Videophiled: ‘Words and Pictures,’ ‘Borgman’ and murder in ‘Galapagos’

Words and Pictures (Lionsgate, Blu-ray, DVD, Digital HD, Cable VOD) is both a romantic drama, with Clive Owen as passionate but alcoholic English teacher at an expensive prep school and Juliette Binoche as the new art teacher who clashes with the brash Owen, and a pedagogical drama where a “war” between the written word and the image inspires the student body to engage in the arts.

The script is disappointingly pedestrian but the performances are superb, with Owen sinking his teeth into the charming arrogance of a former literary star crippled by doubt and drink and Binoche as the hard, emotionally brittle abstract artise suffering from a degenerative disease that has put an end to her ability to paint. A painter in her own right, Binoche brings a vivid physicality to the role as her character tries to find new ways to paint, throwing her whole body into the process. She communicates both the joy of expression and the pain of the effort in her performance. The sparring between these two actors and the maturity of their relationship makes it worth watching despite the inevitability of the story.

Features commentary by director Fred Schepisi and a 17-minute featurette. Danny Miller talks with director Fred Schepisi for Cinephiled here.

Borgman (Drafthouse, Blu-ray, DVD, Digital HD), from Dutch director Alex van Warmerdam (Grimm), is all kinds of screwed up, which is surely what attracted cult film specialist Drafthouse to the film. A psychodrama with a surreal sensibility and dark sense of humor, it’s part horror film and part dark fable with an enigmatic figure—the Borgman of the title (Jan Bijvoet)—as both devil and perverse guardian angel in the guise of a homeless man who lives in the Earth and emerges to stir the poison in the lives of a middle class family. What starts out like some kind of demented social retribution slips into far more ambiguous malevolence with hints of some kind of supernatural backstory that echoes through the precise details without ever explaining itself. It’s not so much scary as unsettling and disturbing, all the more so because the motivations remain opaque. Really, this is just plain creepy.

In Dutch (and some English dialogue) with English subtitles. Features deleted scenes and a 28-page booklet with interviews, film notes, and conceptual art painted by the director, plus a bonus digital copy.

The Galapagos Affair: Satan Came to Eden (Zeitgeist, DVD, VOD) is one of those “stranger than fiction” documentaries, a real-life melodrama turned murder mystery set on a tropical island in the Galapagos in the 1930s. All is fine when a Nietzschean professor and his married lover run away from Germany to star their new life in paradise but as more runaways from civilization arrive (including a decadent countess with a retinue of lovers), the human ecosystem gets complicated with resentment, jealousy, and finally murder. It all gets a bit confusing, in part due to the film’s narrative structure, but the archival trove of letters and diary entries (read by the likes of Cate Blanchett, Thomas Kretschmann, Diane Kruger and others), the wealth of photos, and the rare home movies of the inhabitants (most taken by passing sailors) discovered by the filmmakers gives a vivid life to the true story. Surely a fictionalized drama is in the works. As history it’s a footnote but as a real-life human drama it is fascinating.

Includes 14 deleted scenes and a Q&A with the directors from the Telluride Film Festival screening.

More new releases on disc and digital at Cinemaphiled

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