The Legend of the Holy Drinker

A timeless gem led by a stellar performance from the inimitable Hauer


The Legend of the Holy Drinker was Italian Director Ermanno Olmi (The Tree of Wooden Clogs)’s twelve feature film amongst a prolific career in documentaries. Even if it is not as famous as Olmi’s masterpiece The Tree of Wooden Clogs, which received the Palme d’Or in Cannes in 1978, and actually not even really remembered, this adaptation of Joseph Roth’s novella was awarded the prestigious Golden Lion award at the Venice Film Festival in 1988. For this Stakhanovite of TV documentaries, this adventure represented something very unfamiliar; for the first time, Olmi was adapting a piece of literature, working with professional international actors, and filming outside of Italy. Yet from this situation, Olmi managed to create, with his screenwriter Tullio Kezich (Come Have Coffee with Us), a splendid tale of humanism and spirituality which is just waiting to be rediscovered.

The film tells the story of Andreas Kartack (Rutger Hauer, Blade Runner), a homeless man living under the bridges of Paris. Lent 200 francs by an anonymous stranger (Anthony Quayle, Lawrence of Arabia), he is determined to pay back his debt but circumstances – and his alcoholism – forever intervene.

In the role of Andreas, Hauer gives a sublime performance. Even if it should have seemed retrospectively obvious that the interpreter of the iconic Roy Batty would be perfect in this role, it took a certain degree of perspicacity, apparently attributed to Kezich who saw him in an interview at the time of the release of The Hitcher, to see the performance of the desperate yet refined Andreas in him; and the Dutch actor himself was not sure he could express all the contracting feeling going through Andreas’ head. Nevertheless, Hauer manages to give Andreas an incredible mixture of despair, sadness, gentleness and dignity both through his mannerism and the incredible intensity of his feverish eyes which never really seem to look at what’s in front of them.

The Legend of the Holy Drinker also benefits from the incredible talent of the great Italian Cinematographer Dante Spinotti (L.A. Confidential) who managed to elevates Paris visually in ways rarely achieved before, or since then. To say that the French capital has been overused in cinema is an understatement; many directors from all nationalities have given it various qualities but they rarely achieved such a sense of timelessness fitting the story so perfectly. It is interesting to note that despite the film taking many liberties from Roth’s novella, Olmi decided to stick to the location of the book. His choice paid off and Olmi ended up using unspoilt rarely shown locations. This was also maybe because the Italian director was not as familiar with the city as other directors, and therefore he didn’t focus on depicting any recognisable monuments or streets. As a result, even if it is clear that the film was shot in the 80s, the miraculous timelessness which emanates from the film multiplies even more the fable-like qualities of the story.

The Legend of the Holy Drinker is a film that has to be experienced like a legend, i.e. a timeless story or a parable about a sinner’s redemption, not in this life but in another one…


The Legend of the Holy Drinker is released in the UK by Arrow Video on 25th September.

The film is presented in a brand-new 4K restoration from the original negative, produced exclusively by Arrow Academy for this release. The 1080p transfer respects the original 1.85:1 ratio. Arrow has done an amazing job and the quality of the transfer is just sumptuous. The lighting talent of Spinotti is perfectly rendered and many of the external shots of Paris are magnified whilst some of the interior scenes (the ball for instance) appear with a surreal beauty. The close ups, which are so dramatically important here, also benefit from a very fine level of details and a very natural amount of grain. I haven’t noticed any scratches or dirt.

The disc created by Arrow Academy contains two extras.

Interview with Rutger Hauer (9 min, no subtitles) – In this brand new interview recorded exclusively for this release, the Dutch actor discusses the story of the film, its meaning, how he got the part, the challenges of the role, the link with The Hitcher, his relationship with Olmi and the other actors. This is a very nice interview in which Hauer seems happy to reminisce his experience on the movie.

Interview with screenwriter Tullio Kezich (25 min, Italian with English subtitles) – In this archival interview, the former journalist is interviewed by Tonino Pinto. He explains the inspiration for the movie, his relationship with Olmi, how the director got involved in the movie, their working relationship, the choice of Andreas and the distinguished gentleman’s perfromance, the decision to shoot in Paris and the length of the film. This is a more insightful interview which provides some interesting information concerning the film.

The disc also offers the theatrical trailer of the film.


Updated: Sep 25, 2017

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