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Default Baba Yaga




Reviewer: Rhett
Review Date: September 11, 2003

Released by: Blue Underground
Release date: 5/27/2003
MSRP: $19.95
Region 1, NTSC
Widescreen 1.85:1 | 16x9: Yes



Comic book adaptations rarely get the translations they deserve. Apart from Ang Lee's visionary masterpiece, Hulk, and Ralph Bashki's Fritz The Cat, there have been scant few adaptations that live up to the source material. Batman? Okay. Superman? Drab. Spider-Man? Mediocre, at best. What most adaptations fail to capture is the visual panache of the comic book world. The big screen adaptations lose the kinetic and disjointed structure inherent in comics, and in the process lose much of comic's energy and creativity. Baba Yaga, an obscure 1973 release newly restored by Blue Underground, is also routed in comic history, but does it suffer the same fate as most adaptations?

The Story

Valentina Rosselli (the bird-like beauty, Isabelle De Funes) is a successful fashion photographer. She's got a boyfriend, Arno Treves (George Eastman), but one night she decides to go home alone. On the empty city streets, she is almost hit by a mysterious woman in black. With a huge smoke cloud emanating from her fingertips, she introduces herself as Baba Yaga (Carroll Baker).

From the first meeting, and erotic, lesbian attraction is emitted by them both, but Valentina suppresses that and tries to live her life. Just like elements in the subconscious, Yaga is unable to be ignored, and continues to invade Valentina's life. While looking at Valentina's camera, she threateningly places a hex upon the shutter. Soon enough, the subjects of her photographs begin to fall down and suffer headaches.

Valentina begins to recognize the various threats Baba Yaga poses to her, and her life begins to drift into paranoia. Her life begins to fluctuate between dream and reality, until eventually the two submerge for a titillating final act. Who exactly is Baba Yaga, and what is going on in the hyperactive imagination of Valentina?



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Baba Yaga is a film that really gets it right. Based on the influential comics of Guido Crepax, this is a rarity, a film that fully captures the essence of comic book themes and presentations. The editing is at times rapid, and always interesting. There are few distinct camera movements, the story is instead told through alternating cuts, from extreme close-up, the close-up, to medium shot, etcetera. In order to fully realize and establish the comic book connection, director Corrado Farina even over exposes a few sequences in order to wash them out to resemble black and white line drawings. This is a film with a presentation that seems to only have been able to exist in the experimental 70's. The imagery is always meticulously composed, and the avant-garde elements instill the film with a kinetic comic feel.

Not only is the visual comic book representation spot on, but the way it presents the story is also in a manner very true to comic book lore. The blurring of dreams and reality creates a wonderfully confusing and aloof story, one where the subtext is more important than the denotative aspects of the story. Think Mulholland Dr., but with supernatural elements.

The movie is captivating in its use of metaphor and motif, suggesting that Baba Yaga herself is a physical manifestation of the suppressed lesbian desires of Valentina. She first meets Yaga when she refuses her boyfriend's advances, and the climax proves, like with many horror films of the time, that one can never truly suppress their desires, they keep coming back.



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Guido Crepax's comics were full of elements of the subconscious and dreams, and the movie is no different. Valentina takes images from her past and projects them into her dreams, and her dreams eventually begin to dictate reality. The black hole, located in the subtextual Baba Yaga's apartment, is full of meaning related to the subconscious. Like Freud's idea of the Id, it exists beyond interpretation. It is very much there, but mankind is never able to fully understand what exists inside it. From the hole right up to the wartime imagery featuring the director himself, Baba Yaga is a film laced with ingenious themes and presentations.

The last major theme of the film is the idea of perception, and how reality is never how it appears. Significant emphasis is placed upon Valentina's camera, and how she photographs the world. Baba Yaga states that the camera is "the eye that freezes reality" and then later says that man does not "understand the secrets of [his] own earth." These two statements link up when it becomes apparent that Valentina herself cannot understand her reality and the dreams that are infused upon it. She photographs, but even her snapshots are not quite what she envisions. Yaga's quotes, especially the first, also hark back to the comic influences of the film, and how in essence comics are mere freeze frames of narrative events.



