Mondo Vision continue their stellar treatment of Andrzej Zulawski with his finest work. John celebrates…
I don’t know about you but passion always takes me by surprise. I can intellectualise attraction, and keep it at a safe distance, but when passion gets to me it destroys my attempts at reserve or pretense. Truth be told, it makes my heart beat so hard that the sound of every thought that I have ever had is drowned out. I become overwhelmed and my mental defences fall apart because of what I feel and need.
Watching L’important c’est d’aimer reminds me of this facet of myself like no other piece of art. I find myself scared by the carnage it shows – carnage caused by undeniable feeling, broken hopes, and tortured hearts. Zulawski serves up a terrifying, intoxicating love triangle with the seeming symbolic roles of the photographer(the taker of images), the actress(the subject of images), and the film fan(the lover of images). Rather than bear down on this symbolism though, the story is far more concerned with the character’s feelings than what they might represent.The photographer(Testi) first encounters the actress(Schneider) as she performs in a seedy movie and he witnesses her exploitation onset – she is bullied to say “I love you” and mean it because of the profession she is in, and the money she needs from her performance. Soon we are also aware of his own indebtedness and use in pornography and blackmail for a gangster, and the unspoken intimacy of the would-be lovers first shared look is revealed as an empathetic bond. The photographer’s desire to save the actress from her exploitation is soon challenging the actress’ relationship with her lover – a clowning lover of cinema and a former fan of hers who became obsessed with saving her much like his rival has now.
The photographer hatches a scheme where the actress is cast in a stage play which will provide the setting for her to do some real acting. The price of his scheme is greater debt to a blackmailing gangster and greater exploitation for him. Separately, the actress and her lover learn of his part in securing her new role, and, whilst the play fails, this new love can no longer be denied. The lover, certain he will lose the actress, makes one final attempt to retain her affections, and the photographer tries to liberate himself from his own exploitation because love has made him want to be free.
Adapted from Christopher Frank’s novel with the director, the love triangle device allows for much in the way of themes and ideas to work around it. As I have already mentioned, the central lovers share a sense of exploitation and shame and this is graphically explored in the tasks our photographer is asked to carry out, and his punishment for rebelling against his fate is brutal too. There is also the regular Zulawski interest in performance and the frame within a frame device of the play within this film. Most interestingly, image is an explicit part of the plot and the meaning of the film. Schneider’s initial meeting with Testi happens through the medium of his camera, and it is her pain about her image that moves him for the first time. The film is littered with posters and photographs and Schneider’s lover is as obsessed with them as he is with her and cinema. Testi’s exploitation through taking images of an orgy or compromising pictures is doubly strong because of this interest in the visual, and the director even indulges himself in cinematic homage to Kurosawa’s Throne of Blood in the play sequence. In his film, Zulawski shows that image can be truth and beauty or a lie and a punishment.
I can’t see how anyone watching Zulawski’s film can ever be the same after it. The sheer sincerity and earnestness overcomes the viewer, and a key reason for this is Romy Schneider, whose work is painfully truthful and whose role must have chimed to some degree with her own experience as a once bigger star. Her fearlessness is astounding, and, even if her leading man, Testi, is a trifle stiff, then her soulful work still allows her character to be credible even when she must seem to be in love with him.
Testi apart, the performances around Schneider strive for the same veracity of feeling. If ever a man was born to gesticulate and explode in the instinctual, intuitive world of Zulawski, it’s Klaus Kinski and his performance is perfect as outrageous thesp, conqueror of heterosexuals, and sympathetic spirit. Jacques Dutronc similarly does well with his role as the forgotten part of the love triangle, never allowing his quirks and comedy to detract from the terrifying pain he feels as love slips away from him.Zulawski’s film benefits from a classic score from Georges Delerue which swells with the unexpected and intense emotions of the story. It is greatly due to the romance of this music that the film can resolve itself as idealistically as it does, rather than become reflective on itself or its medium as the director’s later films would.
