Blu-ray slight return: Special edition
It’s not surprising that I was into Living in Oblivion 20 years ago. Director and writer Tom DiCillo had already made the cool indie flick Johnny Suede (1991) and the film’s players Steve Buscemi, Catherine Keener, Dermot Mulroney and James Le Gros had dotted the then current landscape of films both studio and indie. Not to mention up and comers Peter Dinklage and Kevin Corrigan.
It’s not surprising that the 20th anniversary Blu-ray commands interest two decades later. Living in Oblivion (Shout Factory!, 11/17) sends up the art of filmmaking not unlike Day For Night in a grand humorous manner. There are other films that have movies within the movie like, say, Sullivan’s Travels or Sherlock, Jr., but Living in Oblivion lives or dies on the very fact that all the action takes place on a movie set.
The scenes of the production are grainy black and white while the filmed footage is brilliant color. There are squabbles galore the least of which has the at times genius director (Buscemi) berating every member of the cast and crew in a rapturous breakdown. If you are familiar with the chain of crews that are involved with making a film, any film, then LIO carries even more resonance.
Disc comes with superb extras like updated cast interviews and a film festival Q&A with DiCillo and Buscemi. DiCillo also helmed Box of Moonlight the year after Living in Oblivion and in all fairness there needs to be a 20th anniversary release of that title.
Two Men in Town (Cohen Media Group, 11/10) pairs French acting legends Alain Delon and Jean Gabin. Gabin plays a liberal lawyer who advocates prison reform. Delon is a newly released prisoner under the reform who despite trying to go straight gets caught in the web of his past associations. A young Gérard Depardieu pops up in one act playing a baddie. The film ends with a spectacular and expertly edited death penalty execution. Two Men in Town was made in 1973 but was obviously an influence of the ending of Kieslowski’ s 1988 A Short Film About Killing.
Two Men in Town was remade last year with Forest Whitaker as a Muslim ex-con and Harvey Keitel as his parole officer. Disc includes commentary with Gabin biographer Charles Zigman, known for his exhaustive book on Gabin’s life and career.
Applesauce (MPI Home Video, 11/24) stretches the bounds of narrative black comedy by starting out like a radio genre movie with Dylan Baker as a DJ who runs a controversial talk show. Only the gab isn’t political. Baker wants caller to tell him the worst thing they’ve ever done. Then the action switches to first one and then another couple. Eventually all sorts of past revelations come to the surface. And someone is mailing body parts to another. Disc includes commentary from director Onur Tukel and a blooper reel.
A Special Day (Criterion Collection, 10/13) takes place on a single day, an historical day May 8, 1938 when Hitler visited Rome and Mussolini and then King of Italy Victor Emmanuel III. The film is told with a combination of historical newsreels (the Nazis filmed everything) that documents the parade through the most famous roads of Rome and the intimate story of an unglamorous housewife and a homosexual awaiting deportation. Sophia Loren and Marcello Mastroianni play the lead roles spectacularly against type.
Hard to believe but it was the first time that Loren played a really doughty and homely character. Director Ettore Scola opens the film with a trick one-take sequence that took two weeks to shoot. The camera seems to come into the window of a common apartment in a building of hundreds of such rooms, and then proceeds to follow her from room to room as she wakes her sons and daughter and husband.
Scola desaturates the film to where it’s a brownish duo-chromatic mix highlighted by some low contrast reds and flesh color. Loren watches her family go off to watch the parade while she performs everyday domestic duties. She meets Mastroianni, a fellow neighbor, when he helps her rescue her pet bird (that’s flown the coop).
Political digress blends with the sensitive performances of Loren and Mastroianni.
They dance and they debate and in the end they separate. All the while the political ramification play out.
Excellent disc extras include the 2023 short film Human Voice, with Loren playing a cray cray femme who mourns the loss of her long lost love. Loren’s son Edoardo Ponti directed human Voice. Another extra has an hour of Loren and Mastroianni on The Dick Cavett Show and it expertly defines the scene of the late ‘70s.
— Michael Bergeron