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Category:    Home > Reviews > Drama > Crime > Murder > French New Wave > Comedy > Italian Neo-Realism > Surrealism > Fame > Glamour > Show > Breathless (1959/Godard)/The Bicycle Thieves (aka The Bicycle Thief/1948)/8 (1963/Fellini)/La Dolce Vita (1960/Umbrella Region B Import Blu-rays)/I Cannibali (aka The Year Of the Cannibals (1969/Rar

Breathless (1959/Godard)/The Bicycle Thieves (aka The Bicycle Thief/1948)/8 1/2 (1963/Fellini)/La Dolce Vita (1960/Umbrella Region B Import Blu-rays)/I Cannibali (aka The Year Of the Cannibals (1969/Raro Video Blu-ray)

Picture: B+/B/B+/B+/B- Sound: B-/C+/B-/B-/C+ Extras: B-/C+/B-/B-/B- Films: B+ (Cannibali: B)

PLEASE NOTE: All these Blu-ray release except Cannibali are Region B Imports that will only play on Blu-ray players that can handle that version of the format and can be ordered from our friends at Umbrella Entertainment at the link below.

One of the great things about Blu-ray and HDTV is seeing classic foreign films come alive in a way unimaginable before and what follows are four classics (two of which have not been issued on Blu-ray in the U.S. as of this posting) and a fifth very challenging film that comes out of the traditions and innovations of the classics...

First we have Jean-Luc Godard's Breathless (1959), the film that (along with Truffaut's The 400 Blows) launched the French New Wave, offers a fast new style of editing that had never been seen before, took the error of the jump cut and made it a permanent part of cinematic language and put Godard on the map as one of the most challenging filmmakers in the world. Jean-Paul Belmondo is the crook who steals a car, lands Jean Seberg as his new gal from America who he convinces go escape to Italy with him, but the police are going to get him no matter the cost in this homage to Film Noir and love of pure cinema that continues to be an influential landmark.

The film holds up well and to see it looking this great is like rediscovering it all over again. A must see for all serious film fans (and especially filmmakers more than ever), the film has lost little of its edge, its ideas of form and has already been issued twice by Criterion on Blu-ray in the U.S., but this version has different extras. They include a 16-minutes-long 1965 interview with Godard for the TV series Tempo, documentary Room [or Chambre] 12, Hotel de Suede runs 80 minutes and features interviews with Belmondo, Claude Chabrol & Director of Photography Raoul Coutard, the 7-minutes-long Jean-Luc Godard According To Luc featurette with friend Luc Moullet and the Original Theatrical Trailer. Only Room 12 and the trailer appear on the Criterion edition, so die hard fans will want this version.

Another film that launched a world film movement was Vittorio de Sica's The Bicycle Thieves (aka The Bicycle Thief, 1948) which (along with Roberto Rossellini's Rome (Open City)) launched Italian Neo-Realism. All the movie studios and industry worldwide had been wiped out after WWII except those in Hollywood and because Mussolini was such a big film fan, that of Italy. Not that they had many resources, but there was enough to start filming and rebuilding. However, there was little money and actors were scarce, so the idea of using non-actors en masse as born and this brought a naturalistic realism to filmmaking that had never been seen before. The result was a new movement that dealt with the real politik of a post-WWII world and Neo-Realism was born and would influence filmmaking worldwide all the way to Coppola's 1970s hits like the first two Godfather films and many more.

Here, a simple bicycle becomes the toll of travel, progress and rebuilding for a young man, but when it is stolen, he and his father start searching for it all over the place. De Sica, who was also an effective character actor himself, uses the situation as metaphor for loss, hope, emptiness, devastation and why tendencies for Italian isolationism and alienation needed to become the Italy of the past. The resulting film speaks volumes about the human condition, had its own new kind of editing style and became as much of a worldwide sensation as Breathless would 11 years later. Also often imitated and ripped off, it is yet another must-see classic and remains as remarkable and vital a work as it ever was, especially as the cinema changes again and we enter a new era. That the film foresaw the sound-bitten world of digital video and video clips in its sensibilities without trying is remarkable.

Extras include the Original Theatrical Trailer and two featurettes: That's Life (54 minutes) on De Sica's career behind & in front of the camera and Cesare Zavattini (56 minutes) about the man who wrote this film, often worked with de Sica and did much more.

As a result of these innovations, more giants of cinema found as much commercial success as they did critical raves. This more writerly filmmaking that spoke to people about people was a revelation and maturing of filmmaking as an artform. The list of filmmakers who benefitted are many, but when it came to self-expression, Federico Fellini was in a class by himself. With the energy of the French New Wave, this flashiest and most explicitly visually dynamic of all the Italian Neo-Realists took the film form to new heights with amazing works whose content was matched by their substance. We are lucky to look at two of his best here.

First we look at La Dolce Vita (1960), a celebration of glamour that brilliantly manages to show its dark side along with many memorable moments that still manages to stun viewers today. The mighty Marcello Mastroianni plays a gossip columnist (the term paparazzi was invented by this film) who intends to fine the best side of this glamour no matter what and capture it as journalistically and thoroughly as he can, but he quickly gets sidetracked by the gaudiness and gorgeous Anita Ekberg (whose dance in The Trevi Fountain is iconic) and much more. We previous reviewed the film in its U.S. double DVD set at this link:


Seven years before singing on the iconic album with the peel-able banana produced by Andy Warhol, singer Nico shows up as herself in this film, later immortalized on The Velvet Underground & Nico album, the forerunner of Punk Rock music and so much more in itself. That is the kind of film this is, delivering gifts that just keep on giving. A true classic, it is great to see it again and is yet another must-see film.

