L'Amour Braque Review

The Film

Despite my strong opinions, despite all my experience, all my faith and all my years, I am never certain. It seems to me that the truest things in life are usually the shortest, the most illusory or the most unrealisable. Conversely, the longest, the most real and everyday experiences are the least satisfying, the least concrete. When I step back from existence, I see other people like me, restless, untethered, and uncertain, ricocheting from one notion to another, searching, always searching for something like permanence.

My perspective is not unalike that offered by the films of Andrzej Zulawski. His work is full of strong personal experiences in worlds that seem on the edge of apocalypse. Zealots, politicians and people who preach unwavering control of fortune are roundly satirised by the director. The rest of his humans are left to collide, explode, and propel themselves into the lives of others. Society is human pinball, romantic love is all consuming and frequently cannibalistic, and the creatures that we are struggle, fight, and screw in the face of oblivion.
L'amour Braque is a lot like watching the most violent, unstoppably painful ballet. Human beings career into chaos at every turn, and the compulsion to feel overwhelms everything that they try to do. It is a war of the instincts, an almost chemical chain of actions and reactions driven by irresistible feeling. It is frighteningly kinetic, often like avant garde dance, and never less than cinematic poetry direct from the gut.

Using conventions of the love triangle and the gangster movie, Zulawski works from the bare bones of Dostoevsky's The Idiot - with a compulsive innocent lost in the affair between an impetuous criminal and his enigmatic love. In these roles, he cast Francis Huster, the director from La Femme Publique, as The Idiot, Tcheky Karyo as the gangster and his soon to be partner, Sophie Marceau, as the moll.

Operating very loosely, the director fashions the often badly adapted tale into perhaps its most successful presentation for the cinema. This was the project that obsessed Kurosawa before him with his customary attention to detail and plot, and Zulawski opts for perhaps his most chaotic filmic universe as his setting, powered by the most overwrought of performances from his cast. The grand, epic tale of Dostoevsky becomes a whirling spinning top of personal destruction.
This breakneck pace inevitably means that there is little space for depth of character outside of Huster, not that this director would take that approach anyway as it is the dizzying motion and the beautiful imagery of the film that stay with the viewer longest. From the opening, highly stylised, bank heist ballet to the final gun battle, L'amour Braque is in flux. Everything happens, everyone reacts and the spectator is twisted back and forth in the work's slipstream. The camera follows the action, regularly shadowing the protagonists this way and that with longish mobile takes building the intensity, and occasionally beautiful compositions paying off on the dramatic impact.

This ferocity of content and form, this lack of simple rest, will test most viewers. Similarly, the endless stream of ideas will make it hard for anyone to take in the evidence of their eyes in one go. What guiding truth the director offers to shape his energy is fleeting, and for those who have enjoyed his cinema before there is little of the basic romantic ideals of C'est l'important d'aimer.

I am uncertain that L'amour Braque is entirely successful. The sheer pace of the frantic goings on offer little space to appreciate it as you watch it. It never stints, in terms of energy or persistence, it never stops exhilirating and overwhelming the viewer. You may enjoy the almost Godard-like playing with the mechanics of genre, you will fear for the sanity of the three leads acting on the edge of nervous exhaustion throughout, and you will definitely be able to recognise Dostoevsky's finest work from what you see here.
Yet when the energy comes to an end, I am not sure that this film-maker has said something all that different from his previous works. It's most definitely still nigh impossible to love in a world of lies, corruption, and exploitation, the innocent are still punished despite themselves, and this world is most definitely coming to a very bloody end despite the best intentions.

The use of the gangster genre allows for an element of cinematic self-reflection and allows the director to encourage performances to a new levels of frenzy. Still for all the commitment, the talent and the desire, the movie feels less inspired or novel than Zulawski's key works.
L'amour Braque is cinematic adrenaline, it is often tremendous and terrifying, but ultimately it doesn't hold together despite its virtues. Fans of the director will applaud a near miss and a brilliant mistake, others will be adrift in chaos.

