A Woman Kills [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray ALL - America - Radiance Films
Review written by and copyright: Eric Cotenas (21st February 2023).
The Film

No sooner is prostitute Hélène Picard executed by the state for a series of sadistic sex murders of young women than a series of similarly gruesome murders splash the headlines that draw a connection between the new crimes and the old ones. For the police inspector in charge of the investigation (The 400 Blows' Serge Moati), there is no question that they have a copycat killer. His assistant Solange Lebas (Girl Slaves of Morgana Le Fey's Solange Pradel), however, cannot help but wonder if they brought the right culprit to justice. She finds momentary distraction when former state executioner Louis Guilbeau (Molière's Claude Merlin) comes to her about threatening letters since he quit his post after a nervous breakdown.

Solange, however, discovers discrepancies in his story and he admits that it was a ruse to meet her; however, he does reveal that that the combination of his mother dressing him up as a girl when he was a child and the violence he committed during the Algerian war made his choice of civil employment a self-destructive one. Solange starts to fall for Louis and he becomes a sounding board for her as she takes charge of the investigation while her superior deals with an ulcer. As the killings continue, Solange suspects that the killer is closer to her than she previously believed. With the police force's resources stretched trailing the types of women who would be vulnerable to the killer – prostitutes and female clients in the Pigalle district – Solange discovers that her assistant Suzy (Spermula's Myriam Mézières) has been contacted for a rendezvous by someone claiming to be herself; and the potential for a sting to ambush the killer may cost one or both their lives.

While it sounds like mainstream exploitation on paper, A Woman Kills is, while certainly the most "mainstream" work thus far for newsreel editor-turned-filmmaker Jean-Denis Bonan, so hard to classify in execution that Anatole Dauman – whose career as producer encompassed the likes of Alain Resnais (Last Year at Marienbad) and Wim Wenders (Wings of Desire) to Walerian Borowczyk (Immoral Tales) and Nagisa Ôshima (In the Realm of the Senses) – was interested in the film but could not find a distributor for it. A colleague of Jean Rollin (Fascination) during their days as newsreel cutters, Bonan's film is a mix of New Wave narrative/reportage that only occasionally dips into the surreal that Rollin fully embraced; indeed, Rollin and Bonan worked on each other's shorts – Rollin has a striking cameo appearance here as a cop late in the film – and A Woman Kills shares with Rollin's feature debut Rape of the Vampire some of its cast including Pradel, Catherine Deville (The Story of Women) here as one of the victims, and narrator Bernard Letrou. That the film's big twist revelation of the identity of the killer seems quite obvious, and telegraphed early on for any viewer with a passing familiarity to Psycho, matters less in the context of the plot – in which some of Solange's more ambiguous behaviors can be interpreted as evidence of her suspicion earlier on – and in the sociological and historical context about what it has to say about previously taboo subjects like the Algerian war and the idea of female sadism (whatever one thinks of the killer's stated motives, Hélène Picard is not exonerated and there may be at least one other example of female sadism).

Most of the crimes are half-dramatized and entirely narrated, with the dispassionate descriptions making the visually-elided acts of sexual violence seeming to parallel the male police personnel's greater concern for public perception over the victims whose narrated backstories mark them for murder by the killer and as a fit for the police profile (the only potential victim for which the male contingent of the police seem to care is colleague Suzy). Outside of the film's internal political dimension of the effects of war and the indifference of the state are the events of the student riots of 1968 for which Bonan and company took breaks from filming the feature to shoot with the same camera. The climactic rooftop chase takes on a serial feel but ends with an extended, surprisingly moving, killer's confession monologue and a resolution that subverts the notion of execution by the state before the narrator then reiterates the chauvinistic stance in describing Solange's subsequent efforts to feel "useful" in the aftermath. While one might surmise that a decade elapsed between A Woman Kills and the rest of Bonan's filmography – which consists entirely of shorts and television projects – due to his unwillingness or conceptual inability to court the mainstream, the interim was consumed with Bonan's development of le cinéma militant.


Never screened publicly after its post-production, A Woman Kills sat on the shelf until 2010 when French distributor Luna Park screened it at the Cinémathèque Française. A restoration followed in 2014 with a DVD release in France the following year. Radiance Film's 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 1.37:1 pillarboxed fullscreen transfer is derived from a newer restoration of the same materials. The monochrome image has the chilly look of a sixties New Wave film with some variable blacks and shadows in the location night scenes and some occasional lens flaring in handheld shots. Some faint damage could not be entirely cleaned digitally but it is not distracting.


The LPCM 2.0 mono audio option is flawlessly clean from the narration and post-dubbed audio (not a nouvelle vague trait) to the improv jazz scoring of trumpeter Bernard Vitet and lyrics of Daniel Laloux. Optional English subtitles are free of errors.


The film is playable with an optional introduction by critic Virginie Sélavy (4:54) who concisely covers the Bonan/Rollin association, the director's prior shorts, and the troubled release history of the feature. Next up is an audio commentary by critics Kat Ellinger and Virginie Sélavy in which they discuss Bonan's political filmmaking and shorts, his connection with Rollin, the sociological context of the film's production, the difficulty in classifying it, the ways in which its serial killer aspects occupy a similar place in the zeitgeist as more mainstream examples like The Boston Strangler and No Way to Treat a Lady as well as the ways in which it may even anticipate the body count bent the giallo genre would take in the next decade.

"On the Margin: The Cursed Films of Jean-Denis Bonan" (37:51) is a documentary by Francis Lecomte – producer of the 2014 restoration – from 2015 that accompanied the DVD that was expanded last year for inclusion here. Bonan himself appears along with cinematographer Gérard de Battista, singer Laloux, actress Jackie Raynal , and editor Mireille Abramovici. They discuss the shorts leading up to the film with extensive coverage, including the barring of "The Sadness of the Anthropophagi" from exhibition and from export and how it's first screenings would occur in 1968 due to the student occupation of a cinema where it was shown around the clock. Battista discusses the shooting style, including handheld shots, while Laloux recalls feeling behind the times when observing the student riots. Raynal discusses the shooting of sexual and violent scenes while Abramovici recalls casting the actresses for the film.

Besides a theatrical trailer (1:39) for the Luna Park restoration, the disc also includes four Bonan shorts – including his banned 1966 film "The Sadness of the Anthropophagi" (23:38) – along with rushes from the uncompleted 1965 short "A Crime of Love" (6:53) with Bonan narrating and filling in the details. His first short "The Short Life of Monsieur Meucieu" (13:04) appears to have been with a remixed soundtrack that sound too distractingly "modern" over the imagery. The other shorts are "Crazy Matthew" (17:01) and "A Season with Mankind" (18:43) made just before A Woman Kills.


The disc comes packaged with a reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by maarko phntm, while the first 2,000 copies include a removable OBI strip leaving packaging free of certificates and markings - more a concern with the UK edition of this dual-territory release – and a 52-page booklet featuring new writing on the film by author and scholar Catherine Wheatley, writer and musician Richard Thomas on the short films, Cerise Howard on gender identity tropes in A Woman Kills and the horror film, an interview with Francis Lecomte, the French distributor who rescued the film, and newly translated archival reviews and film credits (not included for review).


Shelved for over forty years because of the difficulty distributors had packaging it for the mainstream, A Woman Kills is as much a discovery for fans of the French New Wave, midi minuit fantastique cinema, and sixties French political filmmaking.


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