Blanche Blu-ray Review

A farcical Borowczyk movie from before he delved into erotic filmmaking

Polish director Walerian Borowczyk (The Beast) unveiled this French period piece to audiences in 1972. Receiving some critical acclaim at the time for its stylish and unique cinematography, Blanche failed to set the box office on fire. Borowczyk deliberately filmed and staged the movie using medieval paintings as a reference, filled with dense symbolism. It’s a French art-house film that takes its staid setting and crafts a tricky morality play on love, infidelity and marriage through a darkly ironic prism.

Blanche, carefully written and directed by Walerian Borowczyk, features performances by Jacques Perrin (Cinema Paradiso), Denise Péronne (Forbidden Games) and Lawrence Trimble (Meetings in the Forest). Many will find it polarizing with its veiled critiques on Christianity and other subjects. The French movie was intended for an intellectual European audience and much of its richer metaphorical context is strangely juxtaposed with dark drama for period work.

Based on Juliusz Slowacki’s 1839 play Mazeppa, it relocates the action from 17th Century Poland to 13th Century France. Blanche concerns a wealthy Count and his new bride. The elderly Count (Michel Simon) and his young bride, the beautiful Blanche (Ligia Branice), welcomes a visiting king (George Wilson) into his castle. The king’s page, the young and handsome Bartolomeo (Jacques Perrin), is a Lothario that goes after any pretty woman that crosses his path. Blanche has been warned in advance that Bartholomeo is a notorious womanizer.

… this is high-brow fare aimed at the intellectual French audiences of its time

The Count’s son happens to return home from the French army. Nicolas (Lawrence Trimble) soon develops an unhealthy yearning for his new stepmother. A pious woman and faithful wife unaware of her effect on men, Blanche fends off advances from Bartholomeo and Nicolas. She becomes trapped in a deadly power struggle between her jealous husband and these men through no fault of her own, leading to deadly repercussions. Blanche’s fate is left up to the cruel whims of these men, almost powerless to stop anything in this train-wreck of romantic infatuation from happening.

Borowczyk crafted Blanche with cold precision, filled with a quirky mise en scene drawn from medial paintings. The production and cinematography are deliberate, breaking many standard rules of visual composition. It leaves the film with a stilted quality despite farcical elements such as a monkey that keeps appearing in the castle.

Layered with symbolism and many of Borowczyk’s favorite motifs such as sexual repression, this is art-house filmmaking meant to be deconstructed by its viewers. Infused with modern sensibilities such as female repression despite its distant period setting, Blanche feels a bit scatter-shot in scope. It obliquely criticizes many institutions, from the state of marriage to organized religion.

Blanche is not for everyone. Too quirky for mainstream audiences, this is high-brow fare aimed at the intellectual French audiences of its time. Made just before Borowczyk would go on to become known for his erotic films, it’s a dry period drama mostly interesting for its unique aesthetic design.

Video

The 1972 French production looks serviceable in this HD presentation on Blu-ray from Olive Films. The main feature runs nearly 94 minutes on a BD-25, shown at its proper 1.66:1 aspect ratio common to European productions of the era. Does its clarity and definition look spectacular? No, the transfer has average resolution at best with what looks like to be from a dated telecine transfer.

The elements are stable but possibly unrestored. Its contrast is steady with soft, untamed grain. There are no significant print anomalies or visible debris. The transfer is unprocessed without sharpening or noise reduction. It could be characterized as film-like but slightly dull and drab in appearance.

There is a UK release of Blanche by Arrow Video. Since I haven’t directly compared the two discs, I can’t say if that release is superior or not. I do know that Arrow Video put Blanche out on a BD-50 with likely stronger compression transparency.

Audio

The film’s score uses period instruments, which definitely gives it that medieval atmosphere critical to the movie. The original French mono soundtrack is heard in a tight, focused 2.0 DTS-HD MA audio presentation.

Dialogue is cleanly intelligible with crisp fidelity for the musical score. The period drama sounds pretty good for an obscure French film from the early 1970s. Blanche has satisfactory sound quality fairly common to vintage European productions.

Optional English subtitles play in a white font.

Extras

Olive Films as a home video label isn’t known for special features outside of their Signature releases, but Blanche receives a couple of recent supplements. Directly compared to Arrow Video’s UK release of Blanche, it does lose a couple of special features, including an hour-long examination of Borowczyk’s work with an archival interview of the director.

Introduction by director Leslie Megahey (3:56 in HD) – The director of Schalcken the Painter recalls his first memories of watching Blanche and goes into how it changed his perspective on period films with its unique style.

Ballad of Imprisonment (28:24 in HD) – A series of thoughtful interviews in French (with English subtitles) with producer Dominique Duvergé-Ségrétin, assistant director André Heinrich, camera operator Noël Véry and assistant Patrice Leconte. Borowczyk’s almost fetishistic production is described in detail, as the director was intimately involved in every phase of it. It’s a nice documentary that covers an interesting range of behind-the-scenes material. The most intriguing factoid is that Catherine Deneuve was considered for the role of Blanche but Borowczyk only wanted Ligia Branice in the role.

Full disclosure: This Blu-ray was provided to us for review. This has not influenced DoBlu’s editorial process. For information on how we handle review material, please visit our about us page to learn more.

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