Liberté [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray ALL - United Kingdom - Second Run
Review written by and copyright: Eric Cotenas (9th January 2021).
The Film

Un Certain Regard - Special Jury Prize: Albert Serra (winner), Queer Palm: Albert Serra (nominee), and Un Certain Regard Award: Albert Serra (nominee) - Cannes Film Festival, 2019
Gaudí Award (Best Costume Design): Rosa Tharrats (winner), Best Makeup and Hairstyles: Armande Monteiro and Antoine Mancini (winner), and Best Non-Catalan Language Film (nominee) - Gaudí Awards, 2020

1774: Expelled from the court of Louis XVI after the death of his decadent predecessor, Madame de Dumeval (Theodora Marcadé), the Comte de Tesis (Baptiste Pinteaux), and the Duke de Wand (Marc Susini) remain committed to the libertinism as a political movement. Fleeing to Germany and camping in the woods in their chaises, the trio hope to spread the cause with the help of famed debauchee the Duc de Walchen (The Damned's Helmut Berger). What they find is an old man gone to seed who is skeptical about the likelihood of their enterprise and can only promise to find them women of "certain refined tastes" of the sort who have offered them shelter and diversion during their journey. As night falls, the clearing turns into a cruising ground where the three and members of their retinue – among them Lluís Serrat who had served as Casanova's valet in director Albert Serra's earlier The Story of My Death – in which they spy and indulge in various sexual diversions including sodomy, bestiality, flagellation, urophilia, coprophagia, taking sides in what had not yet to be defined as sadism and masochism, the defloration and torture of a pair of novices (House of Tolerance's Iliana Zabeth and Laura Poulvet) abducted from a convent, and a murder or two.

Following Serra's well-received The Death of Louis XIV, perhaps the closest he has gotten to a traditional "prestige picture", the director expanded upon a stage theatre piece which premiered at the Volksbühne in Berlin featuring Ingrid Caven (33 Shots of Rum), refining a play about desire into a questioning of "the malaise linked to desire." The film does look very much like the "historical cruising" with characters moving in and out of shadows with their hands down their pantaloons, watching debauchery with fickle attention, easily drawn away to different sights by screams. Although Serra does concentrate more on the watchers than the watched, the vulgar sights he does show the viewer seem to be offered up as proof that little can live up to the acts conjured up verbally by the libertines and the sensations they anticipate with the Comte de Tesis spending much time looking for a partner who can assist him in coming up with "an image that satisfies me" (which is the closest the film ever gets to an analog of the mechanically-choreographed arrangements of Sade). However committed to spreading libertinism the trio proclaim to be, they only seem to be able to be truly "free" under cover of darkness and their boredom escalates into seeming thrill killings including the murder of the one person to whom they appealed for help (and this not by one of their own hands but by a maddened escapee [Safira Robens] from a "Negro brothel" who has only to be armed with a knife to attack). The film never scratches below the surface of the characters and the film simply ends when the sun rises. In his interviews, Serra expressed his disinterest in the plot beyond the premise of expelled liberties attempting to export libertinism by force and in the egos of the actors on his stage version, describing his method of filming as one that "takes all power from the actors: working with three cameras rolling perpetually, with minimum communication with the actors, and with the editing as a weapon which can completely destroy what was built during the shooting" (during post-production, footage from the hours of video shot for the film was incorporated into a two-screen art installation at the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia in Madrid titled Personalien). The film's reception was inevitable divisive in spite of the usual Cannes laudits, but this film that Serra claims he made just for himself is refreshing for its greater focus on literal than philosophical wankery, and viewers may find more of interest than the "sex action" the director quips may be the film's draw for the audience.
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Video

Shot on high definition video like Serra's previous film The Death of Louis XIVThe Story of My Death was shot on standard definition MiniDV, with a smaller 2.35:1 frame extracted from the PAL resolution image and scanned to anamorphic 35mm – Liberté was released to Blu-ray late last year in the United States by Cinema Guild (the Spanish and French are DVD-only). Second Run's 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 1.85:1 widescreen Blu-ray obviously utilizes the same 4K master which sports the deepest blacks and some accents of deep red, blue, and green in the costumes against a mostly muted color palette with depth more suggested than depicted through shadows, foreground objects, and frames within frames (Serra's operators shot with zoom lenses to offer them more freedom in composing and picking out details).
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Audio

The sound mix is a combination of French, German, and Italian dialogue offered up in DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 and LPCM 2.0 stereo options. Only "intimate" in scope, it is perhaps fitting that the dialogue and screams is pretty much the only consistently front-oriented element of the soundscape, with the few directional effects and the surrounds dominated by crickets spiked by lashings of whips and some thunder; the greater emphasis of the latter sounds further dehumanizing the performers as the camera cuts back and forth between wide compositions of indistinct figures and close-ups of anonymous genitalia. Optional English subtitles are provided for the sparse dialogue.
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Extras

Extras start off with the introduction by director Albert Serra (3:16) in which he states that he made the film for himself and also muses on filmmaking post-pandemic, suggesting it will be much the same but the ways the audience views the films may change (and have already). More informative is the interview with director Albert Serra (27:48) in which he discusses his reasons for becoming a filmmaker – having experienced moments in real life he wanted to capture and preserve and also being too lazy to be a writer – the stage version of the idea, the egos of the stage actors, and how he could adapt the concept to film. Of the casting and the nudity, he states that it was up to the actors to convince themselves, giving no direction to the actors and manipulating the language of cinema – he had faith in cinematographer Artur Tort and his operators to capture the images which he did not see until editing – to find a middle ground between the actors' intimacy and distance. The disc also includes the film's theatrical trailer (1:36).
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Housed in the case is a 24-page booklet featuring an essay by curator and author Jason Wood who paraphrases Mick Jagger in discussing the malaise in and of the film, as well as an interview with Serra conducted by Manu Yáñez-Murillo in which they discuss the sexual abandonment of the self – citing the rights of Catherine Millet, Sade, and Georges Bataille – objectification and "dehumanization through mechanical action," and the "dichotomy of intimacy and exhibitionism" and his choice of non-actors over porn actors (and further placing the performer in an uneasy situation of being "without any control of his own his own image").

Overall

Although Liberté is a film that director Albert Serra claims that he made just for himself, it is refreshing for its greater focus on literal than philosophical wankery, and viewers may find more of interest than the "sex action" the director quips may be the film's draw for the audience.

 


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