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Columbia TriStar Home Video presents
"Conscious sex that achieves bliss is the greatest healer there is."
DVD ReviewEveryone is likely familiar with those late night soft-core cable romps, the kind full of gyrating, well-proportioned, lithe bodies, and little in the way of any actual substance. Judging by the cover art on Columbia TriStar's Bliss, I was prepared for much of the same, though I admit I was somewhat thrown by the presence of Terence Stamp and Laura Palmer herself, Sheryl Lee as stars; the "two enthusiastic thumbs up" quote from Siskel & Ebert (the film IS from 1997) seemed out of place, as well. I was intrigued, yes, but cautious as I sat down to watch this one, as I expected nothing less than another tired Skin-emax retread.
Joseph (Nightbreed's Craig Sheffer) and Maria (Lee) are a young newlywed couple, who just six months into their marriage find themselves in therapy. One of the nuggets that is revealed to their therapist Alfred (Spalding Gray, wasted here in a role that allows him very little to say) is that Maria has been faking her orgasms. It seems that there are some major intimacy issues, and according to Alfred, Maria is in a very fragile emotional state. He discretely directs her to the unconventional Dr. Baltazar (Stamp), a "sex therapist who practices on the edge of the law" (i.e. he sleeps with his patients). Joseph, understandably, is none too pleased to find out his wife is knocking boots with Baltazar, and this is where the direction of writer/director Lance Young's narrative in Bliss really turned an unexpected corner on me.
The film is really about the developing student/teacher relationship between Joseph and Baltazar, who seems to be a cross between Sting and The Karate Kid's Mr. Miyagi; try and picture a sort of tantric sex motivational coach, and you have Baltazar. Joseph is taught, in purely clinical terms, what he needs to do to not just bring Maria to orgasm, but to break through the emotional wall to discover her hidden secret that is preventing her from enjoying sex with her husband. There are scenes where Baltazar says "go try this" and these are intercut with tasteful moments of Joseph and Maria in bed together, doing just what teacher said.
This might sound weird (and it is certainly not meant to come across prudish, because I'm not), but I'm generally not a fan of R-rated movie sex; to me it all looks too artfully staged, directed and lit. While there is plenty of sex in Bliss (and if you want to see Laura Palmer nude, here's your chance), what I found most satisfying were the scenes between Joseph and Baltazar. Terence Stamp is completely magnetic, delivering a very charismatic and low-key performance that bristles with the kind of mysterious knowledge that every heterosexual man wants. The back-and-forth between teacher and student is at times quirky, but it is largely filled with a litany of strong sexually-themed instructions, and Stamp is amazing as the man with all the answers.
Bliss is a film that could easily have fallen into the realm of those mindless late night skin flicks, especially considering the potentially laughable pretext of a sex therapist that "works on the edge of the law." Terence Stamp is this film's anchor, though he is nearly overshadowed by Sheryl Lee and her scene of jaw-dropping revelations during the last half hour.
If you watch Bliss expecting a mindless sex film, I suspect you will be very surprised at what you find. Watch it with someone you love.
Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: A-
Image Transfer Review: This release surprisingly carries two transfers of the film, one in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen and the other in 1.33:1 fullframe. Fleshtones were a touch too red during some scenes, but generally both prints look quite good, with deep, golden colors and no noticeable edge enhancement. A film like this doesn't look too bad cropped to 1.33:1, but since Columbia TriStar is giving you the choice take the 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. OK?
Image Transfer Grade: B
Audio Transfer Review: Bliss has been issued with a 2.0 English surround track, and dialogue is reproduced cleanly, with some minor imaging (telephones ringing, doors slamming) giving this track a touch more depth. I caught occasional rear channel activity, mostly barely perceptible ambient sounds that served to fill out the presentation, without sounding too pronounced.
Audio Transfer Grade: B+
Disc ExtrasStatic menu
Scene Access with 28 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish, French, Japanese with remote access
3 Other Trailer(s) featuring The Mirror Has Two Faces, Spider's Web, Trois 2: Pandora's Box
Extras Review: A trio of trailers (The Mirror Has Two Faces, Spider's Web, Trois 2: Pandora's Box), 28 chapters and subtitles (English, Spanish, French, Japanese) is all Columbia TriStar has included.
Extras Grade: D
Final CommentsTherapy is nothing to be embarrassed about, and a film like Bliss is the kind of thing that every married couple should see. It's not a wildly kinky sexual adventure, but rather it is sex-as-therapy and sex-as-healing-tool that is rewarding, moving and one that delivers a satisfying emotional impact.
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