Thursday, April 29, 2021

THE DEBUT (1977) (Cult Epics Blu-ray Review)

THE DEBUT (1977) 

Label: Cult Epics
Region: Region-Free
Rating: Unrated 
Duration: 95 Minutes
Video: 1080p HD Widescreen (1.66:1)
Audio: Dutch LPCM 2.0 Mono, DTS-HD MA 2.0 Mono with Optional English Subtitles 
Director: Nouchka van Brakel
Cast: Marina de Graaf, Gerard Cox, Pleuni Touw, Kitty Courbois

Cult Epics release of the Dutch filmmaker Nouchka van Brakel's Dutch Lolita-esque film The Debut (1977) is part of a trilogy of the director's early works that the distributor has released, the others being A Woman Like Eve and The Cool Lakes of Death. This was van Brakel's debut feature film and is based on the controversial novel by Hester Albach. The taboo themes were assuredly controversial in it's time, and even still watching it today it was a bit shocking.

The Debut tells the taboo story of the forbidden love between fourteen year-old highschooler Carolien Sanders (Marina de Graaf) and middle-aged married Hugo (Gerard Cox), who is a friend of her fathers who is visiting during the Christmas holidays with his wife. The delicately explored relationship is seen through the eyes of the young girl as she comes of age and begins to explore her sexuality in an unconventional way.

Seeing the events unfold from the perspective of the teen girl is interesting, she initiates the romance during a moment of unexpected sexual tension that occurs while frolicking on the beach, and then both end up following through on it during a later nighttime walk around the city that sees them breaking into her highschool gymnasium for some illegal frisky business. Seeing the married man encourage the flirtation and follow through on his desires for the fourteen year old is absolutely cringe and creepy, but the way that Nouchka van Brakel explores the relationship through the girl's eyes tends to avoid the typical male fantasy exploitable elements of the situation, though the sensual eroticism of it is intact.

The film also thoughtfully explores Carolien's friendship with her teen bestie Susan (Wendy Ferwerda, Flesh and Blood), depicting the strain on their bond when Carolien confides in her that she has lost her virginity to an older, married man, which absolutely repulses her friend. Carolien also begins to feel jealousy towards Hugo's quite pleasant wife Rita (Pleuni Touw), jealousy being a new, overwhelming experience for the teen, which she does not handle well initially, resulting in an outburst at a family celebration. An interesting subplot is how her mother Anne (Kitty Courbois) deals with her daughter's blossoming sexuality and a request to be put on the contraceptive pill, as well as how her father Peter (Dolf de Vries), ironically a gynecologist by trade, fails to comprehend what is happening to his own daughter both before his very eyes with his best friend, and completely under his nose.

This was a terrific coming-of-age drama, it's well-acted, emotionally complex, and offers plenty of nudity courtesy of star Marina de Graaf who was 18 at the time the film was made. Coming from the teen's perspective and under the direction of Van Brackel the nudity manages to be less exploitive that it is a celebration of a young woman exploration of her sexuality.

The film is not lurid in a exploitation sort of way, though there is an offscreen sexual assault, but there's plenty of scenes of de Graaf nude as she explores the sensual relationship with the older man. A scene of a fully nude de Graafe in a bathing scene with her mother seemed odd at first blush, but also quite beautifulThat might be off-putting to contemporary American prude-values, but wouldn't the world be a better place if all mother and daughters experienced this sort of openness and closeness with each other? 

Also fascinating is the character of Hugo, the middle-aged man who certainly knows better but is seduced by the excitement of having an affair with the much younger, not legal, and exciting young girl. Its all rather unsettling to be honest, and seeing him lose control of himself, so completely obsessed, but also occasionally annoyed by her youthful, naïve, and totally appropriate teen behaviors. Eventually he becomes overbearing and near violent when she begins to pull away from him as she begins to recognize the disparity of the affair.

The scene that affected me the most comes at the very end, there's a moment of emotional recognition between mother and daughter that seriously tugged at my heart, its a powerful scene that says so much without actually verbalizing it. It's a powerful moment that I as a father of three daughters  recognize as something that seems completely out of reach to me as a father. There's will always that connection between a mother and her daughter that will always be just out of reach, and this film nails it with an emotionally raw, tear-filled embrace.

Audio/Video: Nouchka van Brakel’s The Debut (1977) makes it's North American Blu-ray debut courtesy of distributor Cult Epics with a new high-definition transfer sourced from an archival 35mm print of the film. The 1080p HD image framed in 1.66:1 widescreen looks quite good, grain can be a bit course in spots but colors appear accurate and well-saturated. Black levels are deep but shadow detail can be a bit murky, and skin tons are warm and inviting.

Audio comes by way of original both Dutch LPCM 2.0 Mono or a newly created Dutch DTS-HD MA 2.0 Mono option, both with optional English subtitles. The tracks are clean and well-balanced, dialogue is strong, and the score from first-time and only time composer Robert Westerberg sounds quite good. I toggled back and forth during my viewing and was hard-pressed to favor one over the other. 

Extras on the disc are in short supply, we get the 2-min Polygoon Journal Newsreel, an archival black and white new broadcast from 1977 covering the making of the film, a 2-min Poster & Photo Gallery, plus a trailer for the film and other Cult Epics titles.

The single-disc release arrives in a clear keepcae with an attractive reversible sleeve of artwork featuring the original illustrated theatrical movie poster and a newly designed option that offers uniformity of the Nouchka van Brakel trilogy of films being released by Cult Epics. The disc itself features an image from the film. 

Special Features: 
- New HD Transfer (from original 35mm print)
- Original LPCM Dutch 2.0 Mono Audio
- New Dutch DTS-HD MA 2.0 Mono Audio 
- Polygoon Journal Newsreel (1977, HD) (2 min)
- Poster & Photo Gallery (2 min)
- Theatrical Trailers
- Limited Edition Packaging featuring Original & Newly Designed Art 

Cult Epics' recent spate of titles from Nouchka van Brakel has opened my eyes to a director I likely would never had heard of otherwise, and that's always an exciting prospect. I was only lukewarm on A Woman Like Eve but after seeing this I went back to revisit it and it resonated a bit more on second watch, which has me excited to catch-up with The Cool Lakes of Death. If you crave risqué, Lolita-esque coming-of-age stories this taboo yet touching drama comes highly regarded.