Directed by Alberto Cavallone, Blue Movie begins with a harrowing scene in which a beautiful young woman named Silvia (Dirce Funari) is brutally raped out in the rural Italian countryside. She survives the assault and tries to head back to civilization when she's picked up by Claudio (Claude Maran), a photographer. He takes her back to his place and we assume he'll get her the help that she obviously needs, but it soon becomes obvious that this is not going to be the case. Claudio is holding Silvia hostage.
From here we meet Daniela (Danielle Dugas), a model that Claudio shoots. It doesn't take long before his tendency to spew hatred and nastiness to her shows up and his obvious ‘need' to control women takes shape. She's coerced into going down on him, after which he beats her. Soon enough, he's got Daniela held in his studio, using her and abusing her as he sees fit and forcing her to bend to his will if she wants to survive. If she resists, he'll let her die of starvation, or worse. Things quickly spiral out of control from here, as Claudio forces her into increasingly degrading situations while the events from the beginning of the film collide with the mental scars left on Claudio's psyche from his time spent as a reporter on location during the Vietnam War.
Light on plot but heavy on both atmosphere and mood, Callavone's Blue Movie would seem to channel the arthouse aesthetic of films like Sweet Movie and In A Glass Cage with the more confrontational rape/revenge aspects of a film like They Call Her One Eye. The end result is something that feels like a mix between the output of Pier Palo Pasolini and Andrzej Zulawski, in that it uses the artistic freedom afforded by the medium to present some challenging and often unpleasant content in a manner ripe with allegory and metaphor. At times quite sexually violent and frequently dealing with scatological nastiness and coprophilia, it doesn't leave much to the imagination in terms of what it shows, but by mixing in stock footage of the war and the atrocities that it entails, we can see how the director's anti-war ethos creeps into the narrative in sometimes less than subtle ways.
By setting most of this atrocity exhibition against some beautiful classical music (Bach is used frequently), Callavone creates some interesting contrast. The film, or more specifically the filmmaker behind it, seems to insist on contrasting the beautiful with the hideous and the sacred with the profane, peeling back the layers and exposing the ugly side of humanity but pausing and giving us enough reasons to ask why it's there in the first place. It's heavy, heady stuff. The performances are sometimes unusually distant but somehow that works as this is a story about some very broken people. There isn't a whole lot of story here and much of the film does seems like a series of nasty vignettes rather than what most would consider to be a traditional narrative, but there's more to the film than simple shock value (though it offers up plenty of that) if you're willing to think about not only what the film shows but why it shows it and how it presents the material. The inclusion of news reel and mondo style ‘real life' footage from throughout the decades leading up to the era in which the picture is set makes it clear that the historically documented tendency for man to commit whatever sin need be committed in the effort to gain control over others.
Blue Movie is presented on DVD in 1.33.1 fullframe which would appear to be the film's original aspect ratio. The video quality here isn't great but Raro has stated that the only surviving 16mm elements were in pretty bad shape (which is why this release is DVD only, they didn't feel a Blu-ray release would be practical). Some noise reduction has obviously been applied here, probably in an attempt to smooth things over. There's a fair amount of print damage visible and the image is often soft and murky looking. But hey, if this is as good as it's going to get, than that's that. It's certainly watchable enough, particularly if you're someone who has spent years digging through obscure cult and foreign oddities and are therefore accustomed to less than stellar video quality.
The audio is handled by an Italian language Dolby Digital Mono track with optional subtitles provided in English only. There's some hiss here and there and a drop out of two but again, this would seem to be a case of doing the best with what there was to work with. The levels are generally well balanced and there are some moments where the score demonstrates a bit of depth but most of the time this sounds kind of flat. There are a few typographical errors in the subtitles as well. The mix is serviceable, however, and like the video presentation, flawed by acceptable given the circumstances.
The main extra on the DVD is a forty-minute long featurette entitled Nocturno Presents: Blue Extreme that features some interesting interviews not only with the director but with some of his associates as well, including Claude Maran. It's a revealing look at what the intent behind the picture was and an interesting examination of Alberto Cavallone's directorial style. Additionally the disc also includes a few minutes of deleted material, most of which is fairly explicit in nature. The only elements available for this material was some super 8mm film stock and it definitely shows its age here, but it's wild to even get to see this stuff in the first place. Menus and chapter selection are also included and the disc comes housed in a cardboard slipcover. Inside is a color booklet of liner notes from Davide Pulici that offer up some information on the film and its director.
Blue Movie is a challenging picture, a film that uses its strong doses of sex and violence to both shock and provoke some serious thought. It's a dark picture, one that will understandably put off plenty of viewers because of the way in which it deals with its extreme content, but it is a very well made film just the same. Raro's DVD release, the first legitimate one in North America, won't floor you with its presentation but it's serviceable enough and the supplements included with the disc add some merit and context to the release. Recommended for those with a strong constitution and an appreciation for confrontational cinema.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.