Olivier Smolders is a Belgian filmmaker with a sensibility as distinctive and challenging as his artistry is developed. Cult Epics has done North American audiences a huge service by bringing his films to Region 1 DVD release. This disc has ten short films. Each piece has its own distinct identity, yet they are all very clearly the work of a singular creative talent. The frequently disturbing shorts range from a tale of murder and cannibalism in “Adoration” (previously available on the Cinema of Death collection), to the heartbreaking “Mort à Vignole” (where Smolders narrates a family tragedy filtered through home movies made by his and his wife’s parents, along with his own family footage), to an extended yet elegantly filmed practical joke (“Point de Fuite”) to a most unusual adaptation of Sade with “La Philosophie dans le Boudoir.” The films are invariably gorgeous and clinical in the precision of their observations. The blurbs on the case invoke Lynch, Greenaway and Bergman, and the comparisons are apt, though Smolders is also very much his own man.
First, bear in mind that these are shorts from 1984 to 1998. So one should not be expecting any 5.1 extravaganzas. What is here is a perfectly good 2.0 mix, which, where appropriate, creates quite an effective sense of environment. Music is handled warmly, and the dialogue (in French, with English subtitles) is perfectly clear and well modulated throughout.
All but two of the films are in black-and-white, and the tones here are stunning. Where there is grain (as in “Mort à Vignole”), it is there because of the source material, but is also incorporated into the narration (where it is compared to insects). The colour is just as strong, with contrasts that are excellent. These are beautiful films, and the transfer does them full justice.
There are two trailers for the collection, composed of clips from the various pieces, and a excerpt from Nuit Noire, Smolders’ feature debut. The main feature is large booklet feature extensive interviews and analyses of Smolders’ work. The articles are translated from the French, and are rather apparently so, but the originals are also provided.
This is a wonderful opportunity for North American viewers to discover the work of a striking talent. Strong stuff indeed.