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More (1969) (DVD + Blu-ray)

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Genre: Drama / Suitable for 18 years and over / Director: Barbet Schroeder / Actors: Mimsy Farmer, Klaus Grünberg, Heinz Engelmann, Michel Chanderli, Henry Wolf ... / Blu-ray released 2011-09-19 at BFI Video / Features of the Blu-ray: Dolby, HiFi Sound, PAL

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      05.01.2012 18:27
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      An enjoyable film but should have the choice of buying just the Blu-ray

      This is one of the BFI's dual-format releases, containing both Blu-ray and DVD versions of the film. It costs £13 at time of writing.

      This 1969 film is probably best known through Pink Floyd's soundtrack album (which is hardly their best known work). The director, Barbet Schroeder, later did Hollywood movies like Single White Female. This cautionary tale of hippies gone wild was his first film.

      A German, Stefan, having completed his studies, goes to Paris to live a little, presumably before embarking on a career. He initially falls in with amiable petty thief Charlie. But at a party he falls for Estelle, an American girl, and despite Charlie's warnings, he follows her to Ibiza. There it becomes obvious that there's something odd going on with her - she seems to be the kept woman of an ageing Nazi drug dealer named Dr Wolf, for one thing. Eventually Stefan persuades her to run away with him, and they live an idyllic life for a while in a house on the other side of the island. But something has to burst their free love, pot smoking bubble. It emerges that Estelle has stolen some heroin from Dr Wolf, and the before long the two lovers are hooked.

      I expected this to be a curio at best, and at worst a load of self-indulgent cod-mystical twaddle. In fact, it's surprisingly good. Although there are several scenes of people taking drugs, it doesn't glorify it like, say, The Trip, nor really condemn it like Reefer Madness. If it takes a stance over drugs, it is probably that some are fun and largely harmless while others are seriously bad news. But although the actors all behave totally convincingly when they're meant to be high, the film doesn't lose itself in their trippy experiences. One LSD sequence explores that side of things slightly, and perfectly encapsulates at least part of what makes taking the drug interesting, but it doesn't go all Easy Rider on us. This isn't a drugs film, it's a drama about people taking drugs, and a good one, even if the story itself is a little predictable.

      This acts as a terrific chronicle of what it must have been like to live among the hippies of Paris and Ibiza. Lolling hippies crowding into small cafes or sprawled on the pavement in Paris, or passing a pipe around at a party, look absolutely real. The locations we see - the parties and shabby little flats - are amazingly convincing. The wall hangings, stupid posters, mohair and stripey towels remind me of my own university days, when it was fashionable to try to ape the 60s. Watching this, you can practically smell patchouli oil and pot, and the constant Pink Floyd soundtrack just makes the picture complete.

      Although it's probably not intentional, the film beautifully portrays the way the hippy dream soured. Humans are too complex to let themselves be happy just lounging around in the sun smoking weed and fucking all day long, and there are plenty of evil old capitalists on hand when they're ready to destroy themselves. Characters like Charlie the thief are OK because they have an in-built cynicism - he's unimpressed by the wannabes in Paris and takes pity on the wide-eyed idealist Stefan. Stefan, because he believes in it, gets drawn in completely, and is taken over by the drugs - the generation that tries to free itself is ultimately controlled and destroyed by the ex-Nazi who exerts control through money and addiction. The older generation vengefully corrupts and destroys the younger. So much for idealism.

      That might all sound a bit heavy, but it's not. There are some intense shouty bits, but the acting is charming enough to still let us enjoy the film even when things are going badly for everyone. Stefan is played by a German actor, Klaus Grünberg. He looks a bit like Michael Sheen, but his steely Teutonic aspect and voice are an often hilarious counterpoint to all the hippy burbling of the other characters. He's a great innocent abroad character , slowly corrupted by Estelle. He occasionally narrates bits of the film, which lends it the air of a weird Werner Herzog documentary.

      Estelle is played by Mimsy Farmer, and American actress who worked extensively in Europe. She's the main reason I wanted to see More, as she's a fascinating presence in some of the more striking Italian horror movies of the 1970s. She's very good here as the nightmare hippy girl you can't help falling in love with. The way she oh-so-playfully persuades Stefan to try heroin for the first time is heartbreaking, as you can tell where it's going to end.

      The 18 certificate is presumably because of the explicit scenes of drug taking. We see in detail how to prepare heroin, and there's a great scene where Stefan and Estelle make a crazy cocktail of all the drugs they have in the house. There is also a lot of nudity, with both main characters appearing fully nude, and various other hippy chicks baring all too.

      Even without the nudity, it's a visually appealing film. Ibiza looks lovely - this is before the era of package holidays turned it into a grim chav dystopia, and it looks entirely charming. Stefan and Estelle's time in their whitewashed house next to the sea is an idyll that we kind of hope will last, even if nothing really happens in those scenes beyond a lot of naked lounging around and pot smoking. The film is two hours long, and never feels too long - it takes its time, building up a mood carefully. Occasionally it feels a bit unsubtle - a lengthy shot of the sun setting is hammering home a metaphor a bit too hard - but generally it's very watchable.

      And it has a Pink Floyd soundtrack. It's not an album I've listened to much - it falls between the group's great Syd Barrett early phase and their figuring out how to make commercially successful albums, so mixed in with a couple of terrific songs there are a lot of twee organ solos and that one bass line that's in most of their early songs. The Floyd music is ubiquitous, and every time someone plays a record or a cassette, it's that same damn album. No wonder Stefan and Estelle turn to heroin, locked in a house with only that one album for company. At least it wasn't Ummagumma.

      The Blu-ray looks good - there's a fair bit of detail visible, and they've not reduced the grain in the image too heavily, so it still has that late-60s ambience that it probably needs. But although it's visibly better than the DVD, I'm not sure it's an absolutely essential upgrade. The DVD itself looks perfectly acceptable, and I rather regret not buying it by itself.

      Extras wise, there are trailers for More and a couple of other Schroeder films (including La Vallée, the other one Floyd did the soundtrack for). There's also (on the DVD only, for some reason), a 17 minute 'documentary', which is really just Schroeder talking to us. He still seems to live in the house where Estelle and Stefan lived in the film, and is quite a charming old guy. He tells us a fair bit about his love life, but gives some good context for the movie - apparently Ibiza was full of ageing Nazis in those days.

      Overall, this is a much better film that I expected, and kudos to the BFI, who as ever are getting films released that no one else would touch with a bargepole. You probably don't need the Blu-ray edition, but it's worth checking out the film.

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