Tuesday, June 25, 2013
Among the most dedicated and knowledgeable of Franco collectors, AL OTRO LADO DEL ESPEJO has acquired the well-deserved reputation of being among Franco's most unique and ambitious films, and one of the finest productions of his most fertile period. I've long been familiar with the Spanish version thanks to a copy I obtained many years ago from European Trash Cinema, which ran 78:52. To my amazement, the restored version runs 95:24, which adds something close to 15 minutes of previously unseen footage even with the PAL>NTSC conversion of the VHS factored in.
The most noticeable restored footage involves nudity, which was forbidden in Spanish films during this period, but some dramatic and music scenes are also extended. This is, along with VENUS IN FURS (1969), Franco's most musical dramatic film; indeed, one unusual aspect of the film is that it follows the evolution of a song ("Madeira Love") from the moment its melody is first picked out on piano to its composition and first live performance, and further on to its becoming the theme of a group of friends and performed by other artists. I had to watch the film without subtitles, which haven't yet been added, but the music lends the film such continuity that it suffices as narrative on its own level, ending the story on an impactful note of operatic grand tragedy. The newly restored audio restoration gives the jazz soundtrack real presence.
Actor Robert Woods, who plays her first love interest in the film, shared this with me about the experience of working with her: "Emma was, as you said, immersed in the role...she actually won the Spanish equivalent of the 'Oscar' for it... She is truly special and a pleasure to work with... and Jess got the best from her... A truly gifted talent."
Likewise, this film depicts human relationships with a directness and realism, even a warmth, that I think may not be found elsewhere in Franco's work outside of BAHIA BLANCA (1984). Franco shows us the moments when Ana's various suitors fall for her, and he closely attends the tenderness, the tentativeness, that precedes making those feelings known, which makes the direction taken by the story feel all the more tragic and the film, as a whole, all the more brave. On the other hand, this is the only Franco film I can remember seeing where a special effect is employed to magically transform one object into another, which seems at odds with his surrealist sensibilities. Working from a script by his then-wife Nicole Guettard, who also wrote LORNA... THE EXORCIST and CELESTINE, AN ALL ROUND MAID, Franco can be seen experimenting with his own forms almost to the point of becoming a more mainstream artist.
The restoration, supervised by Peter Blumenstock and Derdérian, also brings to the surface a kind of "all the colors of the dark" motif where Ana is concerned, expressed through her rainbow-colored clothes and caftans and even the stage lighting accompanying her jazz band's stage act. Even such a simple shot as one of Françoise Brion gazing out at a swimming pool becomes a deeply appealing study in the primary contrast of red, yellow and blue.
Posted by Tim Lucas at Tuesday, June 25, 2013