Way before Quebecois filmmaker Denys Arcand earned an Oscar for Les Invasions barbares (The Barbarian Invasions), he made a trio of explosive Canadian crime films that effortlessly combined hard-hitting politics with dashes of exploitation. Canadian International Pictures presents Arcand’s 1975 film Gina -- the conclusion to the informal trilogy – on Blu-ray for the first time in the US with a great 1080p presentation of a new 2K scan and a nice collection of newly produced supplements to boot. This wonderful release brings to light a criminally underseen work, thus it comes Highly Recommended!
Filmmaker Denys Arcand started out making documentaries and pissing off the establishment at the National Film Board of Canada with his cynical look at Canadian history, especially when it relates to decades upon decades of labor abuse at the hands of the rich. Such sociopolitical furor can be directly felt in Arcan’s Cotton Mill, Treadmill, a feature-length documentary about the exploitation of workers at the hands of management at a textile factory. The doc was banned by the NFB, who conscripted Arcand to make an objective document of the Canadian textile industry struggling to compete with cheap foreign imports. Arcand also adopted an approach similar to direct cinema, so his documentary work can often feel very confrontational.
Arcand brought that approach to feature filmmaking, and I believe Gina may be the best argument for how well it works in a narrative structure. The film follows exotic dancer Gina (Céline Lomez) as she’s sent to rural Quebec to perform at a seedy motel for a bunch of recently laid-off cotton factory workers. There’s a film crew documenting this all, but something is amiss once Gina starts stripping and causing all the men to relax. It awakens the ugliness in this icy community, and Gina is soon sexually assaulted by a group of criminals who ride snowmobiles. It’s time for revenge, and Gina enlists some strong-arm friends from her booking agent to enact that bloody revenge.
Alright, where to even start on Gina? It’s such a lurid mix of documentary footage and exploitation that it becomes something else entirely. Arcand uses actual footage from his banned Cotton Mill, Treadmill to set the stage for the kind of hard-hitting political and crime violence we’re in for. While the struggles of a textile factory may be somewhat dissimilar to that of a sex worker’s struggle with revenge, it’s these threads running in parallel that gives essential weight to the story. Rather, it enlivens your classic story of revenge with sociopolitical anger, and that’s reflected right in the aesthetic of the film.
Gina also happens to have a snowmobile chase that’s unlike any other, both in practice and form. Arcand’s direct camera injects adrenaline straight into the sequence in the finale and once the proper revenge has been taken, no one is better off. The abusive capitalist system that put those cotton factory workers out of work still lives on. Even going back to the rape sequence that sets everything off like a firecracker, the scene itself is shot with an eye for economy and storytelling, sidestepping the usual exploitation pitfalls to deliver something that hits hard and sets up what’s to come.
Simply put, Gina is exactly the kind of discovery you want to see home entertainment companies release every week. Just when you thought some films can’t surprise you anymore, one shows up to rewrite the rules and then smash them again. That film is Gina.
Vital Disc Stats: The Blu-rays
Get ready for the seedy story of Gina, presented here as a single-disc Blu-ray (BD50) release from Canadian International Pictures. The disc is housed in a clear Viva case and offers reversible artwork, plus an essay booklet. The case comes housed in a limited-edition slipcover (only available at VinegarSyndrome.com) that shows off artist Sean Phillips’ artwork for the film. The Blu-ray boots up to a standard menu screen with options to the play the film, explore other Denys Arcand trailers, browse special features, select chapters, engage subtitles and choose audio.
Gina arrives on Blu-ray for the first time in the US with a 1080p, AVC-encoded picture that’s sourced from a 2K scan of a 35mm print by Éléphant - mémoire du cinéma Québécois. Based upon the scan information, I was kind of expecting a tough presentation that was hindered from lack of dynamic range from the OCN, but it’s my great pleasure to report the opposite! This presentation is really terrific, bringing the most out of the aged source. Contrast and flesh tones look great, and the thick film grain is resolved very well by the capable encode. Much of the film takes place in darkness or at night, and I didn’t notice any black crush throughout. Source looks to be in good condition and few damage marks pop up. All in all, this is a stunner from CIP.
Gina is presented with a couple of audio options, the original French track and English dub, both encoded as 2.0 DTS-HD MA tracks. While I didn’t spend much time with the English dub, the French track sounds great and balances all of the action and dialogue very well. The funky score sounds great as well, plus the source seems to be in very good condition.
Canadian International Pictures supplies their Blu-ray release of Gina with a great collection of supplements, including audio interviews with original cast, an on-camera interview with Denys Arcand, a video essay from Alexandra-Heller Nicholas and even a booklet essay to round out the package. The interview with Arcand is essential viewing, as the director details the creation of the project and his approach in general. It’s a really worthwhile watch that’s a great exploration of an iconoclast’s career from the iconoclast himself!
Canadian filmmaker Denys Arcand and his unjustly underseen 1975 work Gina are given the royal treatment by Canadian International Pictures with a terrific new presentation and a great selection of supplements to dig into. This is a huge discovery that should be seen as soon as possible. This release comes Highly Recommended!