Color, 1981, 91 mins. 1 sec.
Directed by Juliet Berto & Jean-Henri Roger
Starring Juliet Berto, Jean-François Stévenin, Robert Liensol, Patrick Chesnais, Jean-François Balmer
THE BITCH (LA GARCE)
Color, 1984, 92 mins. 54 secs.
Directed by Christine Pascal
Starring Isabelle Huppert, Richard Berry, Vittorio Mezzogiorno
Fun City Editions (Blu-ray) (US RA HD) / WS (1.66:1) (16:9)
Embarking on another one of its rare forays outside of the Big Apple, Fun City Editions returns to France with a double feature, two-disc Blu-ray set, Fatal Femmes, presented two early '80s thrillers from a female creative perspective. Neither one has had much exposure in North America before, and they should win over quite a few devotees now. First in 1981's Neige we head to the seedy Pigalle neighborhood of Paris where addicts, dealers, prostitutes, and other assorted outcasts from society. As much a sociological snapshot as a thriller, the film stars and was co-directed by Juliet Berto, who started off in Jean-Luc Godard films (most notably with a main role in La Chinoise) and headlined numerous Jacques Rivette classics including Celine and Julie Go Boating and Duelle. Cafe waitress Anita (Berto) is first seen at a stylish strip club warning her on-and-off dealer boyfriend Bobby about a major impending raid by the cops on the local heroin trade (the source of the title, which means "snow"), only for him to rebuff her saying God is on his side. From there we wander with her and Jocko (Liensol) through a colorful collection of characters and settings including a martial arts gym, an amusement park, and a slew of great outdoor location coverage. Eventually things will turn violent and potentially deadly among a cast of characters with a wide variety of racial and gender identities.
Released around the same time as the far more famous Diva and Coup de Torchon, Neige is a compelling watch with a clear-eyed view of how people scrape by on a daily basis when the cards are stacked against them. The story has enough twists to qualify as a thriller, albeit a fairly low-voltage one, and at times it feels like a Gallic take on what would come right in the U.S with Vice Squad. The portrayal of the police is even handed as well, offering a variety of opinions about their approach to crime that ranges from a well-intentioned uphill battle to "fighting evil with evil." Of course, one of the biggest draws of the film is its capturing of 1981 Paris in all its glory, with the sounds of Pac-Man gurgling in the background and lots of shots of Berto and company wandering up and down streets that have changed quite a bit in the last four decades. The transfer of Neige presented here on the first Blu-ray comes from a 4K restoration by JHR Films and StudioCanal from the original negatives, completed by the dreaded L'Immagine Ritrovata under the supervision of Renato Berta in 2020. There isn't really much out there for comparison but it looks very solid in motion with excellent detail and a strong spectrum of colors; the film uses a lot of natural lighting (or fluorescent lights in some scenes) but what we see here is presumably how it's supposed to look. The DTS-HD MA French 2.0 mono track is in pristine shape and comes with optional English subtitles. In addition to a newly created trailer and a 3m34s image gallery, the film comes with a very worthwhile new audio commentary by Samm Deighan who focuses a great deal of Berto in terms of her acting, personal life, political awakening, and career as a filmmaker before her untimely death.
Then on disc two we get a very provocative thriller starring one of France's all-time greatest actors, Isabelle Huppert, in what feels like a companion piece of sorts to her Paul Verhoeven classic, Elle. Here in The Bitch (La garce), she plays Aline, a teenager who gets picked up one night by a cop on patrol, Lucien (Une chambre en ville's Berry), an encounter that escalates to him sexually assaulting her against a car. She and her family press charges against Lucien, who goes to jail for six years and (understandably) ends up losing his family in the process. Upon his release, he gets a gig as a private detective for one of his former colleagues and is assigned to investigate a fashion employee, Edith, which turns out to be a new identity for Aline; her complicated current life also involves her ex, Max (The Wounded Man's Mezzogiorno), who has criminal ties and might not be over her at all. As Lucien tries to unravel what happened in those intervening years that led to this strange state of affairs and why he was given this assignment, things take an even more perverse turn.
Directed by Christine Pascal (Adultère, mode d'emploi), this is a dark and stylish thriller with a strong noir vibe that justifies the title of this set. In keeping with many French films from around this time, it's tough to pin down genre-wise as it mixes character drama, very touchy subject matter, and an art-house sensibility that had a fairly limited number of slots for export consideration. Following the critical debacle of Heaven's Gate, Huppert had bounced back with a vengeance at home and abroad by this point with films like Entre Nous and My Best Friend's Girl (with Sincerely Charlotte about to follow), but this one fell through the cracks a bit with its confrontational nature making it a dicey prospect when there were more genteel competitors around like A Sunday in the Country.
Again the presentation here is a solid HD scan provided by StudioCanal for a title that will be new to virtually every U.S. viewer, with its numerous nighttime scenes looking crystal clear throughout. Likewise, the French DTS-HD MA 2.0 mono track sounds excellent and features optional English subtitles. The disc also features a new trailer, a 3m7s gallery (including promotional material for the alternate English title, The Man Hunt), and another substantive commentary by Deighan, who hones in on Pascal a great deal while also going into Huppert's importance, ties to other filmmakers like Bertrand Tavernier, and the approach to transgressive subject matter in the hands of a female filmmaker. The set also comes with an insert booklet featuring essays by Jessica Felrice, Steve Macfarlane and Alexandra Heller-Nicholas covering the two films' approach to social class, rape-revenge narratives, and gender relationships.
Reviewed on October 28, 2023