Arrow Academy brings the much acclaimed film The Legend of the Holy Drinker to Blu-ray. Winner of the coveted Golden Lion award, it is a 1988 Italian film written and directed by Ermanno Olmi. Based on a 1939 Austrian novella, it follows the journey of a homeless man (played by Rutger Hauer) as he tries to repay a debt. What follows is an intriguing visual ride with some interesting performances and thought provoking lessons.
The Movie Itself (3.5/5)
The film has almost a fable like quality to it. Everyone our protagonist Andreas (Hauer) meets seems to have a different lesson to be learned. We begin with Andreas approached by an elderly man who apparently has his own debts (of a different sort) to pay and decides to just offer Andreas 200 francs. In exchange for the money Andreas is supposed to repay the money to a local church when he is able. The film follows his adventure over the next month as he tries and fails repeatedly to do just that.
For many reasons both positive and negative, which I’ll go through a few, I feel like this film would not do as well in today’s landscape. First and foremost, this is a very visual film with comparatively little dialogue. The director wants you to experience what Andreas goes through. Emotions are often well visualized and Hauer does a great job of conveying what he is feeling to the audience. He conveniently bumps into many friends from his past that he hasn’t seen in years. Context is given through quick dialogue-free flashbacks which give just enough information to who they are. I thought the flashbacks were an excellent way to get their point across without taking up too much time.
There is a certain lack of coherent plot at times. I’m not saying first time viewers won’t be able to follow along, but there were quite a few times I questioned the story. While 1988 doesn’t seem so long ago, I can’t imagine following a women to her hotel room and then just walking right in with nothing but an overcoat on. You would think that would lead to a call from the police, but no, it’s a movie so they of course get down instead. Other small things like a friend borrowing the 200 francs to pay off his own debtor right before Andreas is giving it to the church and then they go out and drink and party all night when both should have been broke. The whole film is a plot of convenience and my belief it was all intentional, but it felt lazy at times.
As The Legend of the Holy Drinker progressed I felt more and more like there was an unreliable narrator and it was more difficult to know what parts of the film were actually happening. After meeting the man for the first time Andreas just keeps getting windfall after windfall no matter how much he screws up. He’s even given a wallet filled with money not once but twice. I really wish the ending culminated into something more than it was though I suppose some will see it as a proper conclusion to the fable. If after the first viewing you enjoy it, I think there is inherent replay value in watching the interactions and examining a greater story than what is portrayed at face value.
For other aspects of the film, I thought the settings were well done. Each shop/room had its own personality. Even each owner was very different though they had almost no lines. The acting was well done, obviously Hauer is the main draw, but all the side players added to the dimension of the film. The cinematography was gorgeous at times due to the variance of locales. I can see why this won awards at the time of its release in addition to the all the acclaim.
Visuals/Picture Quality (5/5)
A top notch transfer from Arrow as most have come to expect. The Legend of the Holy Drinker sports a 4K resolution from the original camera negative. It’s easy to see a lot of time went into this film, there is almost no instance of dirt or damage. I imagine this film looks exactly how it was intended. The settings all had their own distinct design with the way it was lit and this transfer protects all of it. There is some soft grain throughout and really brings the detail to life. The film looks dark and drab when it wants to, but also bright and colorful when it calls for that. Anyone who has seen this film previously should be more than ecstatic with this Blu-ray. *See the last packaging picture for more info on the restoration.
Score/Audio Quality (3.5/5)
The score has a myriad of wind instruments throughout and really accents the “fairytale” aspect of the film. The 5.1 track is more than adequate with the score being relatively subdued. there is never any moments of pounding or intensity, but the surround gives more dimensions to the settings. On all the tracks the dialogue is clear with no issues, but there is really no reason to not use the 5.1 track. The Italian dub should only be used for native speakers as it wouldn’t enhance the experience for others.
Once again on an Arrow release I’m going to talk about subtitles as they can always seem to be better. This film only has a couple of errors and not much of note for the English spoken. For The Legend of the Holy Drinker it is more of a missed opportunity. Throughout the film French is spoken by the citizens and with being very little dialogue in the film to begin with this ends up being a good chunk of the total. Now I will say most of it seems to be inconsequential, like ordering drinks and food or other patrons talking to owners. When a policeman comes up to Andreas he conveniently relates the conversation to his friend shortly thereafter.
Having said all that, I think having the French translated or even an option would have brought more life to the scenes. I assume the original release did not have it translated, but when watching with subs and all you get is (speaking in French) (conversing in French) (ordering in French) it almost becomes laughable and takes you out of the film.
Special Features (2/5)
Interview with Rutger Hauer (9:20) An unfortunately short interview with the star. Hauer seemed like he had much to say about the themes in the film. I would like to know more what his take is on it. Too bad there wasn’t a commentary track with him as one of the guests. I enjoyed him discussing his trepidation coming from action films to do something more emotional and challenging. It’s refreshing to hear him say that he didn’t know if he was capable of acting as such.
Interview with Tullio Kezich (25:47) An interesting piece for sure. Tullio co-wrote the screenplay with the director Ermanno. Tullio tells a lot of nice little stories regarding the pre-production and what was involved. He talks about how Robert De Niro flew out to inquire about the lead. He also discusses working with Ermanno and finding Rutger Hauer and Anthony Quayle. My favorite part was how he stated there is a deeper meaning to the whole film, but he’ll be damned if he knows what it is. He just knew it is a powerful film and he is just not sure why.
- Blu-ray & DVD
- Disc Art
- Reversible Liner
- Clear Non-ECO Case
- Illustrated collector’s booklet featuring short history on Joseph Roth (First Pressing Only)
- Aspect ratio: 1.85:1
- English: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
- English: LPCM 2.0
- Italian: LPCM 2.0
- English SDH
Runtime 127 Mins
The Legend of the Holy Drinker Overall (3.5/5)
The Legend of the Holy Drinker is a film to contemplate. It will vary what people get out of it. I can easily see some absolutely loving every part. However, even the screen writer admits he doesn’t fully understand what he helped make. The technical details are excellent and most should be thrilled with the way the film looks. The package is a little light on features compared to some Arrow releases, but still solid enough to warrant a purchase.
This Blu-ray is available at Amazon and other fine retailers.
Note: This Blu-ray was sent to us for review. This has not affected our judgement or editorial process in any way. Please contact us if you have any questions regarding this process.