Cry Of The Owl (The) AKA Cri du Hibou (Le)
R0 - America - All Day Entertainment
Review written by and copyright: Noor Razzak (9th March 2006).
The Film

Claude Chabrol is widely considered Ďthe master of the mystery genreí paired with a the writing of a gifted thriller author Patricia Highsmith and The Cry of the Owl should have the makings of a fantastic edge-of-your seat ride, however the film does have a few holes that causes it to sink a little. The filmís main character Robert (Christophe Malavoy) finds himself in a situation where he is believed to have committed a murder; yet this could have been disproved had the police followed Robertís tip. A tip that leads them right to the person he is accused of killing, who just so happens to be very much alive. This is a rather large hole in the filmís structure if you ask me. Chabrol does his best to guide us through not knowing what will happen next, his sense of timing and pace is well executed for this piece and adds a certain dread that hangs over the viewer.
Robert is a troubled young draftsman, who has a past of emotional instability; hit with depression he takes up a pastime that involves peeping on a young couple. Watching the happy young girl, Juliette (Mathilda May), makes him forget his woes. One day he makes the mistake of meeting Juliette, who becomes accustomed to him and eventually falls in love with her peeping tom. She decides to call off her wedding to fiancť Patrick (Jacques Penot). Intensely jealous, Patrick goes after Robert, threatening to kill him if he continues to see Juliette. Juliette refuses to part with Robert, despite his efforts to stop seeing her. After an altercation with Robert, Patrick disappears and is feared dead. The police think Robert is behind it, from here on in Robertís problems only get worse.
As I stated above the story structure has a few holes, the biggest of which is why the police didnít investigate Patrickís whereabouts. If that was done the film would need not to continue, had there been some sort explanation, for example the police checked up but were too late and Patrick moved would have been enough to continue without any question. I also found that the police didnít investigate Robertís ex-wife, they knew she was in contact with Patrick, did they not think she could be involved? Additionally I felt that Julietteís abrupt suicide came out of nowhere, there was no built up to it, or any hint that she would do something so out of character. Had a lead up been established it would have felt right, in this case itís a shock but it makes no sense to me why her character would do such a thing.
Chabrolís new wave influence is all over this film, filled with striking imagery that is evidence of a cinematic eye; one most notable scenario is Robertís first introduction to Juliette, coming from the darkness of the woods and into a fire that blazes directly in front. Could the raging fire be a metaphor for this own personal turmoil? Chabrol certainly likes to engage his audience, dropping little clues about these characters along the way. The filmís pace is as expected a slow boil, Chabrol allows the time for us to get to know the characters this helps develop a connection with the viewer allowing him to spring moments of tension onto us, that we would otherwise have ignore had we not identified with the characters. This all leads to a rather ambiguous ending that almost makes ups for the flaws in the story logic.
I was also impressed with the understated performances from the filmís three leads, Christophe Malavoy is perfectly cast as Robert, his performance is realistic and dialogue flows naturally. Mathilda May plays Juliette with a complex naivety and fragility that is convincing and Jacques Penot is equally perfect as the jealous fiancť©.
Overall The Cry of the Owl wasnít a masterpiece as expected but rather a mediocre effort laced with fine performances and memorable imagery, Chabrol fans might like to check this film out if they havenít already however I think the filmís slow pace would likely turn some viewers away.

Video

The DVD packaging doesnít include any information on the filmís transfer, at first glance it looks to be 1.66:1, but closer measurement puts it closer to 1.57:1 and is also non-anamorphic. IMDB lists the filmís original theatrical ratio at 1.78:1 and I think this transfer is cropped at the sides to fit the 1.57:1 ratio. This transfer is rather poor, the image is soft and flat, the colors are as murky as swamp water and skin tones are off, sometimes appear a little pale, and compression artefacts plague this transfer. There is some print damage that comes in the form of scratches and lines through the frame. Black levels are full of noise and detail is a minimum, some scenes that take place at night are impossible to see clearly, shadow detail is nil. I also spotted some combing, and wobble that interfered with the viewing experience. Iím not sure what the source was for this transfer but it looks like a bad VHS dub.

Audio

Only one audio track is included a French Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono track, the track also has itís own set of problems. Dialogue is occasionally clear however there are few moments of distortion, the top end seems to peak at times which was rather annoying. The track as expected has no depth whatsoever and whenever music was introduced it seemed muffled.
The film includes subtitles and they are burned into the print, the text is white and easy to read however there was one scene where the subtitles were written over white background and was hard to make out. For the most part it was grammatically correct and I spotted one spelling error, in one scene with Robert and Juliette at dinner the word 'obvious' is misspelled as 'bvious'.

Extras

This release included two extras, the first of which is a feature-length audio commentary by film historian Ric Menello and All Day Entertainmentís David Kalat. This commentary is easily the jewel of this DVD, in it the participants discuss the film;s history and the difficulty in securing the rights. The film has been entangled for about 15 years, and finally in 2002 was released on home video. Differences between the novel and the film are also touched on as is Chabrolís career. The two provide interesting trivia and about the film that fans will certainly find fascinating.

A photo gallery is also included that features 11 images of a poster and a series of lobby cards.

Overall

The Film: C+ Video: F Audio: D Extras: C Overall: D-

 


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