Black Moon: The Criterion Collection [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray A - America - Criterion Collection
Review written by and copyright: Noor Razzak (13th March 2012).
The Film

I've always been a fan of Louis Malle, of the several French new wave filmmakers he's an interesting storyteller that delves into deeper and darker territory, you just can pigeonhole him. He's also not afraid to break away from standard conventions, in 1975 he delivered his most surreal and bizarre film, "Black Moon". Unlike any of his previous films "Black Moon" is for lack of a better word, different. I'd always loved "Lacombe, Lucien" (1974) and "Au Revoir, Les Enfants" (1987), dramatic World War II era films that are a master stroke of story and characters. Having seen most of Malle's films I was excited to review "Black Moon" one of a small handful of films I had not previously seen before and judging by the synopsis description on the back of the case I'd be in for something special.

"Black Moon" is set in a post-apocalyptic landscape, a war has been waged between men and women. We follow a young girl (Cathryn Harrison) who escapes the horrors of war into the country side, she comes across a hidden house populated by a family led by an old lady (Thérèse Giehse) who never leaves her bed, talks to animals and stays in touch with the outside world through an old radio. The young girl is thrust into a series of surreal and dreamlike events during her stay at the house, searching for a mystical unicorn, plants that can feel when being stood on and a strange family. "Black Moon" is an allegorical statement on chaos and sexual adolescence and one of Malle's most unique films.

The film opens with the introduction of the young girl as she travels through the ravaged landscape and having witnessed an execution of women soldiers, she descends into the wilderness to escape in a sort of "Alice in Wonderland" manner. The first half hour of the film is void of any dialogue, in fact about 70% of the film is dialogue free, there are only minor interactions when absolutely necessary. Malle has crafted a work of art, and like art its very subjective. I can't see many people watching this film, or even liking it. One thing's for sure, Malle has captured some stark, beautiful and haunting imagery working with cinematographer Sven Nykvist (who'd previously worked with Ingmar Bergman).

Despite the beautiful imagery, the film is bizarre, disturbing and sometimes fascinating. There are scenes that make no sense to me, I'm sure there are deeper meanings behind them, but I don't get the young girl breast feeding the old lady (yeah that happens), I don't get the symbolism of some of the shots, I'm not sure why the plants feel and why the unicorn talks... I get the Freudian adolescent sexuality of the film and I get that there's a sense of chaos in the world and that our lead is trying to make sense of it, and in many ways the audience is also engaged in trying to make sense of it all (perhaps that's what Malle's intention was, not to draw a clear straight line but to send viewers through a rolling and spinning line).

"Black Moon" is hard to describe, it's hard to even determine where the dreamlike stuff starts or ends and it can be a taxing journey for many viewers, in the end the film comes across as one big and strange experiment, I'm not sure it was a total success but it was worth exploring.

Video

Presented in the film's original theatrical ratio of 1.66:1 mastered in HD 1080p 24/fps and using AVC MPEG-4 compression. Like every film The Criterion Collection releases they take absolute care of the raw materials and strive to master the best possible print. Taking time and effort to clean and restore the films. "Black Moon" has undergone a similar process. While there are limitations to the film stocks of the era, lending to some soft shots and limited depth, the overall image looks good for a film of its age. There are shots that look beautifully detailed, close ups especially so. Textures are decent enough and colors are natural, especially skin tones. Grain is prevalent in much darker scenes but it's nice to see a distributor not scrub clean any evidence that a film was in fact shot on film. Nice work yet again from the most consistent company releasing films on disc today.

Audio

Two audio tracks are featured here in the film's original English LPCM 1.0 mono track as well as an alternate French Dolby Digital 1.0 mono track. I chose to view the film with its English audio. The film's sound is rather sparse and spaced out, there are gaps of quite filled in with limited ambiance, and then there are moments of dialogue and music that also lend to the overall "strangeness" of the film. Much like the image Criterion has restored the audio and removed instances of pops and hiss, none of which where present. The dialogue looks like it was recorded after the filming, in some cases there dubbing is off, which is a little distracting but shows the limitations of ADR in the 70's.
Optional subtitles are included in English for the hearing impaired and English.

Extras

The Criterion Collection has released this film with a small collection of supplements, they include an interview, a gallery, the film's theatrical trailer plus a booklet featuring liner notes on the film and director. Below is a closer look at these supplements.

First up is an archival interview with director Louis Malle (1080i) and runs for 12 minutes 4 seconds. This segment is taken from "Pour le Cinema" a French television program that ran a feature on the director. In this clip Malle comments on the development of the film and how he came to the idea for it. He comments on the themes and tone of the film offering viewers a better understanding of the meanings behind it. It's definitely worth viewing this clip, but if there's ever a film that requires an audio commentary from a critic or film historian, it's this one so I'm not sure why Criterion decided not to record one.

There's a gallery of behind-the-scenes photos, a total of 33 stills taken during the production of the film.

There's also the original theatrical trailer (1080p) which runs for 1 minute 54 seconds.

Rounding out the supplements is a booklet that features the liner note essay "Louis in Wonderland" by Professor of Film Studies Ginette Vincendeau.

Overall

The Film: C+ Video: B+ Audio: B Extras: B- Overall: B-

 


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