Fellini was far from finished as a giant thinker of filmmaking and a few years later, gave us 8 1/2 (1963), which stunned the world with its ongoing tale of a man (Mastroianni again) trying to tell a story while trying to express his life and having some difficulty getting all of his thoughts and feelings out of his system. At first, it seems we'll just get a challenging narrative with the usual Fellini touches, but then the film starts to take all kinds of interesting detours that still somehow seem to stay in context to our suffering protagonist. Clowns start to show up, we land up in places hat seem familiar yet otherworldly and yet, this is not science fiction or fantasy.

Still, we wait for the ending and it cannot seem to end or after 138 minutes, does not end. Why? What is Fellini saying? The results are often brilliant, added to the cinematic vocabulary and it is a beautiful film. It also so defined the often difficult frustrations viewers had in watching it from being used to easy-to-read book-like narrative films that it defined what a foreign film was. Decades later, a TV beer add recognized this with an insanely successful campaign that asked (including an amusing imitation of the visuals of this film) why are foreign films so... foreign?

It then suggested beer should not be that way, so just drink their simple beer and enjoy, but the ad inadvertently added to the reputation of this film. Especially because Fellini compromised nothing on this movie, that says something about its enduring success.

Extras on both Fellini Blu-rays include the 55-minutes long program The Magic Of Fellini, with Dolce adding a set of trailers of mostly his films, a too-brief Cinecitta, The Home Of Fellini clip, interviews with Ekberg, Maurizio Porro, Ekberg again with Mastroianni on the featurette Remembering The Sweet Life, an 8-minutes Cinema Forever piece and Fellini In New York (26 minutes) rounding out some nice extras. 8 1/2 adds a 55-minutes featurette called The Lost Ending (ha, ha) and Federico Fellini's Mysterious Journey, a featurette about a mysterious film project the genius never made entitled The Journey Of G. Mastorna that is very intriguing.

With all these movements in full swing and Godard abandoning his filmmaking style for his odd Maoist period, other voices appeared and this often included a more political cinema. Liliana Cavani's I Cannibali (aka The Year Of the Cannibals (1969) has a deglamourized, sometimes unrecognizable Britt Ekland playing an Italian woman furious her brother is dead and that a new law by the fascist Italian government will not allow her to even touch his body, let alone pick it up and give it a proper burial. He was dubbed a rebel, killed and is left to litter the street with hundreds of others as an example to anyone else who opposes their power.

She decides to do something about it, joined by a mysterious young man (Pierre Clementi, with referential Christ moments as the film attacks religious complacency, et al) grab the body and are on the run (not unlike Breathless) and haver to think of what they are going to do next. She is named Antigone and the classic Greek play is referenced here as well, but the film ultimately is a sometimes scathing (possibly Marxist) critique of any Fascism in the country that bred Mussolini.

The bodies (which would decay and worse if actually left on the streets as long as they are here) might remind some of Director Jamie Thraves' classic 1995 Music Video clip for Just by Radiohead that actually has subtitles and is shot widescreen. Whether it is saying the same thing is another matter, but the similarities are there in the best possible ways. Ekland has never been so good or bold, Tomas Milan rounds out the leading roles and all are backed by a solid supporting cast in a film that might sometimes also look like science fiction, but is something different.

Though I think Pasolini was able to go further in attacking the same things in Salo (1975, see the Criterion Blu-ray review elsewhere on this site), Cannibali is still a fine film in its own right and to have it on Blu-ray is a real plus.

Extras include a paperboard slipcase for the blue case, another text-rich, nicely illustrated booklet on the film as is the case with Raro releases, then the Blu-ray disc adds the Original Theatrical Trailer and an interview with Cavani that lasts just over 26 minutes.

The 1080p 1.33 X 1 black and white digital High Definition image transfers on Breathless and Bicycle can show the age of the materials used, but I have never seen either film look so good on video and plenty of hard work went into saving these films. The 1080p 2.35 X 1 black and white digital High Definition image transfer on Dolce (in the Totalscope format) is better than the U.S. DVD delivering the detail that format and transfer lacked despite offering a nice print and the 1080p 1.85 X 1 digital High Definition black and white image transfer on 8 1/2 like it and Breathless can show fine detail you might not expect.

The 1080p 2.35 X 1 digital High Definition image transfer on Cannibali was shot in two-perforation, vintage Techniscope and processed in 35mm dye-transfer, three-strip Technicolor prints. We get the usual grain, but the color is not bad, if not always what you would expect from a true Technicolor film print. Still, this transfer has its moments and the best efforts were obviously made to make this look good. Director of Photography Giulio Albonico, who worked with Cavani before, also lensed Dead Of Summer with Jean Seberg, The Savage Three and the Alain Delon Zorro from 1975. He could make memorable images and his work is really good here.

As for sound, all five films were theatrical monophonic releases and are here in different sound formats to represent their sound offered here in DTS-HD MA (Master Audio) 1.0 lossless Mono mixes save Bicycle, which is here in Dolby TrueHD 1.0 lossless Mono. Bicycle and Cannibali tend to be a little weaker, though the fine Ennio Morricone score on Cannibali is not as bad affected as it might have been, so someone did their best when restoring the audio.

To order any or all of the Umbrella import Blu-rays reviewed here, go to this link:


- Nicholas Sheffo


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