Color, 1992, 139 mins. 56 secs.
Directed by Roman Polanski
Starring Peter Coyote, Emmanuelle Seigner, Hugh Grant, Kristin Scott Thomas, Victor Banerjee
Kino Lorber (Blu-ray & DVD) (US RA/R1 HD/NTSC), LVC (Blu-ray & DVD) (Japan RA/R1 HD/NTSC), Arthaus (Blu-ray & DVD) (Germany RB/R2 HD/PAL), Arrow Video (DVD) (UK R2 PAL), Umbrella (DVD) (Australia R4 PAL), Pulp Video (Blu-ray) (Italy RB HD), New Line (DVD) (US R1 NTSC) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9)

One Bitter Moonof the great moviegoing Bitter Moonsurprises of the art house renaissance of the 1990s was Bitter Moon, a dizzying mixture of psychological horror, witty comedy, startling erotica, and insightful melodrama. Trying to pin this film down proved to be a tricky marketing proposition for Fine Line, the specialty division of New Line, but those lucky enough to catch it on the big screen got far more than they expected in what amounted to a roaring return to form for director Roman Polanski following a four-year absence in the wake of his Harrison Ford thriller, Frantic.

Almost entirely confined to four characters and at least partially another entry in Polanski's string of apartment pressure cooker films, the story beings on an ocean liner bound for India where married British couple Nigel (Grant) and Fiona (Thomas) cross paths with wheelchair-bound American writer Oscar (Coyote) and his beautiful but seemingly haunted Parisian wife, Mimi (Seigner). Outspoken Oscar talks Nigel into spending a lengthy amount of time in his quarters where he relates the saga of his initial meeting with Mimi and their sometimes hilarious, sometimes terrifying love affair that becomes a series of sadomasochistic mind games with devastating physical results. In the process Nigel becomes infatuated with Mimi as the tale unfolds, but there turns out to Bitter Moonbe far more going on than meets the eye. Bitter Moon

A perilous cinematic balancing act that somehow never manages to make a single false step over the course of its lengthy but fast-paced running time, Bitter Moon has aged beautifully as a portrait of human relationships in all their irrational, messy, and hazardous glory, with all four actors giving it their all. Coyote and Seigner (Polanski's wife and frequent muse) have the juiciest roles as well as some of the most memorable sexual scenes in movie history, but Grant and Thomas are also key in helping the film stick the landing in its final three sequences that manage to catch the viewer completely off guard while delivering completely on every single moment that's come before. The film is also an evocative love letter to early '90s Paris, building on the treatment of such earlier films as The Tenant and Frantic but in an entirely new context (and one in which half the main cast never sets foot). Adding to the dreamy, haunting atmosphere is a beautiful score by Vangelis, which has sadly never had a commercial release of any kind and will someday be liberating from legal purgatory.

Never very difficult to find on home video, Bitter Moon first appeared on DVD from New Line in 2003 in an essentially no-frills edition. A heftier special edition DVD followed from Arrow Video in the U.K. in 2008, featuring a worthwhile if sometimes overly scripted audio commentary with producers Timothy Burrill and John Brownjohn; it also contains a lively interview with Coyote (22m14s), who remembers the film very fondly and shares some of his experiences shooting on multiple locations with his time in Paris being a highlight. Both DVDs look overly bright compared to the darker, richer appearance it sported in theaters, with the kinky leather and razor scene in particular looking far too brightly lit for comfort. Blu-ray editions later turned up in Germany and Japan, also too bright and lacking in extras but looking significantly closer to the theatrical appearance in terms of detail and color Bitter Moonfidelity (especially Seigner's red dresses). An atrocious Blu-ray also appeared in Italy and should be avoided. Bitter Moon

With the film's U.S. rights drifting over to Studio Canal, the path was eventually cleared for an American release with Kino Lorber bringing it to Blu-ray and DVD. The transfer appears to be based on the same HD scan as before but, quite significantly, has fixed the brightness issue with the blacks now looking accurate again and the original richer, vibrant look thankfully reinstated. Some debris is obvious at times in scenes involving opticals (the credit sequences andthe many long optical dissolves), but it's very minor on larger displays. The DTS-HD MA English 2.0 stereo track sounds as good as it always has with plenty of support for that shimmering score. A new audio commentary with Troy Howarth is a particularly joyous one as his enthusiasm for this film really shines through with an in-depth reading of the film's tricky tonal approach, the merits of the stylized script, and the various levels of shifting meaning that evolve through the characters' relationships. A new, different Coyote interview, "An Indecent Proposal" (25m21s), elaborates on how he got the role and had an unforgettable experience being directed by Polanski, including tips on how he approached some of the film's more dramatically challenging moments by using his own writing inclinations and personal PTSD to tap into his role. The theatrical trailer is also included along with bonus ones for The Gingerbread Man, Mad Dog and Glory, and Heart of Midnight.

Kino Lorber (Blu-ray)

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LVC (Blu-ray)

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Arrow Video (DVD)

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New Line (DVD)

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Reviewed on May 11, 2019.