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Koch Lorber presents
"Why would I be here if we had an appointment somewhere else?"
DVD ReviewLa Belle Captive is an excellent French experimental film, the product of little-known director Alain Robbe-Grillet. It begins when Walter Raim (Daniel Mesguich) is sent on a mission by his "boss" Sara Zeitgeist (Cyrielle Claire) to deliver an urgent letter. Along the way, he finds a woman (Gabrielle Lazure) he had been drawn to in a club, lying motionless in the middle of the road. Seeking medical help, Walter takes this beautiful woman to a nearby estate, whose inhabitants seem to be members of a cult, giving him nothing but strange looks upon his arrival. He soon learns that this woman, who disappears the next day, is Marie-Ange van de Reeves, who has been dead for over six years. His mission now a moot point, Walter is obsessed with learning more about her, and more importantly, the vampiric bite on his neck.
Based on his own novel, Alain Robbe-Grillet sits in the director's chair for what he called a "sequel" to the book. The pages are filled with paintings by Surrealist René Magritte, and nearly every shot of his movie feels like one of those works as well. He even uses an actual Magritte piece during the opening credits, and Robbe-Grillet uses legendary cinematographer Henri Alekan (Cocteau's Beauty and the Beast) to project the Belgian painter's themes onto his canvas for the silver screen.
This stellar, surreal exercise is full of small, choppy scenes, but it benefits greatly from a wonderful opening sequence that sets the stage splendidly. Calling to mind the orgy sequence from Kubrick's Eyes Wide Shut, Walter's trip to the creepy mansion is our first clue that things aren't exactly what they seem. It's mere minutes after Walter and Marie-Ange enter the estate that this large group of similarly dressed men converge on them like drones stalking prey. We get to know a few of these men throughout the rest of the film, but the way the group smoothly evolves from a scattered crowd to a focused mob is shockingly effective. Walter and Marie-Ange manage to easily escape the gathering horde, but things get even stranger from this point on.
A surprising strongpoint is the haunting music that fits each and every sequence like a glove. We hear pieces from Schubert and Wagner in various circumstances, and despite some forgettable visual tricks, the music still resonates. Even when Robbe-Grillet's direction is taking us along the most confusing routes, we remain spooked by intense music cues. A simple, elongated trip through a hall becomes an important sequence thanks to the music, emulating parts of Kubrick's The Shining. Whether intentional or not, the music only amplifies the connection between this and many Kubrick films.
When the truth behind our hero's disjointed journey is (sort of) revealed, everything almost completely comes together. There's still a bit of ambiguity, especially in the final scene. What at first seems like an "it was all a dream" cop-out becomes much more, generating plenty of post-film discussion. Godard would have been more than proud of Robbe-Grillet's finale, which will stick in my head, and hopefully yours, for quite some time.
Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: A-
Image Transfer Review: This non-anamorphic 1.66:1 widescreen transfer has a drab, murky quality, lacking in detail. Contrast and black levels are all over the place, while the colors are often washed out and far from vibrant. Fortunately, print damage, dirt, and other flaws are kept to the bare minimum, so this is the best transfer to date for this film.
Image Transfer Grade: C-
Audio Transfer Review: The French Dolby Digital 2.0 track fares far better than the video. Music is delivered naturally and effectively across the entire sound field, creating the appropriate atmosphere throughout. The dialogue is crisp and clear, yet subdued, but that is more than likely the filmmaker's intention, given the experimental nature of the project.
Audio Transfer Grade: B-
Disc ExtrasStatic menu with music
Scene Access with 12 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
4 Other Trailer(s) featuring Muriel, La Moustache, Un Coeur En Hiver, Changing Times
Packaging: Keep Case
Extras Review: Unfortunately, the only extras are the theatrical trailer (sadly, with better video quality than the feature itself) and a collection of previews for other Koch Lorber films.
Extras Grade: D
Final CommentsA surreal journey with many potential outcomes, 1983's La Belle Captive is a hidden gem worth seeking out now that it's readily available on domestic DVD. This is a film that's more about mood and visual experiments than plot, but there's still an intriguing story here. Spoiled by their recent treatment of Un coeur en hiver, Koch's DVD is a disappointment, sorely lacking in extras and sporting a problematic video transfer, the disc is practically saved by an audio track that does justice to the wonderful music.
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