Flesh + Blood [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray B - United Kingdom - Eureka
Review written by and copyright: Eric Cotenas (4th September 2018).
The Film

Western Europe 1501: His city taken over while he was away at war, Arnolfini (The Living Dead at Manchester Morgue's Fernando Hilbeck) and his captain Harkwood (Breaker Morant's Jack Thompson ) assemble an army made up out of those soldiers and followers expelled and left behind by their own countries to overtake the city again, promising them as a reward twenty-four hours of raping and pillaging. When the city surrenders, Arnolfini changes his mind and orders Harkwood and the city's army to retrieve the pillaged riches and expel and disperse his former soldiers from the city. Although Harkwood resents such a betrayal of his word of honor, he is preoccupied with taking care of Clara (The Devil's Honey's ), a woman he accidentally dealt a debilitating skull wound to in the heat of battle and secures both his retirement from Arnolfini's army and a country house where the girl can recuperate and he can start a farm. Stripped of their weapons and their ill-gotten goods at canon-point, the soldiers are ejected from the city and driven far away. One such group consists of Martin (Blade Runner's Rutger Hauer), Karst (The Horror Show's Brion James), Summer (Wyatt Earp's John Dennis Johnston), Orbec (Good Morning, Vietnam's Bruno Kirby), and Miel (The Blood-Spattered Bride's Simón Andreu), along with their whores Celine (Night Warning's Susan Tyrrell), Anna (Kitty Courbois), Polly (Crystal Heart's Marina Saura) and her son Little John (EastEnders's Jake Wood). When Celine gives birth to a stillborn child which may or may not be Martin's, he is further embittered against Arnolfini. While digging a hole to bury the child, they unearth a state of St. Martin who used his sword to cut his cloak in half and share it with a beggar. The group's Cardinal (Red Sonja's Ronald Lacey) sees it as a sign that Martin will lead them in their revenge against Arnolfini and will share with all of them in the riches they reap. Disguised as pilgrims, Martin, his men, and their women catch Arnolfini's hunting party unprepared and Celine is able to gravely wound Arnolfini while the others make away with the caravan wagons carrying the dowry of Agnes (Single White Female's Jennifer Jason Leigh), the betrothed of Arnolfini's son Steven (The Man from Snowy River's Tom Burlinson), as well as the girl herself. When Harkwood refuses to help them, Arnolfini threatens Clara's freedom since she is prone to violent seizures and deemed mad. Although she must submit to rape by Martin, headstrong Agnes enthralls him by defiantly taking pleasure in the act, and Martin in response starts to manipulate the others including the Cardinal's interpretation of omens to protect her from the attentions of the others. Agnes actively participates in the storming of a castle where they establish Martin's kingdom, but Arnolfini, Harkwood, Steven, and their army are not far behind. Although Steven is more interested in scientific exploration and experimentation, he soon deploys his Da Vinci-esque constructions towards a "war machine" to storm the castle.

The first American production of director Paul Verhoven, Flesh + Blood was certainly his most mainstream work to that point – even more so than his WWII film Soldier of Orange – yet it is rich in themes and imagery from not only his past filmography, including elements that would become more evident in his later Hollywood work. While screenwriter Gerard Soeteman (The Fourth Man) had transposed the Nazi hierarchy onto Martin's group – characterizing Martin himself as Hitler – the film likens Martin's own story arc to the ordeals of Christ (in whose existence theology student Verhoeven was interested solely on a human level without any of the miracles the writers of the gospels ascribed to him), demonstrating the duality of Martin the saint and Martin the man who manipulates with the statue whose movements are puppeteered and Martin who appears to have posed himself before halo of a flaming wagon wheel solely for the Cardinal to make the connection. Although the film's love triangle was not originally the focus of the film's screenplay, Verhoeven finds in Agnes another of his powerful female characters, not the ultimate femme fatale of Basic Instinct or the outright opportunist of Showgirls, but something more ambiguous in the manner of The Fourth Man's Christine (Eve of Destruction's Renée Soutendijk). As a virgin, she is curious and fascinated by sex, ordering her maid (The Simpsons' Nancy Cartwright) to provide lessons, and feigns an occult interest in the Mandrake root to secure Steven's affections, seemingly less out of love than as a means of securing the marriage union for freedom from her father. When she is raped, she manipulates Martin to protect her from further attack by desiring to have her solely; and it may be due to the scripting changes or to Verhoeven's character dynamics that Celine is jealous but has no illusions about the faithfulness of any man but is more concerned like the others about how Agnes is changing Martin in terms of their mission. She both waffles between genuine affection for both Martin and Steven but ultimately want to survive. She tells Martin that she sees Steven as himself but younger and Martin as Steven but older, but even with her declaration that "winner takes all," the audience knows that she will always be scheming towards greater autonomy. The most mainstream Hollywood thing about the film is the ending twist. Carried over from Verhoeven's works is cinematographer Jan de Bont who had already started working in Hollywood at the end of the seventies but whose painterly Panavision photography here looks forward to his high-profile work of the late eighties into the nineties before he made his ill-advised crossover to the director's chair, while composer Basil Poledouris would follow up this assignment with Verhoeven's Robocop and collaborate again with him on Starship Troopers, the satirical science fiction war flick that divided audiences and marked the end of Verhoeven's Hollywood years.
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Video

