The Devil's Nightmare

Color, 1980, 99 mins. 22 secs.
Directed by "Dietrich de Velsa" (Francis Savel)
Starring Gianfranco Longhi, Jean-Jacques Loupmon, Reinhard Montz
Altered Innocence (Blu-ray & DVD) (US R0 HD/NTSC)

While Equation to an Unknownpreparing his striking 2018 Equation to an UnknownEuro horror/giallo homage Knife + Heart set in the world of France's late '70s gay adult film scene, writer-director Yann Gonzalez stumbled across the opportunity to revive a gem from the forgotten world of vintage films from the era. Released in 1980 and completely off the radar ever since, Équation à un inconnu (or Equation to an Unknown) is a moody, dreamy slice of explicit erotica from artist Francis Savel (under the name "Dietrich de Velsa") that's clearly aiming for something more than just raincoat crowd fodder. Beautifully shot and highly atmospheric, the film made such an impression on Gonzalez (who first discovered it a few years ago via a bad VHS copy and called it "the most melancholy porn film I've ever seen") that he arranged for a scan of the uncovered camera negative and arranged to have the film shown on a few occasions as a second feature with Knife + Heart in some major cities, even doing Q&As between the films. Anyone who caught that double feature probably thought that might be their only chance to ever see Equation given the extremely slim chances of a film like this getting the red carpet treatment on home video, but lo and behold, Altered Innocence has stepped up with Blu-ray and DVD editions to give it a chance at a wider audience.

Low on dialogue, the picaresque storyline with obvious echoes of filmmakers like Truffaut, Borowczyk, and Pasolini follows a young man (Longhi) through a couple of days in his Equation to an Unknownwandering life in Paris starting off at a soccer game where the minor injury of one player results in an impromptu threesome he watches through Equation to an Unknowna doorway. From there we follow him through day and night, often on his motorcycle, over a series of potential hook-ups at locations like a gas station and a bistro, with the latter overseen by French porn statesman Norbert Terry. By day he also harbors a crush on his neighbor, but can his heart settle down long enough to find what he's really looking for?

One of the most striking aspects of this film is its superb electronic soundtrack, which begins with a propulsive clopping sound effect over the opening sequence and then morphs into an eerie soundscape somewhere between Wendy Carlos and Tangerine Dream. The visuals follow suit with a chilly, austere quality that gives the film a very different feel from other hardcore of the time; everything is so ritualistic and aesthetically arranged that it barely registers as carnal in the traditional sense. The closest comparison might be something like '70s art/sex films Equation to an Unknownlike Ballet Down the Highway, The Destroying Angel, or particularly Bijou, albeit here with the latter's fantasy and kink replaced with a more subdued and bittersweet sense of longing. Perhaps the most shocking thing about the film is the ending, which... well, not to spoil things, but it's far more upbeat and Equation to an Unknownplayful than the preceding events might lead you to expect; it even comes up with the most clever way to handle end credits this side of Skidoo.

For this film's English-friendly home video debut, Altered Innocence has issued this as region-free Blu-ray and DVD editions complete with a newer scan than the one seen in theaters in 2018. The cool, gray, gritty look seen here is faithful to way it appeared during that theatrical run, and detail is excellent while retaining the look of the source material (complete with a little scuff or scratch here and there). The DTS-HD MA French 2.0 mono track also sounds pristine and features optional English subtitles for the ten minutes or so of dialogue in the actual film. The extras kick off with the Guy Gilles 1964 short "Diary of a Fight" (18m4s) featuring Alain Delon narrating a chronicle of Savel's painting process at his Montmartre studio as he conjures up a huge phantasmagorical canvas Equation to an Unknownfilled with animals, along with some beautiful footage of Paris at night. Great stuff! Then in "An Equation of Love" (7m5s), Gonzalez presents an audio essay about his appreciation for the film as being "from a land of ghosts and faded dreams" and a harbinger of the Equation to an UnknownAIDS crisis that was just around the corner. He also touches on Savel's career ranging from his groundbreaking work at a Parisian transvestite cabaret to his work on two films with Joseph Losey. Also included are the original French theatrical trailer, a 2018 teaser trailer, and bonus trailers for Knife + Heart, The Wild Boys, Luz, and Love Express: The Disappearance of Walerian Borowczyk. The Blu-ray also features an insert poster of "sexy lead actor" Longhi, perfect for using as a backdrop for your next Zoom call.


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Reviewed on June 18, 2019