The Atypical Collection: The Femme Fatale
By: Paul Ryan on February 28, 2007  |  Comments  |  Bookmark and Share
Siren Visual Entertainment (Australia). All Regions, PAL. Audition: 1.85:1 Nadja: 1.50:1 TED: 1.78:1. Audition: Japanese DD 2.0; Nadja: English DD 2.0; TED: French DD 5.1. Subtitles - TED & Audition: English. 299 minutes
The Movie
Directors Takashi Miike; Michael Almereyda; Claire Denis
Starring: Ryo Ishibashi, Eihi Shiina, Tutsu Sawaki, Jun Kunimura; Elina Lowensohn, Martin Donovan, Peter Fonda, Jared Harris; Vincent Gallo, Tricia Vessey, Beatrice Dalle, Alex Descas
Screenplay: Daisuke Tengan; Michael Almereyda; Michel Parry
Country: Japan, USA, France
Year: 1999; 1994; 2001
Launching a series of DVD boxsets devoted to specific themes, local distributor Siren have released the first instalment of The Atypical Collection. This volume, devoted to The Femme Fatale, collects three arresting, original genre films from different countries: Takashi Miike's brilliant tale of love gone wrong, Audition (1999), Michael Almereyda's witty post-modern vampire tale Nadja (1994), and Claire Denis's gory, yet oddly elegant Trouble Every Day (2001). These are three fine examples of challenging, thoughtful genre filmmaking, but is it worth shelling out for this particular collection? Read on and find out…

Adapted from a short story by respected novelist/filmmaker Ryu Murakami, Audition tells the tale of film producer Shigeharu Aoyama (Ishibashi), a middle-aged widower who, encouraged by his teenage son Shigehiko (Sawaki), decides to find himself a new wife. Uneasy at the thought of going through the whole dating rigmarole, he reluctantly takes up an unusual offer of help from his friend – and fellow producer – Yasuhisa (Kunimura). Yasuhisa's plan is to run a casting call for a non-existent film project, effectively "auditioning" Aoyama's potential new wife.

Aoyama finds himself drawn to the delicate Asami (Shina), a troubled former dancer. Despite an aura of constant sadness, Aoyama falls for the quiet young woman. But Aoyama isn't quite the demure, gentle thing she appears to be…

The synopsis may sound predictable, but Audition is far more than a mere Japanese spin on Fatal Attraction. This is a rare combination of richly textured characterisation and full-bore horror. Miike's direction subtly and carefully draws us into the characters and their world. In fact, to the uninitiated, the first three-quarters seem fairly benign, making one wonder why the film has that R18+ rating…

Then it begins...

When Audition makes the shift into straight-out horror, it becomes – like Asami herself – a different beast altogether. Primal, chilling and immensely unsettling, the climactic quarter of the film is some of the best horror filmmaking ever seen. Graphic, but not gratuitous, this is a film that works on your emotions, and – thanks to some superb acting and direction – succeeds brilliantly.

If your only impression of Miike is from his work on visceral shockers like Ichi the Killer, then you'll do well to check out this incredibly impressive film.

In Nadja, Hal Hartley regular Elina Lowensohn plays the title character, daughter of none other than the recently-deceased Count Dracula, who has travelled to New York to put his affairs in order. At the same time she has to deal with her dysfunctional relationship with her brother (and fellow vamp) Edgar (Jared Harris). Then there's the matter of the man who killed their father, an obsessive, long-haired oddball named – you guessed it – Dr Van Helsing (Peter Fonda, who also plays Dracula) and his straight-arrow nephew Jim (Martin Donovan, another part of Hartley's rep company). And Jim's sexually conflicted wife Lucy (Galaxy Craze) seems to be acting awfully strange following a night time encounter with Nadja…

Shot in inky black and white, on a variety of different film stocks (even a toy video camera!) this is a visually dazzling experience. Luckily, the script is as inventive as the imagery, with wit and cleverness to spare. Almereyda throws in nods to earlier vampire classics (including some footage of Bela Lugosi as Dracula) and references other films such as Eraserhead. As it happens, that film's director, David Lynch (who executive produced) has an amusing cameo as a hapless morgue attendant. The dynamic of the characters resembles a typically 90's dysfunctional family film, which is a clever touch amid the genre trappings. Almereyda's casting of 90's indie regulars Lowensohn, Donavan and Harris also works well, but it is Peter Fonda's brilliant hilarious turn as a hippie-ish Van Helsing that steals the show.

The talented Almereyda would later attempt a similar trick with his bigger-budgeted, star-studded 2000 adaptation of Hamlet, but to lesser effect. This is the real deal, and I can't recommend Nadja highly enough.

Finally, in Trouble Every Day American Shane Brown (Gallo) is honeymooning in Paris with his pretty bride June (Tricia Vessy, who being the real-life mother to musical nutter Anton Newcombe's child, should know all about peculiar men) with more on his mind than connubial bliss. He's actually focused on tracking down fellow scientist Leo Simoneau (Alex Descas) who has vanished from his research post following a series of unorthodox experiments on the human brain and its relation to libido. The end product of Simoneau's research is embodied in Core (Beatrice Dalle), a woman whose libido is matched only by a corresponding lust for human flesh…

Merging a premise straight out of the sleaziest of sleazy euro schlock with stately art-house direction, Trouble Every Day is an intriguing, though quite disturbing thriller. The first half of the film is relatively restrained, barring a few bloody moments, but as Gallo's odyssey – not to mention, mania - progresses, things really cut loose, climaxing with an unforgettably horrific act of oral sex. Even so, Denis films each gruesome moment with a detached, glacial eye that counterpoints the sensationalistic material.

Not a date movie then. You do get a cute puppy however…
Quite literally a case of the good, the bad and the ugly. Trouble Every Day features a note-perfect anamorphic 1.85:1 transfer. Nadja is slapped with a wobbly, grainy, 1.50:1 4x3 presentation; and last (and worst) is Audition, featuring a ghastly, over-compressed 1.85 Anamorphic picture, full of pixellation, ghosting and unwisely burnt-in white subtitles which occasionally become hard to view.
Serviceable 2.0 Dolby tracks for Nadja and Audition and a fine 5.1 track for Trouble Every Day. No complaints here.
Extra Features
Next to the video, this is the big let-down of the set. Trouble Every Day and Nadja have no extras whatsoever. Audition carries two trailers and a vague, rambling, unenlightening interview with Takashi Miike. Given how poor the video on Audition is (squeezed onto a single layer disc) what extras there are arguably contribute to the feature's video woes. Our version of Nadja appears to be comparable to others in terms of extras (i.e: none), but Siren's releases of Trouble Every Day and Audition are easily beaten by their overseas counterparts.
The Verdict
Three excellent genre films presented in a lacklustre box set, with variable video and poor, minimal extras. Worth getting if you can find it at a low enough price - and its RRP of $39.95 is admittedly, not too bad - , but there are much better releases of these films from abroad.
Movie Score
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