Tuesday Foreign Region DVD Report: "Die Unerzogenen" ("The Unpolished") (Pia Marais, 2006)

I don't know about you, but I get a little squirrelly at the term "boutique label." Don't you? Sounds kind of, not to put too fine a point on it, a little foofy, a little frivolous. And yet it is applied—more often than not by dilletantes of the mainstream media, enemies of the cinephile and the freedom-loving Tea Partier both—to outfits such as The Criterion Collection, Kino-Lorber, Eureka!/Masters of Cinema, DVD producers/manufacturers that do work which can hardly be called inconsequential. And yet. The term "boutique," if perceived a certain way, can be kind of accurate, even relative to the somewhat drier and necessarily more neutral term "specialty." "Specialty" implies a narrowing of focus, while "boutique" suggests a more personal approach.

The personal approach can be seen to apply if one looks at the catalog of the U.K.-run label Second Run. The label's interests are neither as eclectic, say, as Criterion's, with the emphasis being on "important classic and contemporary films" from the world over, or as narrow as Arrow Video's, which concentrates on creating incredible editions of cult horror pictures, in some cases the more disreputable the better. But on first glance it looks as if the label specializes in vintage, great, in some cases rarely-seen Eastern European films, including distinctive, beautiful works such as Valerie and her Week of Wonders and Munk's incomplete masterwork Passenger, and so much more. But look closer: the now out-of-print Ron Peck films in the cabinet reflect a concern with gay aesthetics and liberation; works by Avi Mograbi and Adoor Gopalakrishnan reflect further global cinematic engagement; and so on.

In any event, what all this means isn't significant with respect towards trying to pin down an outfit like Second Run with an easily quantifiable sound-bite-worthy "identity;" what it means is that one does trust its taste, or, if you will, its personal touch. So when it deems fit to make a release of what is for all intents and purposes an entirely contemporary film, one that had received limited international theatrical exposure to say the least, one sits up and takes notice and says, "Okay; if the Second Run people think it's worth the effort it takes to put out a worthwhile disc of this, it's something I ought to pay attention to."

And yes: Pia Marais' Die Unerzogenen is an exceptional, striking picture that deals with a potentially sticky theme—adolescent innocence and knowingness in a setting in which the ostensibly adult would-be caregivers are hopelessly inept, dysfunctional, and essentially corrupt—with terrific balance and aptness, and does so with a seeming ease that leaves overheated American efforts to do same, e.g., Catherine Hardwicke's 2003 Thirteen, looking, well, overheated. It's the plain clear-eyedness with which this picture depicts the world around its beleagured teen heroine Stevie—the raggedy-ass substance abuse, the hypocritical remnants of a fraudulent sexual freedom, and several more unpleasant features—that makes the biggest impression, the second biggest being, not atypically for such pictures, the performance of Ceci Chuh in the role of Stevie. Watching this picture now, in this moment of international filmmaking, brings up issues and questions of a specific nature—this film's relation to other notable works by low-budget filmmakers in recent German cinema (for instance Ade's Everyone Else), its relation to low-budget personal/quasi autobiographical films here in the States, its relation to feminism in film. But besides bringing up such issues, it more importantly throbs and pulses and troubles with its own individual life and sense. The presentation of the film, which was shot in Super 16 and blown up to 35, is superb, as is always the case with Second Run; the extras are slight but largely good, including a brief but pertinent video interview with the director.

The booklet essay by critic Brad Stevens begins with a rather beside-the-point, not to say inaccurate pronouncement ("The verdict would appear to be unanimous: Michael Haneke's Caché [...] represents world cinema at its finest") and does not get a whole lot better after erecting that particular straw man; the tiersomely querulous piece (in which Stevens also takes pains to remind his readers that Grandrieux, Denis, and Ferrarra are thrifty, brave, clean and reverent, while De Palma and Leone are "calculatedly sadistic," tsk, tsk), is, however, this package's sole weakness. The U.K. disc is region-free but in the PAL broadcast standard.

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  • KarstenM

    Convincing little piece. Ordered the DVD as a result. Now, I’m taking a closer look at that Secon Run catalogue.

  • Peter Nellhaus

    I’ve always recommended Second Sight’s version of “Pretty Poison” as it comes with commentary by director Noel Black. The John Waters extra on “The Girl Can’t Help It” with Divine is sort of amusing.

  • Michael Brooke

    Second Sight is a different distributor (although they also have some superb releases).

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