This curiously uninvolving movie is beautifully shot. Blanche is a lusty, medieval tale of three different but stupid men all wanting to get their end away with an equally dim woman. This is probably why the film doesn’t bite at all on any emotional level – the actions and passions of the characters are so dull you really couldn’t care less about any of them.
Even so, almost every scene is framed like a painting. The attention to detail and colour is beautifully put together. It is however one of the main reasons the film remains resolutely uninvolving.
Borowczyk’s decision was very obviously shoot everything very flat, so it seems two dimensional. It’s clearly a deliberate choice – many of the sequences seem (anachronistically) to ape paintings by Vermeer. In all cases the framing of all the drama is from one angle, one direction, like a single camera pointed at a stage play. And really, although it kind of looks nice, it isn’t enough. A strange consequence of looking so painterly is that everything looks too clean, which almost gives it an air of panto. The Monty Python team have a lot to be thanked for in film making, but for me their major contribution to cinematic art is that they have made me subconsciously want medieval history to always look at least a little bit muddy.
It takes what seems like an epic length of time to get going, and once it does is over all too quickly without really inspiring any empathy or sympathy in the audience – the tale is apparently an old Polish folk story and adapted from a play. An adaptation which appears to be told completely straight, which is much to its detriment.
An old man, a nobleman, has a young beautiful daughter he loves. His son from an earlier marriage also loves her. The King comes to visit, with his page, and both he and his page fall for her too. I’d like to write “with hilarious consequences” but unfortunately nothing of the sort ensues. She is Blanche, the titular heroine, and is not really bothered by any of them. The plot sort of happens around her, even though the film is named in her honour. She is something of a simpleton and weakly ineffectual.
It’s just all a bit flat. The decision to shoot everything at a single angle is visually an interesting one, but kills the drama. Close-up is lost. There is one very unusual and beautiful sequence of the King’s arrival at the castle which is shot handheld from the King’s point of view which really made me sit up and think “Yes! More of this please!” but unfortunately nothing more like it happens until just before the closing credits – it was something exciting and refreshing and would have worked a charm elsewhere.
By far the best performance of the piece is by Michel Simon as the Master of the castle and Blanche’s husband. He has the most to play with, and does it well. You can see the thought going on in his head through every glance from his watery eyes. He holds it all together – if only we could’ve seen more of him, in close-up and reacting then maybe the whole thing would’ve been worth investing time in. Alas not – Michel Simon’s sterling work and pretty looking scene setting aside, I’m afraid to say it really didn’t grab me much at all.
Previously posted on cinetalk.co.uk