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Reviews » Blu-ray Reviews » The Legend of the Holy Drinker (Blu-ray)
The Legend of the Holy Drinker (Blu-ray)
Arrow Video // Unrated // September 26, 2017 // Region Free
List Price: $39.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Tyler Foster | posted October 22, 2017 | E-mail the Author
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On a dreary and damp Parisian morning, two men cross paths near a bridge. The first man, Andreas Kartack (Rutger Hauer) is homeless and spends his night under the bridge, wrapping himself in newspapers he's dug out of the garbage. The second man, a distinguished gentleman (Anthony Quayle) of some sort, has an extraordinary offer for Andreas: take some money from me, and repay it to a statue of Saint Therese of Lisieux whenever it's convenient. Andreas asks for 20 francs, but the distinguished gentleman insists on handing him 200, and then vanishes, as mysteriously as he appeared. Andreas can't believe his luck, but his determination to follow through on his promise to pay back Therese proves more challenging than he expected.

The Legend of the Holy Drinker is a striking yet somewhat inscrutable movie, simultaneously bursting with richly rewarding material, while also holding off on the kinds of details that viewers would use to form a more traditional sense of meaning or intent. Director Ermanno Olmi walks the line between fantasy and reality, grounding Andreas' life and struggle through surreal moments of coincidence and luck. His vision seems to be a film that fully reflects the subjective reactions of the viewer without guiding them to any particular literal or thematic conclusion, and in that regard, Hauer anchors the movie, pulling off an impressive confluence of authenticity and abstraction.

The movie is broken up into three chapters, marked by three attempts by Andreas to fulfill his promise to repay the 200 francs to the statue of Therese. In the first, he temporarily takes on a job with a fat man (Joseph De Medina), who needs someone to help his wife (Josephine Lecaille) pack up their apartment. He runs into a woman he once loved, Karoline (Sandrine Dumas), and tries to put some of his more troubling memories to rest. He reconnects with childhood friend Daniel Kanjak (Jean-Maurice Chanet), now a famous boxer with wealth to spare. Daniel puts him up in a hotel where he has a brief and passionate romance with a dancer staying on his floor, Gaby (Sandrine Dumas). Finally, he crosses paths with Woitech (Dominique Pinon), his least-reputable acquaintance, a former co-worker in a coal mine, who is a bad influence at best and a con artist at worst.

Each of these chapters serves mostly to explore more of Andreas rather than further any sort of overarching story. The richness of the character development can be encapsulated in something as fleeting as a single moment, such as in the first chapter, when the fat man silently declines Andreas' simple request to repay his employment by buying him a drink, then watching Andreas stand in the foreground, his pride wounded, as the fat man disappears into his building with his wife. Moviegoers are accustomed to men fixated on a single woman, filled with regret that they're longing to make amends for, but when Karoline appears in the second story, Andreas seems to regret seeing her and all the bad memories it brings up (memories she seems unaffected by). Later, when he meets Gaby, the playfulness of their relationship is established from both ends, such as watching her set up a specific look for herself when she realizes she's successfully lured him to her hotel room. Andreas is uncomfortable but grateful for charity, thinks frequently about his past but does not appear to fixate on it, and is visibly nagged by a certain discomfort when things are going well.

That discomfort seems to be at the root of the experience, if any, that Holy Drinker is trying to get at. In the words of the distinguished gentleman, Andreas feels as if his experiences are minor miracles, but appears unsure if he deserves to be so blessed when he is unable to complete the simple task of repaying the money. Between each chapter, he gets closer to his goal but ultimately ends up poor again, before another "miracle" comes his way. It might be presumptuous to draw many conclusions (or a bit too simplistic), but watching the satisfaction of completing his promise slip from Andreas' hands again and again feels like the closest the film gets to evoking the suggestion of alcoholism in the title. Andreas realizes he has it good, again and again, but can't quite get comfortable with it, even if his failings are neither complete self-sabotage or particularly driven by drink (he drinks quite a bit in the film, but doesn't appear to be a drunk). Holy Drinker doesn't build to any grand revelations; it's not that kind of movie. Still, in Andreas, Olmi captures a bit of everything: comedy, tragedy, romance, heroism, decency, and regret.

The Blu-ray
Packaged in Arrow's traditional, transparent, UK-standard Blu-ray case, Legend of the Holy Drinker arrives with reversible artwork, featuring a classy new illustration on the outside, and somewhat old-fashioned photographic poster artwork on the reverse. The two-disc set features a flap tray for the Blu-ray and DVD copy, and the first pressing includes an exclusive booklet featuring liner notes on the film by Helen Chambers, who wrote a book on Joseph Roth, who wrote the novel the film was based on.

The Video and Audio
Arrow has sourced their 1080p AVC 1.85:1 Blu-ray from a brand new 4K master, and the results are exceptional. The restorations of the Dollars trilogy by L'Immagine Ritrovata left plenty to be desired, with cranked yellows and greens and crushed blacks, but there's no sign of any of those things on Holy Drinker, which is exquisitely film-like and rich with detail and accurately reproduced colors. There is a certain warmth to the film, even in dark scenes supposedly defined by cold and rain, which is captured expertly on the new disc. Sound is a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track in English (the film was shot in English), which sounds decent, although some of the Italian actors are clearly dubbed and thus their dialogue has a detached quality to it. Mostly, the score takes advantage of the surround sound to help envelop the viewer in a musical environment. Dialogue sounds fine. The English track is also included in LPCM 2.0, and there is an Italian dub in LPCM 2.0 as well, along with English captions for the deaf and hard of hearing.

The Extras
Two video extras are included. First, there is an all-too-brief interview with Rutger Hauer (9:20), who talks a bit about getting involved with the film, what Olmi asked of him, and his thoughts on the job of the performer. The better supplement is an interview with Tullio Kezich (25:47), who chats at length about his relationship with Olmi and how the film is dedicated to his wife, other actors who were interested in the part (namely, Robert De Niro), landing Anthony Quayle, and what he thinks of the film itself. The only minor quibble is a host who seems a bit too eager to try and create a rapport with Kezich.

No theatrical trailer for The Legend of the Holy Drinker is included.

Although The Legend of the Holy Drinker is an engaging, fascinating experience, I suspect many will find it frustrating trying to suss out Olmi's artistic intent. It is a slow-paced film that has no traditional thematic or dramatic agenda, lovingly crafting moments and characters with a painterly subtlety. Arrow's restoration looks gorgeous. Recommended.

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