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Category:    Home > Reviews > Drama > Melodrama > Poverty > School > Japan > Widower > Italy > Crime > Japan > Relationships > France > Oppres > Mamabar Pierrette (2023*)/Monster (2023/Well Go Blu-ray)/Misunderstood (1966**)/Shape Of Night (1964/**both MVD/Radiance Blu-rays)/Spare Keys (2022 aka Fifi/*both Icarus DVDs)/Yuni (2021/Film Movement

Mamabar Pierrette (2023*)/Monster (2023/Well Go Blu-ray)/Misunderstood (1966**)/Shape Of Night (1964/**both MVD/Radiance Blu-rays)/Spare Keys (2022 aka Fifi/*both Icarus DVDs)/Yuni (2021/Film Movement DVD)

Picture: C+/B-/B-/B/C/C+ Sound: C+/B-/C+/B-/C+/C+ Extras: C/C-/C+/C+/C-/C- Films: C+/C+/C+/B-/C/B-

Now for a group of foreign dramas, old and new...

Rosine Mbakam's Mamabar Pierrette (2023) is the documentary filmmakers first scripted work, telling the story of the title seamstress (Pierrette Aboheu Njeuthat) who is trying to build her business and name while raising a family, but she is about to encounter more than a few turns of misfortune and how she deals with it will determine possibly the rest of the course of her life.

Running a tight 94 minutes, it feels real, has some good performances from its cast if unknowns and is well directed enough. I don't know if I would have liked it more if it were longer or if Mbakam had come up with a few twists or unexpected ideas in the time she had, but I did feel I had seen some of this before. Otherwise, it sets up a look and feel that it manages to stay with and for those interested, they'll find it worth a good look.

Extras include a 15-minutes-long interview with the director.

Kore-Eda Hirokazu's Monster (2023) offers a strange twist on the unusual situation it offers; a young child seems to be getting harassed and bullied by his teacher in school, leaving his mother shocked and deciding to confront the whole school system. They actually do nothing and have no explanations, but is the harassment because the teacher is bad, some kind of predator (sexual or not) and what does this say about the character of the school and Japanese society it takes place in?

Not very memorable, the problem is this runs over two hours and is really, really uneven in how it deals with its issues and situations, more frustrating when you get some good moments and the actors are really trying. A highlight for many is that the music score is by Ryuichi Sakamoto, delivering a score that makes this more watchable than it would have been otherwise. Unfortunately, the script is not able to take on in total what it sets out to and the results are disappointing.

A trailer is the only extra.

Luigi Comencini's Misunderstood (1966) is a decent Italian melodrama about a widowed father (the underrated British actor Anthony Quayle) and his two sons (Stefano Colagrande and Simone Giannozzi,) the younger of whom has not been told the truth about his mother. Of course, this kind of secret cannot last and can only be perpetuated for so long, so complications will soon ensue.

I know I saw this a long, long time ago and realized this in about the middle of watching. I had the same mixed response then that I do now, was there not an easier way or different way to handle such a depressing situation if one were there? Especially these days, lying to children always strikes me a creepy and it is worse now than ever, but that is even a separate essay.

The look and feel of the film can also be depressing with its slightly muted colors and it is also part of a cycle of films with children that Truffaut launched with The 400 Blows in 1959 where the children are portrayed as more realistic, naturalistic and honest. No phony acting here and since this is Italian, it also leans on Italian Neorealism. That all works, but the last reel or two of the film, become a bit convoluted (seeing Quayle being dubbed in Italian is odd in a separate way) and the ending is too melodramatic for its own good. Still, this has some nice moments and Quayle proves once again how solid an actor he was. The rest of the supporting Italian cast is also joined by the great British character actor John Sharp.

Extras (per the press release) include:

  • Interview with co-screenwriter Piero De Bernardi and Cristina Comenicini, the director's daughter and herself a noted filmmaker (2008, 36 mins)

  • Interview with legendary critic Michel Ciment (2021, 24 mins)

  • A Child's Heart: a visual essay by David Cairns on Comencini and the filmmaker's affinity for childhood stories (2023, 25 mins)

  • Trailer

  • Newly translated English subtitles

  • Reversible sleeve featuring designs based on original promotional materials

  • and a Limited Edition booklet featuring new writing by critic Manuela Lazic and a newly translated archival interview with Comencini.

Noburo Nakamura's The Shape Of Night (1964) is the real surprise of the pack here, a serious drama set in Japan about a woman (Miyuki Kuwano) is dating a man from the Japanese ganger organization the Yakuza and as things get worse in the relationship that she would have been better off without, he pushes her into prostitution. What could have been a plain old color-rich melodrama like those of Wong Kar-wai and Douglas Sirk lands up being darker and offers something different.

