Laurin [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray ALL - United Kingdom - Second Run
Review written by and copyright: Eric Cotenas (13th May 2023).
The Film

Bavarian Film Award (Best Young Direction): Robert Sigl (winner) - Bavarian Film Awards, 1989
Max Ophüls Award: Robert Sigl (nominee) - Max Ophüls Festival

A killer of children stalks the streets of a German village at the turn of the century. Young, highly-imagintive Laurin (Dóra Szinetár) may have seen one of the victims, or it might have been a nightmare; in any case, the seemingly accidental drowning death of her mother Flora (Brigitte Karner) in the windswept night on the way back from seeing off her sailor husband Arne (The Turin Horse's János Derzsi) preoccupies her mind. Left in the care and to care for her ailing grandmother Olga (Mephisto's Hédi Temessy), Laurin becomes too infatuated with a replacement father figure in new teacher Van Rees (Károly Eperjes), the son of the fire and brimstone-spouting pastor (Endre Kátay) to pay much heed to the suspicions voiced by fellow classmate Stefan (future award-winning Hungarian writer/director Barnabás Tóth), the subject of much bullying by their classmates (and possibly by their teacher). When Stefan subsequently vanishes into the night on the way home from a play date with Laurin; however, her own natural curiosity may make her the killer's next target even if she does not realize it.

The directorial debut of German filmmaker Robert Sigl, Laurin falls into a seventies and eighties genre category of adult horrors scene through the eyes of a child along that encompasses films ranging from Lemora, A Child's Tale of the Supernatural and Lady in White to the likes of The Reflecting Skin and even Silver Bullet (of which the film contains some subtle parallels). Beneath the period gothic detail, Laurin is more akin to the realism of the Australian Celia than the more surreal Czech Valerie and Her Week of Wonders, establishing Laurin's tendency to escape into fantasy but focusing more externally on the real world around her with a bitter grandmother, a lonely mother, a father with wanderlust, Stefan's man-hunting mother (Kati Sir), and an intolerant pastor. Fairy tale books and Laurin's mother's belongings are seen from the outside as being of fetishistic importance by her, but we are only privy to a couple fantastical visions of her mother's apparitions while expressionistic scenes of the prowling killer and his victims appear to happen outside of her perspective (including her mother stumbling upon the killer disposing of one of his victims). Laurin's own doe-eyed stare is a mask as unreadable upon walking in on her father bathing, returning the killer's suspicious glances, or even almost impassively observing the bullying of her friend Stefan or seemingly amused to be on the receiving end of it when Van Rees as the new teacher proves as unsympathetic to Stefan's smaller size or Laurin's recent loss as his father to the gypsy parents of one of the vicitms. The killer's identity is fairly obvious to the viewer, which is why the film spends as much time establishing the effect of the same environment on him as on Laurin – including his own hiding place of childish and maternal keepsakes – without actually attempting to garner sympathy. The cinematography of Nyika Jancsó, son of famous Hungarian director Miklós Jancsó, is "shot through" with gorgeous "gothic" compositions that channel Nosferatu as much as the film's plot vaguely references M. along with some Mario Bava-esque gel lighting that suggests that even the grown killer is still subject to some of the childhood fears shared by Laurin, leading to a climax that may be a nod to Vertigo and an ambiguity as to what sort of normalcy Laurin returns after turning the tables on the killer. Following the independently-financed Laurin, director Sigl has worked primarily in televisionHis whose post-Scream made-for-TV slasher School's Out has received the widest international distribution of his work thus far, but it appears from his IMDb listing that he has a number of projects in development suggesting that the move to digital may allow him more opportunities to get back into the genre.


