Friday, July 21, 2023

BROKEN MIRRORS (1984) (Cult Epics Blu-ray Review)

aka Gebroken spiegels

Label: Cult Epics 
Region Code: Region-Free
Rating: Unrated 
Duration: 111 Minutes 55 Seconds 
Audio: Original LPCM 2.0 Mono, 
New DTS-HD MA 2.0 Mono with Optional English Subtitles 
Video: 1080p HD Widescreen (1.66:1) 
Director: Marleen Gorris
Cast: Lineke Rijxman, Henriette Tol, Edda Barends, Carla Hardy, Marijke Veugelers, Arline Renfurm, Anke van 't Hof, Hedda Oledzky, Coby Stunnenberg, Johan Leysen, Edda Barends

Broken Mirrors (1984) is the second film from Dutch director Marleen Gorris (A Question of Silence), a documentary-esque slice of life situated in an Amsterdam brothel where we bare witness the life of whores. We see them ply their trade to men who pay for sex, clients range from awkward, to creepy and weird, rowdy, or an extreme case, a sexual deviant intent on violence, it's not a pretty picture, but it's told in a very matter of fact way that plays down what could easily have been something quite exploitative. Our character entry point is Diane (
Lineke Rijxman, Antonia's Line), a mother and housewife burdened with a dopesick out-of-work husband (Matthias Maat, The Lift) who turns to prostitution at the brothel to make ends meet. The ladies of the brothel offer a strong ensemble cast, the most prominent being the striking Dora (Henriëtte Tol, the secretary character from Gorris' A Question of Silencewho takes Diane under her wing with whom a friendship emerges. The other women include Irma (Carla Hardy), Francine (Marijke Veugelers), Tessa (Arline Renfurm), Linda (Anke van 't Hof) and Jacky (Hedda Oledzky), plus house madame Ellen (Coby Stunnenberg), and their Boss (Johan Leysen, Brotherhood of the Wolf). The women are a tightknit and sometime fractious grouping, we are privy to their backstories as they share them amongst each other, of the disparate circumstances that brought them to work at the brothel; some have issues with drugs and depression, issues that are depicted matter-of-factly without moral judgment.

There's also a parallel story, that of a faceless serial killer who stalks and abducts women, imprisoning them concrete walled room, and eventually dumping their corpses next to bodies of water. A woman named Beau (Edda Barends, A Question of Silence) is abducted and chained to a bed that cold, cement walled room where he snaps polaroid pictures of her and posts them on a wall covered with cruel images of his previous victims. He starves and degrades her, creepily observing her but never speaking despite her pleas for him to communicate with her. 

Eventually the two storylines converge at the brothel, after an already harrowing night of violence the killer arrives in a most unexpected way, proving to be a pivotal point in the lives of both Diane and Dora who both desire more from life that to be whores. Gorris' direction is deft, the script is strong, and the cast is uniformly excellent, you care about these women, Diane and Dora are particularly fleshed out with threads that inform their characters. Outside of her sex work the seemingly jaded Dora dotes over an elderly homeless man who lives in a shack nearby, and when he is taken away it's effect on her is devastating. Meanwhile Diane struggles to raise a young child, balancing her time at the brothel with being a mother, while her dopesick husband is useless. The killer is enigmatic in that we don't know a lot about him, other than he holds down an office job, has a wife, but we know little else, and when he shows up at the brothel the way we ID him, after never having seen his face up that point, was effective and chilling, as is something he says so casually, comparing a seemingly compassionate act to something akin to stopping for an injured animal, no more no less, it's pretty stinging stuff. Gorris is clearly making the comparison that the life of a whore and the dehumanized victims of a serial killer are not too far removed from one another, and that all women regardless of trade are the potential victims of men - it might be a tad heavy handed but it makes for an engrossing dramatic thriller, and a potent feminist statement of defiance by the subjugated women of the film. I also love Gorris's use of color, the colors inside the brothel are warm and alive, perhaps representing the bond of women united, while the scenes outside the brothel are dull, sickly or desaturated. 

It's a  terrific film, I though Gorris' first film A Question of Silence was quite impactful, if a bit rough around the edges, but her sophomore film is absolutely electric, a powerful dramatic and empathetic examination of the sex trade with a strong feminist statement, and a much better made film altogether, the character development and drama make the bite of it that much more intense. This comes highly recommended and I am excited that Cult Epics will release Gorris' third film, the apocalyptic survival thriller The Last Stand (1990) on Blu-ray this October. 

Audio/Video: Broken Mirrors (1984) arrives on region-free Blu-ray from Dutch cinema archivists Cult Epics in 1080p HD widescreen framed in 1.66:1 - the original aspect ratio. This is a new 4K HD scan from the original 35mm negative, uncut and restored. The restoration looks terrific, the source elements are in great shape and grain is lush and well-managed throughout, there's plenty of great looking filmic texture and detail to the image. The new scan makes the most of Frans Bromet (Frank & Eva) lovely cinematography with colors that are well-saturated and vivid, especially the warm interiors of the brothel where much of it takes places, the primaries looks fantastic. Exterior scenes that follow the exploits of the serial killer are colder and softer, and I am thinking this is by design, even his kill-room which we frequent looks anemic in the color department, bleached, convey the bleakness of it all, as most likely is a yellow-ish pallor of Diane's home life, reflecting the sickness that infects it via her dope-sick heroin addicted husband. 
Audio comes by way of original Dutch LPCM 2.0 Mono or a newly created Dutch DTS-HD MA 2.0 Mono with optional English subtitles, both are solid offering with well-balanced levels, dialogue sounds clean and clear and the score by Lodewijk de Boer (A Question of Silence) is well placed in the mix. 

Extras include an Audio Commentary by Film Scholar Peter Verstraten, an 8-min TV Interview with US sex worker Margo St. James (Adriaan van Dis/Cinema 3, 1991), a Promotional Gallery with posters and lobby cards plus 15-min of Cult Epics Trailers. The single-disc release arrives in a clear Viva Elite keepcase with a two-sided non-reversible sleeve of artwork featuring what looks to be something based on the original movie poster designs. 

Special Features: 
- New 4K HD Transfer (from the original 35mm negative) & Restoration
- Original LPCM 2.0 Mono track
- New DTS-HD MA 2.0 Mono track
- Audio Commentary by Film Scholar Peter Verstraten
- Interview with US sex worker Margo St. James (Adriaan van Dis/Cinema 3, 1991) (8:18) 
- Promotional Gallery
- Two-Sided Wrap (Non-Reversible) 
- Cult Epics Trailers: Angst (2:50), Death Laid An Egg (3:55), Mijn nachten met Susan, Olga, Albert, Julie, Piet & Sandra (2:04), Obsession (2:56), A Question of Silence (3:03)

Screenshots from the Cult Epics Blu-ray: