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A little more subdued than some of his earlier entries into eroticism, Love Rites, 1987's final feature film from Polish born director Walter Borowczyk (best known for helming The Beast and Immoral Tales) is a dreamy and, at times, almost surrealist look at a strange case of love and the inevitable head games that sometimes come with it.
Also known as Ceremonie D'Amour and The Queen Of Night, the film follows a lady of the evening named Myriam (the gorgeous Marina Pierro of Jean Rollin's Living Dead Girl and Borowczyk's earlier nunsploitation picture Behind Convent Walls) who meets a man named Hugo (Mathieu Carriere, who was amazing in his debut in Volker Schlondorff's Young Torless) completely by chance one night in the subway station. The two get off the subway and wander into a church for an impromptu make out session, and then eventually head back to an apartment to take things up to the next level (in short, they spend the day in bed together). Once they've done the deed, however, Myriam pulls a few surprises out of her hat and Hugo finds out that he's gotten involved with something a lot more unusual than just a casual fling…
Love Rites is an odd movie, in a long history of odd movies from the director. Many of his traits are here: the lush settings, the plentiful nudity, the strangely kinky moments and the painterly and artful direction and cinematography. Performances are pretty solid from the two leads. While Carriere isn't nearly as good here as he was in his debut film (something I've never seen him top, unfortunately) he does do a good job of playing the male version of a deer in the headlights towards the later part of the film, even if he isn't all that interesting in the first part of it.
The real reason to watch the movie though, aside from the standard Borowczyk moments of ethereal beauty, is Marina Pierro. Watching her in this film one can easily understand why Borowczyk put her in no less than five of his feature films (Love Rites, Behind Convent Walls, Heroines Of Evil, Dr. Jekyll And His Women, and The Art Of Love). She's a stunner to look at clothed or unclothed and has a rare screen presence that really makes Love Rites a lot better than it would have been otherwise. The camera loves her.
Of course, all of this frolicking around in the bedroom and the accompanying emotions that the characters experience as they go through it all leads up to a rather grisly conclusion which makes the film a whole lot more than just your typical romantic drama. While it has elements of that, and at first it may seem to be heading down that road, as usual Borowczyk twists things around towards the end which makes it all very much worth watching. It's hardly his best film or his most interesting, but it's still very much his film from beginning to end, which means that it is interesting, stylish, and often times quite compelling.
Note that Kino has included the feature length version (1:41:00) as well as the shorter director's cut version (1:27:21) on this disc. The feature length version runs a full ten minutes longer than the director's cut does. Shoring the film of ten minutes actually benefits it, as the majority of what is excised is simply superfluous dialogue that really doesn't further the plot or help the story much at all. It's simply the two central characters becoming closer through conversation. However that part of the storyline is made perfectly clear in this shorter version as well. Regardless, it's nice to have both cuts of the film on the disc, even if it is ‘just to have them.'
Love Rites is presented on a 50GB region A disc with the feature version given 20.5Gbs of space and the shorter director's cut 17.4GBs of space. Presented in AVC encoded 1080p high definition and framed at 1.66.1, the transfer, supplied by Studio Canal, looks quite good and handily bests the old interlaced DVD release that Cult Epics put out back in 2005. Some scenes do have a slight greenish hue to them but otherwise, no complaints. Black levels are pretty good and we get some nice depth, texture and detail to the naturally grainy image. Print damage is rare and the image is free of any noise reduction or edge enhancement problems.
Both versions of the movie get 16-bit DTS-HD 2.0 Mono tracks in French with optional English subtitles. It sounds just fine. The levels are balanced and the score in particular really benefits from the lossless treatment, it sounds very rich and very full. No problems with any hiss or distortion to note and the subtitles are easy to read.
Extras start off with a brand new audio commentary by Daniel Bird. Bird has done commentary tracks for quite a few other Borowczyk releases and once again proves to be an authority on the man and his work with this talk. In addition to loads of details about the film's history and details on the lives and careers of both Borowczyk and the people he worked with on this film we also get a lot of discussion of the themes that the movie explores, potential influences that creep into the movie and plenty more. It's quite interesting and definitely worth your time.
Also found on the disc is Brief von Paris, a short film that Borowczyk directed in 1976. This forty-minute piece is a sort of travelogue piece, exploring Paris and showing off footage that covers everything from the different people who call the city home to the shops and businesses that keep it moving to the cemetery. There isn't really a plot to any of this but it does prove to be an interesting snapshot of Paris from the era in which it was shot. It's presented in 1.33.1 fullframe in AVC encoded 1080p and it looks decent enough.
Kino also includes an eight minute interview with actor Mathieu Carriere, who describes the movie as 'a film about an execution' before then going on to elaborate on that. He talks about the two lead characters in the film, some of the themes that the movie plays with, working with Borowczyk and his directing style.
Love Rites is a well-made and interesting film, a bizarre erotic thriller with some strong acting and plenty of impressive visual style. Kino's Blu-ray release gives the film a very nice high definition presentation and throws in some quality supplements as well. Recommended.
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.