Written by: Michael Den Boer on September 22nd, 2014
Theatrical Release Date: France, 1972
Director: Walerian Borowczyk
Writer: Walerian Borowczyk
Adapted From: Juliusz Slowacki epic poem ‘Mazepa’
Cast: Michel Simon, Georges Wilson, Jacques Perrin, Ligia Branice, Denise Péronne, Jean Gras, Lawrence Trimble, Michel Delahaye, Roberto
BluRay released: September 8th, 2014
Approximate running times: 94 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 1.66:1 Widescreen / 1080 Progressive / MPEG-4 AVC
Rating: 18 (UK)
Sound: LPCM Mono French
BluRay Release: Arrow Academy
Region Coding: Region Free / Region o PAL
Retail Price: £15.99 (UK)
Synopsis: A young virginal woman named Blanche who lives in a secluded castle is facing constant threats towards her virtue as everyman who encounters becomes infatuated with her. Up until now all of these previous threats have been unbeknownst to her husband a much older man and the master of the castle which she calls home. That was until someone brazenly tried to visit her in her chambers late one evening. Unfortunately for them the man in question is the king and his is a stubborn man who always gets his way. Will she reveal who the identity of the man who has tainted her reputation or will she allow another man to take the blame for the king’s moment of indiscretion?
If there was ever an image that clarified what was about to occur, that would be the initial moment that the character Blanche arrives on the screen. It occurs during the opening moments as her naked body steps out of a bath and dry’s off. This tantalizing image gives the viewer a glimpse of something that is unattainable and as this film’s heroine’s fate is revealed this moment of clarity finally sinks in.
Thematically Blanche bears a few similarities to Borowczyk’s previous film Goto, Isle of Land. In that film, like this film the female lead is the object of several men’s desires. Another thing that they have in common is that they both take place in worlds that do not have defined borders and therefore their actually geography is never fully revealed. And though many of Borowczyk’s define space and time, Blanche clearly takes place during medieval times.
From a production stand point the visuals are exquisite and the production design is first rate as it effortlessly transports you into the world that is being depicted onscreen. Pacing is never a problem as things move briskly from one moment to the next. Also Blanche is easily Borowczyk’s most modest heroine as she is for the majority of the film covered from head to toe.
Though this film features a strong cast who are great in their respective roles. It is clear from the get go that this film’s leading Lady Ligia Branice is the main attraction. Reportedly this role was tailor made for by her husband Walerian Borowczyk, who had also cast her in his previous film Goto, Isle of Love. She delivers a remarkable performance that maintains her characters purity and at the same time shows her own hidden desires. The most surprising performance comes from Jacques Perrin (Girl with a Suitcase, Z) in the role of Bartolomeo, the king’s servant who moment of indiscretion sets everything that unfolds in this film in motion. Ultimately Blanche is a riveting melodrama that have languished in obscurity for far too long.
Blanche comes on a 50 GB dual layer (43.2 GB) BluRay. The film is presented in a 1080 progressive widescreen. For this release a brand new 2k restoration has been created and the end result is stunning. Details look sharp, black and contrast levels look very good and grain structure looks natural. Colors and flesh tones look accurate, there are no issues with DNR or compression.
This release comes with one audio option, a LPCM mono mix in French and removable English subtitles have also been included with this release. There are no issues with background noise or distortion, dialog comes through clearly, everything sounds balanced and the more ambient aspects of the soundtrack are well represented.
Extras for this release include an introduction to the film by painter / director Leslie Megahey (3 minutes 54 seconds – 1080 progressive widescreen), a lengthy interview with Walerian Borowczyk titled ‘Obscure Pleasures’ (63 minutes 15 seconds – 1080 progressive widescreen, in French with English subtitles) and a documentary about Blanche titled ‘Ballard of Imprisonment’ (28 minutes 28 seconds – 1080 progressive widescreen, in French with English subtitles) that includes comments from filmmaker Patrice Leconte, assistant director Andre Heinrich, camera assistant Noël Véry, producer Dominique Duvergé-Ségrétin.
Topics discussed by Patrice Leconte in the documentary ‘Ballard of Imprisonment’ include how he first became aware of the cinema of Walerian Borowczyk back when he was a critic and was assigned to cover Mr. and Mrs. Kabal’s Theatre and Goto, Isle of Love, this then lead to him working as a trainee assistant director on this film. Topics discussed by Andre Heinrich include his involvement in getting Jacques Perrin to co-produce this film and how Borowczyk and Perrin who appears in the film did not get along. This was due to Borowczyk wanting his wife Ligia Branice, while Perrin insisted casting Catherine Deneuve. Beside covering their own roles in the making of this film. Other topics include the look of the film and Borowczyk’s working relationship with cinematographer Guy Durban and how Borowczyk’s need to control every aspects of a film and how he would often paint sets or create objects he used in his films.
Borowczyk discusses storyboarding, film techniques, the constraints of filmmaking, influences cinema and beyond, sexuality in cinema and how making such films does not make him a pervert anymore then it would make a director making movie’s about alcoholism is not an alcoholic and so much more. Also included with this lengthy interview are clips from the majority of his films.
Other extras include a short film directed by Peter Graham titled ‘Gunpoint’ that was shot and edited by Walerian Borowczyk (11 minutes 4 seconds – 1.37:1 aspect ratio 1080 Progressive) and an interview about Gunpoint with Peter Graham (5 minutes 16 seconds – 1080 progressive widescreen.)
Rounding out the extras is a reversible covert art and twenty eight page booklet that contains information about the cast and crew, contemporary reviews for the film and three essays, the first one titled ‘Needles in the Embroidery’ written by Daniel Bird, the second one titled ‘Blanche’ written by Phillip Strick and the third one titled ‘Obscure Pleasures’ written by Chris Newby, a English translation of an extract from Carmina Burana titled ‘Singing of my Sorrow’ and information about the restoration work done for this release.
Blanche is also part of a box set entitled Camera Obscura: The Walerian Borowczyk Collection which also includes the following films, Walerian Borowczyk Short Films and Animation, Goto, Isle of Love, Immoral Tales and The Beast. This box set also included a generously illustrated book edited by Daniel Bird and Michael Brooke featuring new essays, landmark articles by Raymond Durgnat, Philip Strick, Patrice Leconte, David Thompson and Chris Newby, Boro’s Dictionary, an account of the restoration of Borowczyk films and Anatomy of the Devil, a collection of Borowczyk’s short stories translated from the original French by the filmmaker’s assistant, Michael Levy. This release was limited to 1,000 copies and is now OOP. Fortunately the five release which make up this set are available in standalone releases and they contain the exact same content that their counterparts from the box set included. Overall Arrow Academy gives Blanche a first rate release that comes with a solid audio / video presentation and wealth of insightful extras, highly recommended.