif and near stalker-like behavior of her own. The commentary suggests that the character is manic depressive, and the performance is supportive of that interpretation. Yet she produces a consistent character who sometimes overcommits on impulse. Malavoy takes the role of the mentally ill protagonist who is caught in the web of intrigue and leavens it with a dark humor. His ex-wife is played with gleeful excess by Thevenet. Heck, even the police lieutenant (Jean-Pierre Kalfon) is unlikable.

There are a number of bits of very striking imagery, such as Robert in the flames, and the accusing faces of his neighbors peering in his window after one of their dogs is found shot. The pacing is rather languid, and those after nonstop action will probably be disappointed. The leisurely pace helps make palatable some of the odder turns to the story. The suspense sequences are in general quite well done, though the final sequence is predictably the most notable example. Concluding with an oddly satisfying ending that is drenched in ambiguity, Cry of the Owl manages to provoke thought while it provides an interesting tale.

Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: B


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.66:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The 1.66:1 nonanamorphic picture is generally quite attractive, with good detail and color. As noted above, some of the scenes are extremely dark, so this film is best viewed in a room that has carefully controlled lighting, if not complete darkness. Unfortunately the subtitles are in a bright white that glares to make it even more difficult to make out these dark sequences. There are a few occasional scratches but by and large the source material looks excellent.

Image Transfer Grade: B+


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access

Audio Transfer Review: The 2.0 original French mono has some minor hiss present. Music sounds a shade strained and thin. Bass extension is generally appropriate, though in a few spots there is low bass information that doesn't seem appropriate. The film proper is encoded at a much lower level than the commentary, so those who flip back and forth between audio tracks will want to keep a finger ready on the volume button.

Audio Transfer Grade: B


Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 21 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English
1 Feature/Episode commentary by film historian Ric Menello and disc producer David Kalat
Packaging: Alpha
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extra Extras:
  1. Photo gallery
Extras Review: The featured extra is a commentary by film historian Ric Menello which is not screen-specific but is a wide-ranging discussion of director Chabrol and his work. Periodically, disc producer David Kalat takes over the commentary, providing background on Chabrol, the French New Wave, the auteur theory and Cahiers du Cinema. He also provides an interesting comparison of the film and the novel on which it is based. Kalat's animated, conversational style contrasts quite favorably with Menello's rather dry discourse; I'd personally have preferred Kalat to do the whole commentary himself, but at least one gets the benefit of two slightly different perspectives. Amusingly, Kalat here apologizes for the design of the DVD case!

The only other extra is a set of 14 color stills. Oddly enough, the disc is not time-coded, so the timing above is an approximation. The subtitles are burned in, which is an irritation at times since they cover faces as well as obscuring detail as mentioned above.

Extras Grade: B


Final Comments

A stylish and deceptive little picture with a good transfer and interesting commentary. Definitely worth a look.


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