Strangely then, a film with orgies, violence, degradation and death ends itself by relying on romance. By straightforwardly saying that this is why the characters have lived through failure and corruption and decay, just to answer the imperative of their feelings. And this simple directness is what gets me so bothered by this particular entry in the director’s career. All of his films deal with passion, but it is this movie that manages to get closest to what that feeling is actually like.
L’important c’est d’aimer is a masterpiece of emotion; it comes closer than any movie I know to replicating the most vital of our emotions. It storms my logical battlements every time I watch it, and it forces me to feel rather than to think. It is driven by a feeling that I no longer want to describe, because a moment lost thinking about it rather than experiencing it is a crime indeed.
Transfer and Sound
This transfer is a digitally restored progressive picture which is a huge improvement on the New Entertainment release that I have compared it with below. Like La Femme Publique, this transfer is the work of David McKenzie, once of this manor, and it serves to strengthen the name that Mondo Vision made for themselves with La Femme Publique. The image here has good levels of light and dark, warm skintones, excellent detail for the most part, and colours that are always well balanced. Any restoration is not terribly obvious, grain seems very natural and edges show a little support. It needs to be noted that the director was involved in the restoration that Mondo Vision did here.
The brighter, more colourful, and in correct aspect ratio, Mondo Vision release is on top of the following captures:
New Mondo Vision release
New Entertainment Release(Nachtblende)
English, German and French options are offered here. The French track has the highest bit-rate here and it obviously matches the action better, with the adequate German and English tracks dampening the sincerity of the performances a little. The English track has some distortion in the treble area and the German track carries some hum and pops. It’s nice to have the options but the French track is the best way to watch the film. Two sets of English subtitles are presented, one with smaller white font and the second with larger yellow text – I preferred the former but the grammar is the same and it’s nice again to have the choice. these subtitles were created with consultation with the director.
Discs and Special Features
The edition on review is the Special Edition which comes with blue cover art on the box rather than the Premium Signature edition which is limited to 2000 copies. This is a delightfully presented product with the robust dust sleeve holding the enclosed booklet and the digipak including the disc itself. Beautiful and simple art is used throughout to complement the disc design of straightforward and elegant menus. In simple terms of presentation and packaging, Mondo Vision have outdone themselves again.
The disc inside is a dual layer region free affair and the main feature is accompanied by an excellent commentary with Daniel Bird prompting the director. The more Zulawski does commentaries the better he gets, and this one is full of tales about Kinski’s madness, Schneider’s insecurities, and some rather unguarded remarks about producers and Testi’s IQ. Zulawski explains how the title came about and considers whether the film’s conclusion would have been different if he had made it later in life. As he has worked more with Daniel Bird, their collaboration has allowed a great deal of interest to come the way of fans and this is their best work together yet.
Zulawski is further interviewed in French and he explains how he was the fifth director to work on the project and how he sought to emphasise Dutronc’s role which was negligible in the original work. He is far more guarded in this piece than in his comments on the commentary as he explains the casting and how he challenged Georges Delerue to write music outside of his comfort zone.
The image gallery includes seven sub options of poster art, publicity and on set images, totaling around seventy five images in all. The trailer included here begins with warnings of the adult content of the film in French and is magically available in English and French with both kinds of English subs offered again. Finally on the disc is a short restoration featurette illustrating how the film looked before and after the magic hands of Mr McKenzie were loosed upon it.
Befitting a film so interested in images, the booklet included here has gorgeous glossy photographs inside, most of which also appear in the image gallery as well. The booklet employs white font on a black background with red touches and includes the usual cast and crew information, transfer information and synopsis of the film. Additionally there is a Zulawski filmography, a short biography of Christopher Frank and an excerpt from an essay on the film’s composer. The main item here though is Daniel Bird’s essay on the film and it’s place within the director’s career. The essay is a very good introduction and sets the scene for a film “of dreamers and failures, crooks and victims”.
The second Mondo Vision release of a Zulawksi picture is every bit as good as the first. The whole package is delivered with a level of care and commitment that you can’t fail to be impressed by. I would hope that those who want to be challenged out of their intellect and cerebral ways like myself will love this film of tempestuous emotions and passionate belief, and I know that this all region release will be the way to enjoy it.
It’s the end, but the moment has been prepared for…
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