Thursday, May 20, 2021

THE COOL LAKES OF DEATH (1982) (Cult Epics Blu-ray Review)


Label: Cult Epics
Duration: 125 Minutes
Region Code: Region-Free
Rating: Unrated 
Audio: Dutch LPCM 2.0 Mono, Dutch DTS-HD MA 2.0 Mono with Optional English subtitles
Video: 1080p HD Widescreen (1.66:1)
Director: Nouchka van Brakel
Cast: Renée Soutendijk, Derek de Lint, Erik van 't Wout, Lettie Oosthoek, Krijn ter Braak, Adriaan Olree

The third film from pioneering Dutch feminist filmmaker 
Nouchka van Brakel (The Debut) is a lush period melodrama beginning in the year 1869, starring Renée Soutendijk (Eve of Destruction) as young girl named Hedwig, who experiences the tragic loss of her mother. Not long after while at a cemetery she meets an aspiring artist named Johan (Erik van 't Wout, A Bridge Too Far), and develops a crush on him. Later at home she fantasizes about him while masturbates, but is caught by her cruel governess (Lettie Oosthoek, Amsterdamned) who reports the sinful activity to her strict religious father (Krijn ter Braak, TV's Poltergeist: The Legacy), who beats her for it, with the Governess almost cursing her by saying that she will be unable to have children as she walks out the door. Afterward she attempts suicide by hanging but fails. 

Three years later Hedwig is a young woman coming into her own, she meets clandestinely with the lower-class Johan, but is emotionally conflicted their relationship, and while he want to marry she says to him that they should remain friends, which does not sit well with the lovelorn artist. She instead marries the more established and buttoned-down notary Gerrard (Adriaan Olree, Ciske the Rat), which sends the lovesick artist on a path to suicide, shooting himself in the heart with a pistol at the spot where he and Hedwig would secretly meet. 

Married life for Hedwig proves largely unsatisfying and begins to fall into a depression. While consulting with his wife's physician he confesses to the doctor that dabbled in homosexuality as a young man, but has since sworn it off. The doctor advises him that a lack of intimacy is more than likely what's depressing his wife, and wanting to make her happy he dutifully engages her in the bedroom, but the experience is so awkward and heartbreaking it only further fuels the depresses Hedwig. She later again attempts to kill herself with the pistol Johan killed himself with, only to be stopped by her husband at the last second.

In an effort to heal her emotional troubles Gerrard sends her to a seaside resort for rest and relaxation, and there she meets pianist Ritsaart (Derek de Lint) who sweeps her off her feet and becomes her lover. Later the pianist visits the village where she lives and is reunited with her, and the pair once more find themselves in each other's arms. She confesses her love for the pianist to Gerrard who attempts to shoot Ritsaart, but not before she once again attempts suicide by slicing open her wrist in the bathtub. Once more the attempt fails when water leaking from the bathroom alerts both Gerrard and Ritsaart to what's happening, and seeing how much Ritsaart loves her Gerrard lets her leave with Gerrard to live abroad with pianist in France.

Now with Ritsaart she becomes pregnant, but the pregnancy is difficult and the child is born early and weak, dying a few days later. At this point the film has established cracks in Hedwig's fragile state of mind, but after the difficult birthing she quickly spirals into a post-partum psychosis, unable to differentiate between fantasy and reality. An unhinged trip searching for Ritsaart finds her lost within a fantasy, clinging to a man she believes to be her husband, who ends up robbing her and dumping her on a train to Paris. She ends up at asylum for a period of time, but it released by a doctor who calms her nerves with a shot of morphine. She becomes a morphine addict, resorting to turning tricks to supply her habit, until wasted and weak she collapses. She wakes up in a French hospital run by Catholic nuns, where she is cured of her addiction by the compassionate Sister Paula (Claire Wauthion), and returns home to atone and hopefully find peace. 