Released theatrically in the United States by Orion and in the UK by Rank in compromised versions, with the UK losing only thirty-eight seconds during a rape scene and the American R-rated version trimming bits of sex and violence here and there, and those cuts followed the film to videotape (including an unauthored stateside tape release retitled The Rose & the Sword). Flesh + Blood was not available in its full international cut until it arrived on DVD in the US and UK from MGM. The film made its high definition debut from Koch Media in Germany in a three-disc limited and single disc standard editions followed by an American release from Kino Lorber in 2014. Eureka's 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 2.35:1 widescreen Blu-ray is sourced from an older master that is handsome but not without issues. The image is somewhat faded and some digital restoration has had the effect of crushing the blacks which is actually more noticeable in the blacks in some of the well-lit scenes rather than night exteriors. The gold-hued lighting and skintones are in keeping with de Bont's cinematographic style as evidenced in his other American studio films of the period like Jewel of the Nile and Flatliners (the aged master of the latter looks much worse in regard to the combination of the warm lighting and skintones) but that does not appear to be the reason that the film's reds in the wardrobe and bloodshed fail to pop. The photography of de Bont is still intoxicatingly gorgeous and the Blu-ray presentation involving, but a film of this pedigree certainly deserves a new scan.
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Audio

The sole audio track is an English LPCM 2.0 Stereo rendering of the original Dolby Stereo mix with plenty of directional effects and surround usage afforded to the effects and the orchestral score. Dialogue is clear and optional English SDH subtitles are included.

Extras

Carried over from the DVD release is the audio commentary by director Paul Verhoeven in which he describes the film as his first American picture since it was shot in Spain but had five –and-a-half million of its six-and-a-half million dollar budget from Orion and describes how The Ladd Company first showed interest in the script but demanded that the focus be redirected from the broken friendship between Harkwood and Martin to the love triangle between Martin, Agnes, and Steven, as well as working with a cast and crew speaking multiple languages and shooting in Spain in locations that would have been cost-prohibitive to build in Holland or the United States. Titled Verhoeven vs Verhoeven (46:11) on the menu, this featurette is actually the French documentary Paul Verhoeven Cinéaste de la Provocation which looks at Verhoeven's career from his beginnings through 2016, with comments from Verhoeven, along with actors Isabelle Huppert (Elle), Derek de Lint (Soldier of Orange), Dolf de Vries (Turkish Delight), and Carice van Houten (Black Book) along with Basic Instinct and Showgirls screenwriter Joe Eszterhas and Verhoeven's biographer Rob van Scheers. Not all of the clips could be cleared for the Blu-ray release, so some are replaced by stills and the documentary runs about ten minutes shorter than the reported elsewhere. Paul Verhoeven in the Flesh (22:44) was produced for the German Blu-ray edition of the film and provides some more background information on the family-friendly medieval television series Floris with Hauer and his wish to develop something in the same setting but on a grittier more adult level which resulted in Flesh + Blood for which he also discusses the changes to the script demanded by the Americans and other issues from the commentary track in a more concise discussion. In discussing the change in focus of the script to the love triangle, he speaks of Agnes in the manner of his other film heroines, admiring her character's adaptability in order to survive and noting the Venice Film Festival's Italian audience disliking her because of her seeming faithlessness to either man. The audio interview with actor Rutger Hauer (23:59) is an excerpt from a longer telephone conversation starting with discussion of Hauer's recollection of an injury during stuntwork on one of his American films before the film at hand. More interesting is an interview with screenwriter Gerard Soeteman (18:27) in which he adds to Verhoeven's story about the origins of the film, revealing that the original story focused on the Harkwood character entirely and was left for several years while Verhoeven was on other projects and Soeteman came across translated memoirs of Spanish soldiers sent to Holland in the sixteenth century when the Dutch turned protestant while part of the Spanish empire, leading to the development of the Martin character and the religious angle. In Composing Flesh + Blood (13:10) from the MGM DVD, composer Poledouris recalls being brought onto the project by Orion's Mike Medavoy and that Verhoeven asked for him based on his work on Conan the Destroyer and that Verhoeven had the workprint stripped of its temp score so as not to influence Poledouris' ideas. The disc closes out with the theatrical trailer (2:33). Not included for review was the collector's booklet featuring new writing on the film. The first pressing includes a limited O-case.
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Overall

Paul Verhoeven's first American production, and certainly his most mainstream work at that, is ripe for reassessment on the other side of his Hollywood career.
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