Cinema Libre // 1983 // 137 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Daryl Loomis // January 5th, 2012
Try another world.
The Moon in the Gutter begins with an awesome scene of the main character, Gérard (Gérard Depardieu, Potiche), chewing through a massive block of ice in order to win a bet. This scene really sets the stage for the film, both in the ferociousness of the performances and in the endearingly funny weirdness of the film as a whole. Very sexy and unabashedly artsy, the second feature from Jean-Jacques Beineix (Betty Blue) is by no means perfect, but there are so many enjoyable moments that it's hard to really complain.
While trying to find the man who murdered his sister, hard-scrabble dock worker Gérard finds himself torn between two women. Bella (Victoria Abril, Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!) is a drunken beauty who lives in the same ramshackle building as he does. Loretta (Nastassja Kinski, Cat People) is the rich and bored sister of one of Gérard's drinking buddies whose fast car and carelessly sexy attitude entrances him. Loretta's presence drives Bella crazy, but Gérard can't say no to either one of them.
Beineix shoots for a lot in The Moon in the Gutter, and while he doesn't always hit, there's a ton to enjoy in the director's second feature film. Most prevalent are the performances from the three leads. Each is phenomenal, with Depardieu taking the forefront with some of the best work of his career. Rarely has he been more furious or photogenic and never have I liked him more. Nastassja Kinski is a sultry as she can be rolling in her convertible slumming at the docks and in the ghetto. Outside of the fact that she's hot for Gérard, her motivations are honestly a little unclear, but she's such an incredible onscreen presence that it's hard to care; I just want to see more of her. Plus, anything that her character lacks is more than made up for by Victoria Abril's Bella. Not only is her character clearly defined, she is a whirlwind of sexuality. Where Kinski is a look and a wink, Abril puts her entire body into it, thrashing around and mocking Gérard for his actions, her love and jealousy coming through effortlessly and with ultimate sexuality.
Bella is the lynchpin of the love triangle and the reason why the story works as well as it does. She represents everything that Gérard is trying to escape in his dalliance with Loretta: the ghetto life, the drunkenness, and the lack of sophistication that has been his entire life. He is embarrassed by his job working on the docks, shown by the violent reaction he has to Loretta taking pictures of him on the job, but she just smirks. He's drawn to her nonchalance, angry as he gets sometimes, but Bella knows her life and knows how rough it can be; she is willing to wait for him, whether he wants her in the end or not.
It's interesting to me that I've barely mentioned the mystery of the murder of Gérard's sister, the entrance into the plot, but that comes into the big problem with The Moon in the Gutter. While that mystery is how the film starts, Beineix barely mentions it afterward. He's simply trying to do too much, with Gérard's love triangle, his sister's murder, his life as a dockworker, and the world he lives in all vying for time. The love triangle is the only part that really resonates, with the rest of it not only taking a backseat, but also acting as a distraction. Had Beineix his own way, he would have had a four hour film here and, in that case, maybe all the things he wanted to describe would come clear. Like other films from the director, though, massive cuts were forced, and the results are pretty muddled. It feels long as it stands; I can't imagine how it would feel if Beineix had his say. Still, the performances are great and there are beautifully artistic shots throughout the film, so for the deficiencies in the story, the overall picture is a big success.
The Moon in the Gutter arrives on Blu-ray from Cinema Libre as part of The Jean-Jacques Beineix Collection. It's a decent disc, but less of an upgrade over the 2009 standard definition edition than I had hoped. The 1080p non-anamorphic image looks a little better than the older version, but there are still problems. Colors and black levels are very good, but in the brighter scenes and especially around lights, there is noticeable edge enhancement and haloing. Because the film is generally so dark, it isn't too distracting, but when it becomes apparent, it's very ugly. The sound isn't too bad, but it's also no upgrade at all. Instead of a lossless mix, it's your basic Dolby stereo sound that appears to have been transferred directly from the older release. As it stands, it's fairly good, without any noticeable noise, clear dialog, and decent separation between the channels. It's decent in every way, but I have to cut it a few points for the complete lack of upgrade.
For extras, both the photo gallery and the discussion between Beineix and Tim Rhys have been ported over from the original release and both are solid. I'm rarely a fan of the photo galleries, but there are some interesting bits. The interview, though, is very good. It runs a little over fifteen minutes, with Rhys keeping the conversation fairly well focused on the director's intentions for the film and the shabby treatment the studio gave to the film. Unlike in the case of Betty Blue, where he was able to recut the film into something closer to his original vision, the cut footage here was outright destroyed. All these years later, Beineix still seems rightly pissed. The one new supplement is a good one: Beineix's first film, a short called Mr. Michele's Dog, about a poor man who scams his fellow apartment dwellers into believing he has a dog in order to get scraps so he can eat. While not a great film, it's very interesting to watch.
The plot of The Moon in the Gutter may be a little lacking in focus and, whether that is the vision or the forced editing, it doesn't change the fact that the film is gorgeous, sexy, and superbly acted. I genuinely wish the Blu-ray was a clearer upgrade over the DVD and, if you are a fan of the film and already own the earlier version, the only reason to pick up the Blu-ray is for the inclusion of the short film. It's not really worth it. If you don't already own the film, though, this is the version to buy.
The Moon in the Gutter isn't for everybody, but it's not guilty.
Review content copyright © 2012 Daryl Loomis; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Cinema Libre
* 2.35:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (French)
Running Time: 137 Minutes
Release Year: 1983
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Short Film
* Photo Gallery