Of her first three films this is by several measures Nouchka van Brakel most deeply emotional and richly nuanced film. Not just in the raw emotion of the astounding performance by Renée Soutendijk, but in the lush period settings and costuming, its a complete package with a lot of emotional depth. Seeing Hedwig as a headstrong young girl transform into a conflicted, sensual woman, and then into depression and unhinged mental illness, prostitution and drug addiction is gut-wrenching, its quite an emotional trip, and Soutendijk is simply wonderful. I thought her attraction to artists and her effect on the artists themselves was quite interesting, there's a lot of emotional depth to the film and it effected me deeply.. It was also great to see actor Peter Faber from A Woman Like Eve  in a small but curious role playing a morphine-addicted artist who loves needling Hedwig about her tragic effect on his dead friend Johan, the painter who committed suicide. 

Another highlight is the warm, painterly cinematography
from Theo van de Sande (Blade) that captures the period detail and texture with an arthouse attention to detail. The night scenes lit by natural candlelight with the warmth reflected off the characters glowing skin and soft-filtered scenes of madness, tragedy and sorrow look like a gloomy painting brought to life, it's just a gorgeous, moody and atmospheric looking film. 

Reversible Artwork

Audio/Video: The Cool Lakes of Death (1982) debuts on Blu-ray for the first time in North America from Cult Epics with a newly restored high-definition 4K transfer from the original 35mm print in 1080p HD, framed in 1.66:1 widescreen. The source is in fine shape, we do get some white speckling, a tiny bit of fading and minor blemishes, but overall it's a solid looking presentation with warm natural looking colors and a good amount of fine detail in the period clothing and textures. Some of the soft focus filtering inherent to the cinematography saps detail and clarity, and being sourced from a 35mm print and not the camera negative, or interpositive, it does lose some of the fine grain detail and nuance, particaurly in the softer, gauzier looking scenes. That said this is a wonderful looking presentation, it's a gorgeously lensed film and the Blu-ray is complimentary. 

Audio comes by way of Dutch LPCM 2.0 Mono or a newly created Dutch DTS-HD MA 2.0 mono with optional English subtitles. Both are clean and well-balanced mono presentations, the Dutch dialogue come through strong on both, and the score from Erik van der Wurff and 
Erik van 't Wout sounds terrific, it's quite a haunting score. 

None of the Cult Epics Nouchka van Brakel releases have been overly heavy on extras, and this one is no exception, but we do get a small compliment of extras. There's the 2-minutes Polygoon Journal Newsreel (1982, HD) that covers the fanfare of the initial release at the cinema, 2-minutes of Poster & Photo Gallery of lobby cards, movie posters and promotional still, and a series of Theatrical Trailers. The single-disc release arrives in a clear keepcase with a sleeve or reversible artwork with original & newly designed art.

Special Features: 
- New 4K HD Transfer (from original 35mm print) & Restoration
- Original LPCM 2.0 Mono track
- New Dutch DTS-HD MA 2.0 Mono track
- Polygoon Journal Newsreel (1982, HD) (2 min) 
- Poster & Photo Gallery (2 min) 
- Cult Epics Trailers: The Cool Lakes of Death (4 min), The Debut (3 min), My Nights with Susan, Sandra, Olga & Julie (2 min), A Woman Like Eve (3 min) 
- Limited Edition Packaging featuring Original & Newly Designed Art 

The Cool Lakes of Death (1982) is a gorgeous period melodrama that is both a beautiful and deeply unsettling watch. This Nouchka van Brakel journey I've been on, courtesy of distributor Cult Epics, has been fascinating, and this entry in particular is one of my favorite discoveries of this year. The Debut, A Woman Like Eve, and The Cool Lakes of Death are currently available on standalone DVD and Blu-ray releases, and the trilogy will be released on June 8th, also from Cult Epics, with a limited edition slipcover and 16-page booklet. 

Screenshots from the Blu-ray: