Color, 1982, 87 mins. 38 secs.
Directed by Jean-Pierre Mocky
Starring Marie-José Nat, Jean-Pierre Mocky, Nino Ferrer, Marysa Mocky, Bill Dunn

Color, 1984, 84 mins.
Directed by Jean-Pierre Mocky
Starring Michel Serrault, Carole Laure, Eddy Mitchell, Laurent Malet, Claude Brosset, Jean-Pierre Mocky, Sophie Moyse

Color, 1987, 90 mins. 24 secs.
Directed by Jean-Pierre Mocky
Starring Catherine Deneuve, Richard Bohringer, Tom Novembre, Kristin Scott Thomas, Dominique Lavanant, Sophie Moyse
Radiance Films (Blu-ray) (UK R0 HD), ESC Editions (Blu-ray & DVD) (France R0 HD/PAL), Pathé (DVD) (France R2 PAL) / WS (1.66:1) (16:9)

Still virtually unknown to Litanthe majority of English-speaking movie viewers, Jean-Pierre Mocky is a Litantruly unique presence in the history of French cinema, starting off as an actor for some of Europe's most prestigious filmmakers before churning out nearly a film a year as a director until his death in 2019. At his height from the mid-'60s through the late '80s he could entice some of the country's biggest stars to take part in his eccentric, satirical, and sometimes grotesque projects, with some actors like Michel Serrault and Richard Bohringer turning up repeatedly. Also well known as a TV personality and novelist, he always injected his films with a strange sense of uncertainty as the comedic and the distressing coexist even within the same scene. Out of his entire output, only a few films have floated around on the gray market with English subtitles and only one getting an official English-friendly Blu-ray release before a much-needed 2024 U.K. set from Radiance Films, The Agitator: Three Provocations from the Wild World of Jean-Pierre Mocky. If you're going in blind here as most people probably are, prepare for a truly wild ride.

First up is the most easily accessible film on the aforementioned trading circuit and the closest thing to a pure horror film in the Mocky canon, 1982's Litan. Cut from the same LitanFrench fantastique cloth as the likes of Jean Rollin, it's a country town nightmare with a sprinkle of sci-fi and a heavy dose of surrealism. A linear plot description is almost Litanbeside the point here, but the madness starts when Nora (Nat) awakens from a nightmare and, thanks to an enigmatic phone call to a geological survey office telling her to be at a cemetery at 9:30, fears her absent husband, Jock (Mocky), is in trouble. She follows his trail to the craggy village of Black Rocks where a strange Festival of the Dead is in progress, with most of the participants wandering around in a variety of unsettling masks and participating in inexplicable rituals. However, the festival this year is quite different thanks to Jock's ties to a geological job involving a vast underground lake and a nearby hospital with a sinister secret.

With its fractured narrative and propulsive rock-flavored score, Litan was an experiment of sorts for Mocky to indulge in full-blooded horror after injecting macabre elements in some of his darker comedies and thrillers like Solo and L'ibis rouge. As he himself noted, French audiences were far less receptive to horror films made by their own countrymen than outsiders (thus the chilly reception by many to Rollin and others like Claude Mulot and Michel Lemoine, all of whom had to pay the bills by doing hardcore). Mocky's involvement gave Litan a bit more critical respect, but it's still a film more widely seen outside of France by fans of Euro horror looking for something different. It's also one of Mocky's most visually stunning films with the natural vertigo-inducing scenery and seemingly endless banks of fog giving it an eerie feeling from the outset, extending Litanthat opening dream sequence Litaninto an entire narrative that feels like a slippery nightmare.

Made after one of the longest gaps in Mocky's career (a whopping three years), Litan has been on French home video several times including VHS and two DVDs, one from Pathé in 2005 and a remastered 2022 one from ESC with a Blu-ray as well. None were English friendly, and the 2022 release was nothing short of a disaster with the film's crucial color timing destroyed by a heavy, soupy yellow tint that ruined most of its delicate atmosphere. Thankfully the 2024 Radiance Blu-ray is a massive improvement across the board, restoring the original color timing back to its original luster with those luminous whites and reds back as they should be. The LPCM 2.0 French mono audio is very impressive and often jolting in its crispness, and the optional English subtitles are much better than the fansubs that have been floating around. The "Small Town Masquerade: Love, Death and Dreams in Litan" (17m29s) by Anton Bitel breaks down the narrative of the film into those three elements in the title, tracing how they progress from beginning to end. Previously seen on the 2022 French disc but subtitled here for the first time is a wild making-of documentary created in 1982 for French TV (26m18s) showing the colorful non-actor participants at work with Mocky and the professional cast. It also has some great interview footage with Mocky about his rationale for venturing into the fantastique as well as actor-composer Nino Ferrer among others. Finally you get a 1982 TV interview Kill the Refereewith Kill the RefereeMocky, "Un drole d'oiseau" ("A Funny Bird") (13m), delving more into his views on the uncanny and the fantastic in his films and citing some of his influences that made him want to do something truly different.

Though technically not a horror film, 1984's twisted dark comedy Kill the Referee (À mort l'arbitre) also unfolds like a nightmare with a narrative told almost in real time accompanied by a nutty electronic score reminiscent of A Clockwork Orange (almost certainly on purpose). It's one of the most outrageous vehicles for the astonishing Michel Serrault, who creates an unforgettable psychotic everyman for the ages as Rico, the European football fanatic who heads an aggressive and bigoted gang of fans, the "yellows and blacks." At a big nighttime match where Inspector Granowski (Mocky) and trainee Philippon (Moyse) are keeping an eye on the rowdy crowd, referee Maurice Kill the RefereeBruno (Mitchell) and his non-sports fan girlfriend, Martine (Laure), have an uncomfortable run-in with Rico and his boys. Kill the RefereeDuring the game, Bruno makes a call that enrages the instigators who declare war on the referee at all costs, launching an all-night pursuit across the city that escalates to insane and ultimately very violent extremes.

