• Legend Of The Holy Drinker, The

    Released By: Arrow Video
    Released On: September 26, 2017
    Director: Ermanno Olmi
    Cast: Rutger Hauer, Anthony Quayle, Sandrine Dumas, Dominique Pinon
    Year: 1988
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    The Movie:

    I'd have a hell of a time coming up with an answer if I was asked to pigeonhole The Legend of the Holy Drinker into a genre, or even describe the plot effectively. Based on Joseph Roth's 1939 novel of the same name, this somewhat odd film went on to win some prestigious awards, finding Director Ermanno Olmi, known for using non-actors in his films, casting one very talented Rutger Hauer in the lead; to great success.

    Hauer, previously known for his roles in Blade Runner, The Hitcher, and Wanted: Dead Or Alive (in which he blows loudmouth Gene Simmons into little tiny bits) takes a turn here as he portrays Andreas, a former coal miner who has made his way to Paris to become a full-blown alcoholic, as opposed to the success he no doubt thought he would become. Sleeping under bridges and wrapped in newspaper and the same clothes he arrived in, night after night, Andreas' path is determined by drink, with every bit of spare change he amasses dumped on the wine bottles that loudly roll out from underneath him as the sun rises. By chance, Andreas comes across the path of a man speaking of miracles (Anthony Quayle), who offers the drunk the sum of 200 francs to get him out of the unfortunate state he's in, which Andreas hesitantly accepts with protestations that he is still a gentleman. The stranger has only one demand, in the form of repayment of this surprise loan; that Andreas make his way to a local mass on Sunday to donate the funds in the name of Saint Thérèse of Lisieux.

    Andreas tearfully agrees to the terms; after all, he IS a gentleman; but decides that the first order of business should be a meal and a glass or six of wine. Fully sated, he makes his way back to his sleeping post under the bridge, but wakes with a newfound vigour, commissioning a fresh shave, a newspaper, and some breakfast. While dining, he makes the acquaintance of a rather portly man who also has a love of booze, and requires assistance in moving his shop. It seems like another miracle is destined to take place when Andreas is paid the sum of 200 francs for the moving job, which he uses to get himself off of the street and into a dingy hotel room, after purchasing a used wallet from a local shop. But, being that he is a gentleman, Andreas heeds the call of bells on Sunday morning, heading down to the church to pay off the loan. Another chance meeting comes in the form of a rich woman from his past, who takes Andreas out to wine him, dine him, and do whatever else with the sorry lad, and Andreas thinks back to his past in which he and the lady share a story of brutal violence.

    Moving on and continuing to drink incessantly, Andreas laments his dwindling funds but finds another miracle in the form of 1,000 francs that were left inside of the used wallet he purchased. Another chance occurrence comes in the form of a picture of a famed boxer; a friend from his school days; that Andreas manages to track down and hang out with. The boxer, pleased with meeting his friend and noting his sorry state, puts him up in a fancier hotel and gifts him with two beautiful suits, the opportunity to again rejoin society, pay his debt, and be done with his life of poverty. But again, with the ringing of the church bells on the horizon of a new Sunday and another chance to make good on his promise finds Andreas slave to alcohol and a somewhat psychotic casino dancer.

    The Legend of the Holy Drinker is really something to see. Hauer, for one, is mind-blowingly (no hyperbole here) fantastic in the lead role. Although he could probably use a blast of soot and a bit of a slur to add to the realism, the guy I assumed was a one-dimensional character is anything but, delivering lines impeccably and commanding both sympathy and disgust in the same breath. Hauer's prowess is such that he's almost a detriment to the picture, commanding every scene that he appears in and laying other actors to waste in his path. But that's not to say that the picture is a wash. The supporting actors, including a number of non-actors with this as their sole imdb.com credit, paint such a wonderful picture, it's as though (no cliche here) they were born to play these roles. Occasionally, the flashbacks do get a little confusing, but Legend of the Holy Drinker stays en pointe as needed for the most part, delivering the message of destiny vs. divine intervention.

    The novel is of course responsible for partial credit in the effectiveness of the story, but huge (HUGE!) consideration must be given to Ermanno Olmi and Screenwriter Tullio Kezich, who hammered out a vision in the script and made it happen. At over two hours, Holy Drinker never falters or becomes boring, nor does it have the viewer checking their watch. Pacing is beautifully done and story elements come together fluidly, creating a wonderfully entertaining film. Dante Spinotti's cinematography is also something to behold, with the 80's setting in France reflecting modern society, yet somehow appearing ancient and timeless. Weaving in and out of these visual setpieces is music by Igor Stravinsky, who provides a top-shelf soundtrack for the wonderful visuals on display. I didn't know what to expect going into The Legend of the Holy Drinker, but what I was left with was the impression of a film that can only happen when every aspect of the process fits into place perfectly.


    Arrow boasts a "Brand-new 4K restoration from the original negative" and holy snappers, does it ever show. The AVC-encoded 1.85:1 transfer is phenomenal, with excellent detail and impressive blacks, and no evidence of print damage or debris. Olmi's use of close-ups in this film is plentiful, and the level of detail becomes even more apparent in these moments. No crushing or other artifacts were visible during the viewing, and this transfer further shows how wonderful and natural the medium of film has the ability to look when transferred properly. This is a perfectly executed presentation that shows off Dante Spinotti's cinematography in a way that should be the rule, not the exception.

    Three audio options are available, with the first being an English DTS-HD MA 5.1 surround track, which had more oomph and atmosphere than the stereo English LPCM 2.0 track that is also available. Dialogue was clear and concise, balance was perfect, and there were no issues to speak of. Use of the surrounds was tasteful, as was LFE.

    An Italian 2.0 LPCM track is also made available, and it sounds on par with the English 2.0 track; audible dialogue carried across with a good mix of foley and Stravinsky's score. Newly translated English Subtitles for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing are available as well.

    The first supplement made available is an all-new Interview With Rutger Hauer (9:20), who plays Andreas in the film. Hauer gives his insight into the story and his character, and talks of meeting Olmi following his role as a very bad man in The Hitcher. Hauer also talks about how to play a drunk with more subtlety than one might expect.

    The next supplement is an Interview with Screenwriter Tullio Kezich. (25:47). Not for the faint of heart, this interview is subtitled (Kezich speaks Italian) and requires a fast eye to catch all of the detail, as Kezich kicks out his commentary at machine gun pace. Kezich discusses Joseph Roth's original novel and how his own wife was partially responsible for getting the film made. He also talks about bringing Olmi's vision to the script and then to the screen, and also last minute cast changes. There's a lot of information here, as Kezich doesn't really stop to breathe; those with anxiety issues may need to watch it in instalments.

    The Final Word:

    Difficult to categorize, The Legend Of The Holy Drinker was a surprisingly enjoyable film with beautiful locations and touching performances. Arrow's Blu-ray release does justice to Olmi's film in being one of the finest transfers I've seen committed to disc.

    Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!