A German production shot in Hungary for economical reasons – a number for Cannon Film and 21st Century Film productions also took advantage of the country's tax breaks of the time – with a mostly Hungarian cast speaking in phonetic English for post-dubbing, Laurin went unreleased in the United States but it did receive a cassette release in the U.K. from Redemption Films in the nineties followed by an English-friendly German DVD release from e-m-s in 2001 and a British DVD release in 2003 from Oracle. Sigl remastered the film in 2017 for an English-friendly German Blu-ray from Bildstörung's special edition "Drop Out" line, and that edition has served as the basis for subsequent releases including French boutique label Le chat qui fume's limited and standard edition Blu-rays as well as Second Run's disc under review here. The 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 1.85:1 widescreen transfer appears to be identical to the German disc, retaining the natural grain, deep blacks, and warm bias of the candlelit and lamplit sequences and the pale blues of the lit night exteriors with richly saturated colors cropping up in costuming, décor, and the gel lighting of Laurin's hallucinations.


Both English and German audio options are offered – the former in LPCM 1.0 and the latter in LPCM 2.0 – as separate version options from the main menu. Post-dubbed dialogue is always clear in both versions, as is the sound design and synthesizer scoring. The video is only one encode but audio tracks cannot be toggled via remote. The English subtitles, however, can and reveal some added dialogue and narration to the German track including the killer's voice as he stalks his victims. Since the film was shot in English and the post-dubbing mostly matches the dialogue (going by the examples of production audio in the extras), presumably these bits were added to the German version either by the filmmaker to clarify things or at the insistence of the producers or distributors. The English version works fine without them.


Apart from the 2021 short film by Sigl Coronoia 21 (9:51), Second Run adds nothing to the supplements of the 2017 German disc; however, it does omit German-language Sigl's audio commentary, his optional commentary for the deleted scenes, an interview with him, and the 1989 Bavarian Film Awards presentation. What it does carry over are a quartet of English-language interviews. Actress Dóra Szinetár (18:14) recalls coming from a artistic family and being encouraged by a teacher to audition for the film. She also discusses meeting Sigl and the particulars of her audition, being told that she needed to learn English and German to do anything in the industry, getting more opportunity to practice her English dialogue since she lived with and was babysat by the film's dialogue coach, only being aware in the script of what her character knew, and her surprise at meeting new fans of the film throughout her career.

Actor Barnabás Tóth (10:01) recalls that Laurin was his third film and that he had been regularly cast as victims due to his size as a child. He also learning English, catching up with the film on DVD, and expresses his appreciation for its Gothic tone. Cinematographer Nyika Jancsó (15:40) was living in Munich with other Hungarians when he met Sigl in 1987, recalls having not shot anything similar at the time, Sigl's cinematic vocabulary, and lighting the film with the knowledge that he would have to temper the film's saturated lighting for how it would appear on video since television exhibition was a requirement as one of the producers was a television network.

Film historian and author Jonathan Rigby (32:46) discusses the film's rhyming images, theme of voyeurism, cinematic nods as well as to romantic art and Ibsen, the verisimilitude of the period setting, the horror sub-genre of child's point-of-view films including the similarly Gothic but more overtly sexual The Company of Wolves.

The 1989 documentary "The Making of Laurin" (10:01) finds Sigl discussing the direction German cinema must take with alternate sources of funding, as well as the affordability of shooting in Hungary with real locations and authentic props and costumes of the period. The deleted scenes (20:09) are mostly in scene order and feature some additional cutaways to the opening sequence, smaller extensions, alternate takes, but most interesting of all the original production audio including original voices, alternate line readings, and a lot of background noise.

The disc closes out with the film's theatrical trailer (2:14) and the another Sigl short film from 1983 in The Christmas Tree ([Der Weihnachtsbaum) (19:23).


Housed with the disc is an eleven-page booklet featuring an essay by James Oliver in which he discusses the characteristics of the Gothic world in which Laurin inhabits, cinematic and literary antecedents, and Sigl's career.


Falling somewhere between the fantastic, surrealistic and the more realistic examples of the "adult horrors through the eyes of a child" sug-genre of horror, Robert Sigl's Laurin is a Gothic visual delight and an assured feature debut.


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