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Corrando Farina, in his second and final directing role, recognizes the quintessence of the comic strip, and how it bursts with creative ingenuity and dream-like magic. He gets everything right: the composed cinematography, the energetic editing, the perceptive visual motifs and even elicits stellar performances from his cast. Isabelle De Funes dominates nearly every shot, and her performance is a rollercoaster ride of emotion and expression. The fact that she has few other credits to her name is a shame. Baba Yaga is just a gem of a movie, one that consistently flies under the word of mouth radar, yet deserves every bit of praise as other witchery tales like even Argento's Suspiria. It is a titillating supernatural experience from start to finish, and a smart one at that.

Image Quality

The film is presented in anamorphic 1.85:1 widescreen, and this is some of Blue Underground's best work. The colors are solid and full of lush detail; Farina's expressionistic red hues are romanticized and wonderfully transferred. The image is sharp and grain is virtually nonexistent. There is nary a print blemish, and really nothing wrong with this transfer. Some of Blue Underground's earlier titles have lacked the clarity and cleanliness of what they have displayed here. Farina's visuals are fully realized with this transfer.

Sound

English mono is all that is offered, and while a 5.1 remix would have heightened the intensity of Valentina's rampant dreams, the track here works just fine. It is a bit flat, but the sound is clear and always audible.

Supplemental Material

This is one of Blue Underground's bigger releases, chock full of great extras. The first is a 22 minute interview with Corrado Farina entitled "Farina and Valentina." Farina talks a mile a minute, and is very proud and vocal about his film. He talks at lengths about the casting, the comic influence and how he wished to create that feel, and how the censors hacked away at his opus. He is a very educated man, and hearing him speak about the complexities of his story makes Baba Yaga all the more convincing as a fine work of art.

Next up are 10 minutes with deleted and censored scenes. A significant scene is included featuring a lengthy back story on one of Valentina's dreams. Other notable inclusions are the cut nude scenes for both Carroll Baker and Isabelle De Funes. "Freud in Color" is a vintage 11 minute look at the comics of Guido Crepax. It gives a nice history into the world of comic creation, and how Crepax's influence on the art has been substantial. It dissects a few of his comics to show the themes he commonly explores. This segment, perhaps better seen before the film, gives a great window into what to expect with Baba Yaga's unrestrained visuals and story.


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Rounding off the disc is a nice theatrical trailer, a poster and still gallery, and a comic book-to-film comparison. The latter supplement is a DVD-ROM only extra, and offers 9 pages worth of side by side comparisons with the film and some of Guido's storyboards that he did specifically for Baba Yaga. For a film as complex as Yaga, it is great that Blue Underground took the time to ready some supplements to better expose the history and subject matter concerning the film.

Final Thoughts

Baba Yaga is a great piece of comic book energy, full of metaphors and creative visual presentation. Not a big hit at the box office when originally released, and still extremely obscure, this is a film that deserves a rebirth. Blue Underground makes this film all the easier to adopt, with an excellent video transfer, serviceable sound, and several worthwhile extras. In a time when Hollywood is botching many of comic's most important characters, it is nice to be able to take a trip back in time to the works of a lesser known story, told in a larger than life manner. See it.

Rating

Movie - A-
Image Quality - A
Sound - C+
Supplements - B+

Technical Info.
  • Running time - 1 hour, 23 minutes
  • Color
  • Unrated
  • 1 Disc
  • Chapter Stops
  • English Mono
Supplements
  • Interview with Corrado Farina
  • "Freud in Color" - Guido Crepax documentary
  • Deleted and censored scenes
  • Poster and still gallery
  • Theatrical trailer
  • Comic book-to-film comparison (DVD-ROM only)

Other Pictures

 

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Old 04-14-2005, 02:23 PM
White, Proud, and Stupid
Great review. I think I'm going to pick it up, sounds very interesting.
 
 

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