Less than a year old, newcomers to the DVD field Mondo Vision have been championing the overlooked ouerve of Andrzej Zulawski, a Polish filmmaker (and one-time assistant to Andrzej Wajda) who has spent much of his career working in France. The company made their debut with his movie The Public Woman (1984); today marks Mondo Vision's second release, Zulawski's L'important c'est d'aimer (The Important Thing Is To Love) (1975), appearing for the first time on home video here in North America in both a single disc and two-disc Limited Edition.
Art-house superstar Romy Schneider stars as a failing actress who can barely hold on to the few low-budget porno gigs she does to support herself and cineaste husband Jacques Dutronc (real-life debonair pop singer extraordinaire). Into their despondent circle comes freelance photographer Fabio Testi, who pays his debts to local loan sharks by shooting xxx material. Hopelessly in love with Schneider but unwilling/unable to initiate an affair with her (both he and Dutronc are constantly emasculated in their romantic and creative endeavors), he borrows money to secretly finance a samurai rendition of Shakespeare's Richard III for her to star in. But when that, too, fails, the doomed love triangle must fatalistically examine their stagnant lives and consider what's left for them.
While viewers can detect traces of Resnais' philosophical rhetoric and Fassbinder's tragic relationships, Zulawski's direction is far less theatrical than either, and his characters come off less as models than sympathetic, relatable people. Even Klaus Kinski, that madman from Herzog's Fitzcaraldo and Aguiree: The Wrath of God, shows shades of humanism beneath his characteristic veneer of megalomania. In an example of perfect casting, Kinski plays an actor who has the lead in Richard III, and whose schizoid temperament has him destroying multiple opponents in a bar fight one scene, and tenderly reassuring an emotionally distraught Schneider in another.
Complementing Zulaawski's perceptive direction is Brazilian cinematographer Ricardo Aronovich (who also shot Louis Malle's Murmer of the Heart and Orson Welles' tragically overlooked The Dominici Affair) and master composer Georges Delerue (Contempt, Shoot the Piano Player, Police Python 357 and literally hundreds of others). Delerue, along with Toru Takemitsu, Ennio Morricone, Bernard Herrmann and Nino Rota, belongs to the highest tier of film composers. His instantly recognizable style of orchestration, at once passionate and haunting, seems to elevate drama to near-mythological heights without going overboard. He, like Zulawski and the entire cast, hits the emotional nuances right on the nose, and rarely falters.
Also on DVD this week:
Bergman Island (2006) (Criterion, Region 1) - Marie Nyreröd's cine-portrait of the famed reclusive auteur. Bergman is proactively honest and down-to-earth, and even makes jokes for the camera. Essential viewing for fans of the director, and it might win over a few of his detractors, as well.
Last Holiday (1950) (Criterion, Region 1) - Alec Guinness' career didn't begin and end with Star Wars, as evinced by this classic dark comedy about a man (Guinness) who finds he only has a short time left to live. So, he takes a final holiday at a seaside resort and decides to live it up.
The Outlaw (1943) (Legend Films, Region 1) - Did you know they still colorize films? Apparently, but thankfully this two-disc set also offers the original black-and-white film, which was directed by Howard Hughes and shot by Gregg (Citizen Kane) Toland. In this film, Jane Russell's notorious bosom goes up against notorious gunfighter Billy the Kid. Russell also provides commentary for the film.
The Strange One (1957) (Sony, Region 1) - Before there was Husbands, The Killing of a Chinese Bookie and Saint Jack, there was The Strange One, the film debut of Ben Gazzarra, as military cadet who plays the entire base as his puppet. Plus an ensemble Method-trained cast straight from The Actor's Studio.
The Three Stooges Collection, Vol. 6: 1949-1951 (Sony Pictures, Region 1) - 24 shorts, nearly 33 hours, of vintage comedy from the iconic buffoons. Historical note: these films are from the era of Shemp Howard, who was one of the original Stooges, but who was replaced early on by Curly. In the mid-40s, Shemp returned to take Curly's place after he suffered a stroke.