We get a character study of the people, of crime, of Japan and a statement that no matter how much the country has rebuilt itself up post-WWII, some things never change and in a society where 'man is king' and the like, any progress could slide back very quickly and that the country has a long way to go to grow in better ways as it did after the film was originally released. Of course, this kind of crime is always in all countries, no matter what, but the film (from its script to its impressive, memorable images and impactful use of scope framing) pulls off what it wants to show and say. Save a few small points that have aged oddly or might not work as well, The Shape Of Night is a key film from Japan and an underrated one at that. Glad it is here, restored and given top treatment by Radiance.

Extras are fine too and (per the press release) include:

  • Visual essay on the artistic upheavals at Shochiku studios during the 1960s by Tom Mes

  • Original Theatrical Trailer

  • New and improved English subtitle translation

  • Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Time Tomorrow

  • Limited Edition booklet featuring new writing by Chuck Stephens

  • and Limited Edition of 3000 copies, presented in full-height Scanavo packaging with removable OBI strip leaving packaging free of certificates and markings.

Jeanne Aslan and Paul Saintillan's Spare Keys (2022 aka Fifi) has an interesting premise with a young 15-year-old French gal (Celeste Brunnquell as Fifi) driven nuts by her toxic family and life with them, so she gets to stay at a good friend's house while that family is away. Now free from the stress and dysfunction, but the twist comes when the brother of her friend (Quentin Dolmaire) shows up unannounced and learns of the temporary arrangement. Then they start to develop a relationship, but where will it go?

Now whether a gal her age should be alone in any place is highly debatable, but leaving that aside, that set-up is supposed to be about the coming-of-age theme the screenplay tries to address and only gets so far with. The acting is decent and this is shot well enough, but I don;t think it delivers as much as it could have with its premise and even if she was more 'of age' that would not matter because it is about the script structure and not that side issue. If it is a curio to you, try it out, but I think others will not be as impressed.

Extras include Original Theatrical Trailers.

Kamila Andini's Yuni (2021) has Awarinda Kirana as the title character, brought up in an Islamic society, yet yearning to be free and find herself and a good man, which is why she just rejected a marriage proposal which was bad, had nothing to it and she knew would doom her further. A character study of Indonesia, Islam and the people there, it is not bad at all and juggles all the issues very well.

The actors are also good, but Kirana carries the film and stands out as she needs to for this to work. Only running 95 minutes, it can feel longer, but not in a bad way and you get to experience the oppressive feel of things as she does, which is not an easy thing to pull off. It may not be for everyone, but it is one of the more successful import dramas I have seen of late, so it is recommended for those who a really interested.

Extras include Original Theatrical Trailers.

Now for playback performance. The 1080p 1.85 X 1 digital High Definition image on Misunderstood is not bad, though it has some minor flaws and despite being a dye-transfer, three-strip Technicolor 35mm film release in some markets, color can be a little on the dull side beyond what the makers might have intended. You still get some great shots, but not always.

The 1080p 2.35 X 1 digital High Definition image transfer on Night can show its age was shot in what was called Shochiku Grandscope, which was better than the old CinemaScope format, but is not as impressive as the better scope lenses since. But color is just as impressive and the Shochiku Studios were using Fuji 35mm color negative often (like Fuji 25T 8512) as well as some Eastman Kodak color 35mm film, but odds are this is Fuji. Either way, it looks really good and that it survived looking this good is a plus.

Both offer PCM 2.0 Mono that is as good as these films will pretty much ever sound, with some solid restoration work on both.

The 1080p 2.35 X 1 digital High Definition image transfer can on Monster is done with a certain dark and even slightly faded style in certain ways, but tends to be softer and more off than you would expect from a recent HD shoot. Even color is affected and the overall presentation is not that good, making it the weakest of the blu-rays here. The DTS-HD MA (Master Audio) 5.1 lossless mix is also a little lacking in soundfield and overall impact, so the overall presentation is not what it could or should be.

Are three DVDs are here in anamorphically enhanced 1.85 X 1 image, save Keys in 1.66 X 1, which is the softest of the three and softest presentation here, despite some good color. All can be soft and trying in the older format, but that's what you get. All of the DVDs also offer lossy Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo mixes (Belgian, et al, in the case of Mamabar) and Yuni also offers lossy, Indonesian Dolby Digital 5.1, which are fine and all about on par with each other. DVD is low def, so you know what you are getting into when you get and watch one.

- Nicholas Sheffo


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