Somehow I can imagine a brainstorming session for Holy Year (L'année sainte). "Hey, movies with prison breaks are cool." "OK, so we'll have a couple of guys breaking out of jail. Then what?" "Uh, we'll have them dress up like priests. Yeah, and that'll make it a comedy. Do we have enough material for a movie yet?" "No, that only gives us about thirty minutes. I know, we'll put them on a plane to Rome and have some adventure stuff happen on the plane!" "That only gives us about an hour." "OK, if we drag out the scenes at the beginning and show how they planned the escape and everything, we should be able to get 95 minutes. All right, that's plenty, let's go make the movie!"
Actually, Holy Year is based on a novel by Louis-Emile Galey; I can only hope that the novel is more entertaining than the film it spawned, because Holy Year is a terribly uninteresting film. The 1976 production has a stale, outdated feel to it; everything about it is bland, ordinary, unimaginative, and ultimately exceedingly dull.
You can't get any more basic than the narrative style of Holy Year. Starting at the beginning of the story (heaven forbid we should learn any of the backstory through flashbacks or conversation), it plods through each and every step of the way as the characters decide on escape, plan their escape, and make their escape. There's nothing left to the viewer to assume; it's all laid out piece by piece. Then we see every single uninvolving step of the next phase of the plan, as the thieves go to the airport, go through customs, and board their plane. Even one moment at customs which could potentially have generated some dramatic tension – when the characters' gun-carrying suitcases are passed through the baggage control – is rendered flat and unexciting by the fact that an earlier scene revealed exactly how they were concealed. Hello, moviemakers: when you are a thief trying to escape, you want everything to be as dull and unexciting as possible. When you are a movie viewer watching a thief trying to escape, you want everything to be as exciting and tense as possible.
Structurally, Holy Year is awkward as well. The story spends quite a lot of time on the thieves' plans, actual escape, and getaway, with each segment getting about equal screen time. When we finally get to the plane, almost half of the film's running time has passed, on telling events that now appear to be peripheral to the main plot of the film.
The utterly plain-vanilla storytelling might have been adequate if Holy Year had a truly interesting and memorable story to tell; content can usually transcend style. But the fact is, Holy Year's plot is as dull as its presentation. Oh, and though it's supposed to be a comedy, it's as flat in its humor as it is in its plot. It's a truly generic story that never offers the viewers anything to justify spending an hour and a half of their time.
Holy Year is presented in a 1.33:1 transfer that does not appear to represent the original aspect ratio. There's no obvious pan-and-scanning going on during the film, but some of the image is missing on both the right and the left of the image. This is very clear during the credits, which have the names and titles clearly chopped off at either side of the picture. I wasn't able to determine what the original aspect ratio was, but I'd hazard a guess that it was 1.66:1.
Apart from the missing part of the image, Holy Year looks lousy, with a blurred, grainy transfer with lackluster colors and poor contrast. Black areas are too dark, resulting in almost no detail evident in some scenes, while the colors as a whole are muddy, brownish, and bland.
The subtitles open up a whole new world of weirdness. They're burned-in, to start with, which will be a disappointment to anyone who wants to watch the film without the English subtitles. That's far from the only problem, though. It becomes quite clear that they were created by scanning in the script and running a text-recognition program. Apparently no one even proofread the results, given the misspellings, the complete absence of apostrophes, and the frequent appearance of the number "1" in place of the lowercase letter "L" (giving a bizarrely punk feel to the subtitles, as if a bunch of "3leet d00dz" had translated the film). As if that weren't weird enough, the subtitles are mysteriously absent for about ten percent of the dialogue; not just the occasional word dropped, but whole conversations without subtitles at all. Oh, and one scene has its subtitles randomly switch to Spanish for a moment. I kid you not.
The soundtrack is an average-sounding French Dolby 2.0. The sound overall is flat, with the dialogue sometimes adequately clear and other times fairly muffled-sounding. The rather cheesy music is a bit too intrusive but seems to be adequately balanced in terms of volume with the dialogue.
There are no special features on this disc, unless you count "chapter selections." The English subtitles are burned-in, which is rather an anti-special feature for those who understand French. On the bright side, the menu is normal and easy to use.
A dull, dated film, Holy Year really doesn't have much to offer viewers; lacking in charm or humor to offset the utterly banal narrative style and lack of a decent plot, it would have been better off left in the vault to molder quietly into oblivion. Unfortunately, the Holy Year DVD is a bad bet even for those who like the film, with its poor quality transfer that doesn't appear to represent the original aspect ratio, and bizarrely bad burned-in subtitles to boot. Do yourself a favor and skip it.