Black Moon (Blu-ray)
Directed by Louis Malle
Aspect Ratio: 1.66:1 1080p AVC codec
Running Time: 100 minutes
Audio: PCM 1.0 English, French
MSRP: $ 39.95
Release Date: June 28, 2011
Review Date: June 27, 2011
It takes quite a bit of chutzpah to go from a point of near-universal acclaim for your film Lacombe Lucien and then offer something as irritating as Black Moon as your next cinematic endeavor, but that’s exactly what Louis Malle did, and he certainly rolled snake eyes with this one. A garbled, singularly plotless and pointless exercise in symbolic fantasy, Black Moon leaves its explanations and interpretations to each viewer, but that’s not enigmatic writing; it’s lazy writing (Malle called it his way of performing automatic writing in cinematic terms, filming things as they came to him). Whatever it is, Black Moon will likely prove unsatisfying for many, its occasionally effective symbol or a sometimes stunning bit of cinematic composition notwithstanding.
Young Lily (Cathryn Harrison) stumbles into a time and place where a literal battle of the sexes is raging, and forced out of her car, she gropes through a dense forest until she comes upon a rather idyllic farmhouse on some beautifully tended acreage that seems to house a brother (Joe Dallesandro) and sister (Alexandra Stewart) both named Lily, an old lady (Therese Giehse) who communicates with the outside world through a short wave radio set and a chatty rat, a group of naked children who go squealing through the property with their pig friend, some wildflowers that scream when they’re stepped on, and a unicorn who can also communicate in English when he has something of import to say. With the sexual war infringing on the farm, Lily knows it’s just a matter of time before they’re all going to be swept into the fighting.
Yes, Malle has fashioned his own kind of cockeyed Alice in Wonderland, but nothing is very much fun or indeed very interesting apart from the occasionally rather heavy-handed symbolic themes that occur and recur with regularity: ridding ourselves of pre-conceived notions of beauty, the over reliance on speech as a means of communication, learning compassion through our differences rather than through our similarities. The film is not a total loss with this material, and the legendary cinematographer Sven Nykvist makes sure that a steady stream of memorable images is brought to us (truly the only aspect of the movie that would foster multiple viewings). There’s an intriguing focus on nature as creatures we might normally consider ugly (preying mantis, millipede, roaches, snakes slithering into the frame at regular intervals and in one memorable shot, around Lily’s leg and up her skirt) get close attention. There’s a compelling painting of an eagle being decapitated that seems to happen in real time later in the film. And the unicorn is unlike any unicorn ever pictured in literature or cinema. But, even the relatively brief 100-minute running time seems endless with no story and no characters possessing any intriguing identification factor.
Malle has cast young actors who are basically ciphers on whom we can project our own interpretations. Cathryn Harrison does get to show an occasional moment of pique as various encounters shock her during her weird excursion onto this mythical farmland, but her lack of performing variety doesn’t aid the picture in garnering our rapt attention consistently. Joe Dallesandro and Alexandra Stewart are both exquisite looking, and that’s the point: glamorous shells with nothing inside though their late-film explosion of anger and bitterness seems to bring that tired battle of the sexes theme into the tranquility of the homestead and saying it’s inevitable. So what else is new? Therese Giehse dies and comes back to life, argues, begs, sweet-talks, and jeers her way through the movie in the only performance here with some real vivacity and human interest.
The film’s theatrical aspect ratio of 1.66:1 is presented in 1080p using the AVC codec. The look of the film for the most part (certainly once Lily gets to the farm) is warm with expertly dialed-in contrast and color saturation that’s just on the edge of desaturation. Flesh tones look very realistic. Black levels are not optimum, however, and there are some odd shots that are blurry (a couple of tire-level shots when Lily is driving early-on in the film), but most of the beautiful cinematography is crisp and clear. The film has been divided into 19 chapters.
The audio tracks (English and French) are both PCM 1.0 (1.1 Mbps) with English as the default track and the one I used for the purposes of this review. There is some low level hiss that is quite noticeable when things get quiet, and the film was post synched which doesn’t always match lip movements and sometimes sounds a bit drab. Sound effects and music, particularly some arias by Richard Wagner, have above average fidelity and are mixed with surety with the dialogue track.
A 1975 archival interview with Louis Malle allows the director to explain what he was going for with the film and shows his pride in what he accomplished. Filmed for French TV, this 12-minute vignette is in 1080i.
There is a stills gallery featuring thirty-four black and white and color shots both on the set and behind-the-scenes with cast and crew which may be stepped through by the viewer.
The film’s theatrical trailer runs for 2 minutes in 1080p.
The enclosed 18-page booklet contains cast and crew lists, some accurate color stills from the movie, and film professor Ginette Vincendeau’s look at Malle’s career pre and post Black Moon.
The Criterion Blu-rays include a maneuvering tool called “Timeline” which can be pulled up from the menu or by pushing the red button on the remote. It shows you your progress on the disc and the title of the chapter you’re now in. Additionally, two other buttons on the remote can place or remove bookmarks if you decide to stop viewing before reaching the end of the film or want to mark specific places for later reference.
2.5/5 (not an average)
If ever a film cried out for an audio commentary, Louis Malle’s Black Moon is it, but one is not forthcoming on this Criterion release. A strange and off-putting exercise in surreal symbolism and individual interpretation, Black Moon isn’t a very satisfying experience, but Criterion’s Blu-ray presents the look and sound of the picture splendidly.