Technical Specs

Presented at the original aspect ratio of 1.66:1 from a high definition transfer, Mondo Vision prove once again that they truly love film with the care this title has received. Skintones are immensely detailed and lifelike, colours are undeniably film-like and nothing unforgivably obvious has been done to the image to sharpen the look or contours on show. Contrast is perfect, grain is appropriate and this is one of the best standard definition transfers you'll see this year in terms of fine detail. Please note that the image captures with this review have been resized, so the actual quality of the transfer is far better
The French mono track is admirably free of obvious damage, and, given the aural chaos thrown at it, it copes admirably well in terms of clarity. Mondo keep up their excellent record of offering subtitles in conventional white type and less so yellow type, and the translation is very good indeed, with Bird and Zulawski involved in trying to give a sense of the original dialogue written by Roda-Gil.

Special Features

When I received the limited edition, I found myself completely intimidated by it. I left it standing on my dinner table in its vivid red packaging, afraid to venture inside what is a truly beautiful artifact. The exterior of the box set is covered in a red felt with the front art embossed upon it. The side flap fastens magnetically and the box opens up into four leaves. The first leave contains a pocket bearing the director's signature and attesting to his approval, and inside is contained the booklet, a card bearing details on the DVD specs, and a poster postcard contained in a shrinkwrap. The second leave contains the DVD, the third the soundtrack, and the fourth only shows artwork. This is a spectacular presentation before you even enjoy the contents.

Daniel Bird works with Zulawski on the commentary, and I again admire his dogged approach as the director is so keen to keep his work personal, avoid being derivative or easily read. Bird keeps Zulawski talking, and I really enjoyed his truculence this time, slagging off Depardieu, Scorcese and De Palma and even explaining that he thought Marceau's forehead, his former partner, unsightly! The story behind the production is characteristically winning and Zulawski's joy at the spirit, arrogance and passion in life and art make him a really intriguing person to listen to.

Sophie Marceau talks about meeting the director and performing her role in very good English. She explains the challenge that Zulawski set her in physical training and his ability to encourage openness. She also sympathises with the bad reviews and lack of understanding of the director's work. Cinematographer Jean Francois Robin talks about the film and his work on it, with a splendid insight into Zulawski's ideas. He describes an early meeting at a cafe where the director chooses sundown as the meeting time so as to show the look he wants his film to have! Robin remembers a very positive, enthusiastic director and lots of "mad moments".

Archival footage of interviews and on-set filming are included as well with Huster, Marceau and the director interviewed in short clips. Zulawski is filmed at the mixing desk, whiskey in hand, talking about his adaptation and "attacking" actors like Kessling in La Femme Publique. Huster talks about Zulawski's motivational powers whilst reading his mail, and a very young Marceau appreciates the commitment he requires of his cast. Production credits, and image galleries of French, German, and Japanese lobby and poster art, and the theatrical trailer complete the DVD extras.

The 64 page booklet includes excerpts from the 1985 press kit including interviews with the two leads and the director, short essays on Zulawski and Marceau by co-writer Etienne Roda-Gil, and a similar piece on Roda-Gil by Michele Holberstadt. The other material in the booklet includes another interview with Zulawski from 1985, a new essay on the film by Daniel Bird, a short bio of Stanislas Syrewicz and an excerpt from Cahiers du cinema on the film. The booklet follows the disc art motif and is white text on a black background with good quality photographs throughout. After two outstanding Zulawski releases, you might think that Mondo would run out of resources or energy but this booklet, and this whole package, proves that they are just raising the bar each time they release a disc. I have included Mondo's own image of what the set looks like above.

Syrewicz's soundtrack is included on a separate CD with 22 tracks. This torrent of excellent extra material will please all but the most difficult of the director's fans. This limited edition differs from the special edition by possessing a larger booklet, the soundtrack, the post card and the impeccable packaging


This is not the director's greatest work, yet this is the most extraordinary package from Mondo Vision. This is another supreme labour of love that Zulawksi fans will have to own, but rush as there are only 2000 of these limited editions available.

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