You know how most non-film-loving people look at the Cannes Film Festival as being filled with hoity-toity pretentious arthouse flicks? Well, 'The Moon in the Gutter' – or, as it's known in France, 'La lune dans le caniveau' – is one of the films that backs up that negative stereotype. When it premiered at the 1983 Cannes Film Festival, it was originally panned by critics and festival attendees. In the few years that followed, it became a smaller cult film that hardcore cinephiles adopted into their eccentric cannon. While I can love and appreciate purely pretentious films, 'The Moon in the Gutter' is one that I cannot.
The films stars a young and fit Gérard Depardieu as a tortured man (also named Gérard) living in an impoverished and tough part of Marseilles, France. Just like his brother and his father, Gérard is thrown into a downward spiral of depression after his sister is found raped in a dark alley. With a razor in her hand, it's unclear whether she was raped and murdered or if she slit her own throat after being assaulted. Believing that she was murdered, Gérard is hell-bent on finding the killer – or so the third-person narrator of the film leads us to believe. Aside from one of the first scenes in the movie, he sure doesn't do any hunting for a suspect. He mopes around and pisses people off. That's it. Tracking a killer has nothing to do with plot of 'The Moon in the Gutter.'
When Gérard is looking for his sister's killer in the intro of the film, he meets an out-of-his-element rich man slumming it in the neighborhood's ghetto bar. Gerard suspects him as being the culprit and decides to show off his own manliness to this suspect in order to get close to the misfit. And how does he plan to do this? By chewing through a block of ice, of course! We all know there's nothing manlier than eating ice in a melt-your-face-off hot bar.
Gérard's plan does the trick and the two end up drinking together until the wee hours of the morning when the mystery man's wealthy up-town sister Loretta (Natassja Kinski) shows up to give him a ride home. When Loretta and Gérard lock eyes it becomes a drawn out love-at-first-sight moment. From then on, Gérard rarely thinks about his dead sister. He never pursues the killer. Yet he still walks around with an angry, pouty, and self-loathing chip on his shoulder as if it still tortures him. Now Gérard's thoughts are entirely focused on Loretta.
'The Moon in the Gutter' is one of those films so pretentious that it's script is probably only 60 pages long, yet the film is stretched out to a suicide-inducing 137 minutes. Most scenes are filled with repetitive glances and glares – no dialog. Nobody ever walks at a normal pace, it's always super slow. If you watched this Blu-ray at 1.5 speed on your Blu-ray player, it might actually flow properly.
There's an awkward, sleazy sexuality that constantly pops up throughout 'The Moon in the Gutter.' It's accompanied by strange and unapologetic violence towards woman. Gérard lives with his girlfriend in his dad's house. When he comes home after meeting Loretta for the first time, his jealous and psychotic girlfriend Bella tries seducing him by sitting on a swing sideways in a raunchy unladylike position, banging her high heels into the side of a broke-down car as she rocks back and forth. When he gives in and tries "getting some," she breaks a bottle and threatens him, so he hits her. Shortly thereafter, she apologizes and says she deserved to be hit. Later, she mounts him fully nude and he proceeds to push her around and even hit her. She doesn't seem to mind in either case. In one scene, Loretta snaps a picture of Gérard and he punches her in the face for it. A minute later, she comes to him and begs his forgiveness, saying that she deserved it for taking his picture without his permission. Am I missing something? He hits two women three times and it's never his fault? Wow.
The sure sign of 'The Moon in the Gutter' being a pretentious arthouse flick is its ending. Not only do we not receive closure to the characters and story, but we don't really know what's going on, why any of this happened, or what it's supposed to mean. When it ends, nothing has changed for better or worse. Everything is still up in the air. It's pointless.
In all honesty, the only thing worth watching on this Blu-ray is the special feature of writer / director Jean-Jacques Beineix's first film. Everything else is a throw-away.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Cinema Libre has placed 'The Moon in the Gutter' on a highly problematic Region-free BD-25 in a standard blue keepcase. The artwork sheet looks like something you'd find on a bootlegger's cart in a third-world country black market, something I could have printed at home. When you pop the disc into Blu-ray player, a skippable FBI warning plays, followed by five minutes of trailers that should feature a red-band warning. The first trailer is a compilation for several different Cinema Libre titles. It features lots of explicit content that leaves nothing – and I mean nothing - to the imagination. The second is a full trailer for a film called 'Now & Later,' which is even more sexually explicit. Following the trailers, the movie immediately begins without taking you to the main menu. Should you toggle the menu, good luck maneuvering through it because nothing is labeled. There are three images on the screen you can highlight – the headlights of the car, a floating bottle and a bar's marquis. Through trial and error you'll figure out which selection does what.
Although 'The Moon in the Gutter' features a 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode presented in a 2.35:1 aspect ratio, it marks the worst-looking Blu-ray I've ever seen. In all honesty, I've seen better-looking VHS tapes.
From the very first shots of the film, you'll notice that the murky print jitters up and down the screen. There's flickering and light intruding from the corners and edges of the screen – like a photocopier with the lid not quite sealed.
Being a dark, noir-ish film with only a select few daytime scenes, film grain isn't nearly as noticeable as the compression-caused digital noise-filled shots. With the majority of the movie being set in uber-black environments, you can't help but notice how nasty the black levels are. Every single bit of detail is chewed up in the blacks, even in the slightest shadows. Many times, 50 percent or more of a screen will be engulfed by black clipping and everything not within the blacks is murky. Clarity doesn't exist in this print. Few colors make it into the film, red being the only one that actually stands out, but when they do, they bleed like crazy.
The only positive aspect of this transfer is that it's 100 percent clean – at least it appears to be. The overall picture quality is so bad that dirt and scratches may be there, you just can't see them because the transfer is so bad. Banding is consistent, as are artifacts. Edge enhancement and DNR are absent, but they actually may have helped this atrocious Blu-ray.
The only listening option is the film's original 2-channel French track. Just as you'd expect, the audio is flat and lifeless. No effort was put into cleaning up the flaws. It's warbly and full of imperfections.
As the opening credits roll, you'll hear the grand score waiving around back and forth like an old record that's constantly being slowed down and sped back up. This shaky characteristic sticks around for all 138 minutes.
Crackling is always a factor, usually present more during the distorted vocals than over the effects and music. At times, it sounds like the actors were talking with towels pressed to their lips, muffling every word that left their mouths. I'm glad the film is presented in French with English subtitles because it didn't require me to put much attention on the spoken dialog.
I've liked my fair share of pretentious, artsy films this year - 'The Tree of Life,' 'Melancholia' – but unlike those two examples, 'The Moon in the Gutter' lacks any coherent or relevant point. There's never any reason for its annoyingly slow pace. You never learn anything about its superficial characters and don't come anywhere close to empathizing with them. By the time the movie ends, our central character inexplicably undoes any good that he's done for himself, rendering the entire film a pointless waste of time. Only making it seem worse are the awful video and audio qualities. They not only resemble VHS quality, but the quality that you'd expect if you recorded over an old program with something new. It's atrocious. Worth avoiding at all costs.