Thursday, August 24, 2006

L'Enfer (Hell) (2005)

L'Enfer (Hell)L'enfer tells the story of three sisters, all going their separate ways after a childhood trauma, and all living their own version of the Hell of the title.

The eldest sister suspects her husband of an affair and struggles to find the evidence she needs to confront him. The middle sister has effectively given up her life to look after her wheelchair-bound mother, until an attractive stranger appears and seems to be stalking her, perhaps with a romantic interest? The youngest sister is having an affair with an older married man and is madly in love with him, but he seems to be losing interest! The situations all three sisters find themselves in will take them down paths that don't make for cheerful viewing, and will ultimately result in them meeting up again to resolve some unanswered questions about the trauma that initially separated them and may be the cause of their salvation.

The first thing to say about the film, presented in French with subtitles, is it's a visually lush movie, albeit one that jumps between the three different stories (one for each sister) so rapidly that things can feel confusing and disjointed for the first half hour. The film has been called 'a woman's film' in some quarters, but that seems unfair given the poetic beauty the piece has. It's true that the few men in the piece have limited screen time, but that doesn't make the film any less interesting for men. That being said, this isn't a film for those who like a good strong, clearly linear storyline. It is a film for those who like quality indie cinema, and feels very much like a coffee-table book brought to life, featuring stunning cinematography, and subtle, quality acting but ultimately feeling rather empty for all that.

This is director Danis Tanovic's second movie, the first - No Man's Land - having won the oscar for Best Foreign Film in 2002, but it's a very different film in look and style. Alas, while the film certainly feels more 'grown up' and more 'big budget' than Tanovic's previous offering, it doesn't feel quite as good a movie. The disjointed nature of the film is too confusing and at times it's just a little TOO lethargic. Also one never really believes the three women featured are actually sisters - they're so different in looks and temperament, and the idea that they would never have contacted each other, but seem happy to see each other when they eventually do meet up, seems too far-fetched. However, the cast do the best with what they're given, and the musical score beautifully underlines some wonderful imagery. As such, this is well worth a viewing.

Unfortunately the DVD loses a couple of points for the transfer - the transfer isn't bad but it's non-anamorphic, which is unforgiveable in this day and age. It's amusing to see all the promises being made for HD-DVD and Blu-Ray's gimmicks and features that MIGHT be implemented on some releases when 10 years on we're still getting DVD transfers that are as shoddy as this and don't make use of all the features the format promised when first launched. The DVD does get a thumbs-up for the excellent hour long 'Making of' that is the only extra included here - it's very well put together, features all the cast and the director, and feels more like a good documentary than a marketing piece. Definitely worth a viewing, but not a purchase unless you really don't care about big screen picture quality.

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