Like several other Mocky films, this is based on a Série noire crime novel, in this case Alfred Draper's The Death Penalty, itself loosely inspired by real-life hooligan violence in 1960s England. However, Mocky's absurdist, tonally upsetting take turned out to be eerily prophetic as football clashes became major news items after its release with numerous injuries, fatalities, and riots in Europe. Though the film was only of mild interest when it came out, it since amassed a significant cult following in France thanks to its relentless pacing and superb cast (not to mention a completely insane, gutsy sting in the tale ending).

Kill the Referee (a literal translation of the title, though Death to the Ref might capture the spirit more) followed the home video path of other Mocky films with a VHS release followed by a Pathé DVD (standalone and then as part of a wildly expensive Mocky set) and then a 2022 remastered version on Kill the RefereeDVD and Blu-ray from ESC, none English friendly. In this case the 4K restoration Kill the Refereelooked excellent with no significant color issues, so the Radiance disc looks the same with excellent detail throughout. Again the DTS-HD MA 2.0 English mono track is excellent, with the optional English subtitles much improved over the fansubs we've had around for years. In a new interview, journalist and broadcaster Philippe Auclair (17m4s) chats about how Mocky (a non-football fan) was ahead of the curve with this film before the fan-caused stadium disasters later in the decade. He also goes into the weird mixture of hilarity and terror here as well as the difference from other films dealing with sports. Don't watch this before the movie, but he has some really insightful comments about what's driving Serrault's character through the end. In a piece from the French Blu-ray, Mocky's friend and collaborator Eric Le Roy (13m54s) looks back at the production, the adaptation process, the depiction of madness that was relatable but seemed outlandish at the time, and the surgical nature of how Mocky approached stadium-tied violence. In a great 1987 interview for the French TV show Le divan (17m42s), Mocky chats with Henry Chapier about his career and early challenges shifting into directing as well as his collaborations with some of the biggest names in European showbiz. A report from the film set Agent Troublein 1983 for the show Mardi Cinema (4m33s) features quick soundbites with the director and Agent Troublestars, followed by the original trailer.

Finally we get to 1987's Agent Trouble, the first and only film Mocky made with the legendary Catherine Deneuve, here deglamorized to an amusing degree. This one's also based on a Série noire, Malcolm Boss' The Man Who Loved Zoos from 1974, here given the typical Mocky makeover as a wry suspense film with a very sinister undercurrent.

After coming across a stalled bus in the snow containing 50 dead passengers, rambunctious animal rights crusader Victorien (Novembre) swipes a few items from the corpses and goes to see his museum employee aunt, Amanda (Deneuve), to see if she has a safe he could use. Rebuffed, he ends up going to the zoo where he passes a trinket to his girlfriend, Julie (Thomas), only to be murdered soon after. It's all tied to a shadowy conspiracy involving the murderous Alex (Bohringer), who starts tailing Amanda when she investigates her Agent Troublenephew's death and that Agent Troublefateful bus ride that's now ended up at the bottom of a lake. Amanda's sleuthing leads to her staying at a winter getaway in the mountains where she finds that there truly isn't anyone she can trust, with Alex lurking around the corner when he isn't dealing with his disruptive domestic life.

At least superficially, this is the most "mainstream" film in the set as the jaunty (and excellent) Gabriel Yared score and seemingly straightforward thriller plot get you in the mood for a quasi-Hitchcock romp. However, the weirdness keeps peeking through with little moments of spookiness and more than a few oddball supporting characters. Of course, Mocky can't even deliver a standard happy ending here, leaving you with a lingering sense of unease even when the mystery seems to be all tied up with a neat bow. Deneuve is excellent as always and plays against type here as a sleuthing auntie, and it's always fun seeing Kristin Scott Thomas (here very young and in only her second role after her debut in the infamous Under the Cherry Moon) showing off her fluent French skills for the first but far Agent Troublefrom the last time.

Agent Trouble Agent Troublestands apart from its Mocky peers a bit since, after its usual French DVD release from Pathé, it somehow ended up getting released on Blu-ray and DVD from ESC with English subtitles. The Radiance disc features that same excellent 4K restoration, again with very nice detail and color reflecting the film's somewhat cold, stylized look apart from a few cozy interiors. Olivia Mokiejewski (4m55s), Mocky's documentarian daughter, provides an intro shot for the 2022 French Blu-ray (now subtitled for the first time) chatting about the film's suspense techniques and the atmosphere that sets it apart from his other films. Eric Le Roy pops up again here for an in-depth conversation about the film's production (23m10s) including the original intention to cast Michel Serrault, the process of adapting the novel (quite faithfully), adding some Hitchcockian flair with the music, and the major gear shifts with the film's immediately before and after this, The Miracle and Seasons of Pleasure. Also included are a short TV interviews with Deneuve (4m30s) and Bohringer (4m12s) about their work on the film, plus the theatrical trailer. The limited edition set also comes with an 80-page book featuring essays by Roberto Curti, this writer, and Alexandra Heller-Nicholas, plus newly translated archival interviews including Serge Toubiana on Mocky and Oliver Assayas on Serrault, plus an on-set Kill the Referee report.

LITAN: Radiance (Blu-ray)

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LITAN: ESC (Blu-ray)

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Reviewed on June 10, 2024