After his art house crossover hit debut feature Diva, Jean-Jacques Beineix followed it up with The Moon in the Gutter, a noirish fantasy that was mostly eviscerated by critics following its 1983 Cannes debut. Although it has gone on to become something of a cult item, I think it's safe to say the doubters were right about this one. While Beineix succeeds in capturing some ravishing images when he allows the scope of his surreal moments to expand, the film is mired in ponderous plotting and never tips over into weird enough territory to sustain it.
Apparently, Beineix was interested in producing a director's cut like he did for subsequent (and much better) feature Betty Blue, but the studio destroyed the unused footage after the film tanked. I'm all for a director being able to achieve his or her personal vision, but I'm pretty glad I didn't have to sit through Beineix's proposed four-hour version of this.
A wide-eyed Gérard Depardieu stars as Gerard, a dockworker who discovers his sister was brutally raped and possibly murdered as the film opens. A straight razor in her hand, it's not clear if she was driven to the act herself after being violated. He swears to hunt down the rapist, but finds himself more often preoccupied with getting hammered in the squalid local pub.
It's there he meets a stunning, Ferrari-driving photographer named Loretta (Nastassja Kinski), whose charms are enough to lure him away from his current girlfriend Bella (Victoria Abril). As Gerard oscillates between both women, he carries out an intermittent search for his sister's rapist and stumbles into a variety of seedy, perhaps imaginary places.
The Moon in the Gutter is plainly a film that values style above substance, but it's filled with clumsily executed, dead-ended plot meanderings that drag down the pace and turn the proceedings into a chore. And although Beiniex hits upon some lovely seaside compositions, the film's combination of grotesque and surreal aesthetic elements is never as striking as say, the work of Alejandro Jodorowsky.
The Blu-ray Disc
After Cinema Libre's disastrous Betty Blue Blu-ray, I was prepared for the worst when popping in this disc, which presents the film in 1080p high definition in its original aspect ratio of 2.35:1. And although this effort doesn't feature the excessive DNR and weird motion-judder filtering that afflicted Betty Blue, it's plagued by a much more normal problem. Simply put, this Blu-ray was clearly sourced from an old, inferior master, and it never comes close to approximating a high-definition look. In fact, with its muddy colors, poor shadow detail, excessive haloing, and general fuzziness, the transfer is worse than what one would see on any respectable DVD these days.
The audio is a similarly unimpressive lossy stereo track that has no oomph in either dialogue or music and comes across hollow often.
Culled from the Beineix interviews that have appeared across Cinema Libre's DVD releases of his work is a segment about The Moon in The Gutter, with the interview conducted by Tim Rhys. Also included is a 10-minute slideshow of stills from the film that shows them looking much more HD-like, although often in a garish, contrast-boosted manner. Rounding out the disc is Beineix's mildly clever debut short film, Mr. Michel's Dog, which has not seen improvement over the degraded picture quality of the film's standalone DVD release.
The Bottom Line
The intermittent visual splendor of Beineix's lumbering second feature is not done any favors by this utterly lackluster Blu-ray edition.