Blu-ray extras include a brand new interview with Robert Hossein; a brief interview excerpt with Hossein from 1968 French TV; original Italian and English soundtracks in uncompressed audio; newly translated English subtitles for the Italian soundtrack; reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned art work; and an illustrated collector’s booklet.
Love Unto Death / Life Is a Bed of Roses (Cohen Media Group) is a double feature Blu-ray. Both films are directed by Alain Resnais. Love Unto Death is about a man, Simon (Pierre Arditi), who collapses and is pronounced dead by a doctor. Later, however, he awakens and greets his grieving wife, Elizabeth (Sabine Azema). From this point, the film contains long discussions between the two of the meanings of life, death, and love. They decide to avoid family and friends and set out for a vacation, but then change their minds. They seek out two friends, who are both clerics, and who have their own religious views on the meaning of life.
The film gets increasingly ponderous and gloomy. Stylistically, Resnais divides the film into movements, ending each section with a dark background followed by drifting particles and a chamber music interlude. This technique unfortunately slows the pace and makes this metaphysical journey puzzling, if interesting visually. Overall, the movie is morbid — more suitable for academic discussion than as an engaging cinematic experience.
Life Is a Bed of Roses uses a three-part structure to combine comedy, fantasy, and music. Resnais uses a non-linear approach to storytelling, switching back and forth among three separate segments. In the first, which takes place in 1914, Michel Forbek (Ruggero Raymond) is a wealthy eccentric who designs a sort of pleasure palace in which those who visit drink a potion and revert to their infantile state. To create a Utopian atmosphere, the Count’s guests are exposed only to positive sensations. Beautiful music fills the air and blindfolds keep out unpleasant sights as the guests lie peacefully in giant cribs.
The second segment takes place 60 years later. The Count’s gothic castle has been converted to an experimental school run by idealistic educator Nathalie Holberg (Veronique Silver) who hosts a seminar on education of the imaginative. During the conference, while the adults theorize and engage in romantic liaisons, we come to the third segment: a number of children at the school fantasize a tale about a heroic figure, complete with dragons and damsels in distress.
Though the three-part movie is interesting, it often leaves the viewer grasping to understand how the three parts relate. The underlying theme that runs through the entire film is that human imagination is limitless, offering untold possibilities, some whimsical, some serious, some merely distractions.
Bonus Blu-ray features include feature-length critical audio commentary and the theatrical trailer for each film. The film are in French, with English subtitles.
Cemetery Without Crosses
Cemetery Without Crosses (Arrow) begins with a lynching — revenge for one of the Caine brothers attempting to steal from the Rogers clan. Determined to seek vengeance of her own, newly widowed Maria (Michele Mercier) seeks out former fiance/gunslinger Manuel (Robert Hossein). Manuel cares little for the gold she offers or her mission of vengeance, but agrees to help her because of they were once lovers. The plan: he will kidnap the daughter of the other family to avenge the killing.
Much like the Hatfield/McCoy feud, the bad blood between the Caines and Rogers is longstanding, with no end in sight. Both families are portrayed as savages who live by violence. For an Italian Western, this film defies expectations. There is violence, but it isn’t orchestrated as elaborately as, say, a Sergio Leone Western. There are several sequences that are dialogue-free, which tends to put the picture on auto pilot periodically. The film enjoys a good reputation among Italian Western aficionados, perhaps because the film illustrates how revenge can consume individuals and entrap them in a path to self-destruction. Call it a thinking man’s/woman’s Western.