ETOILE (1989) Blu-ray
Director: Peter Del Monte
Scorpion Releasing

Before BLACK SWAN, Jennifer Connelly's psyche was split between good and evil in the Italian sleeper ETOILE on Blu-ray from Scorpion Releasing.

Claire (Connelly) arrives in Budapest to audition for the ballet school of Marius Balakin (Laurent Terzieff, THE BIG NIGHT) but she quickly loses her nerve after witnessing the breakdown of another hopeful. Getting lost in the old theatre's corridors, she wanders onto the stage and dances before the empty seats and catches Balakin's eye. Claire soon finds distraction in a blooming romance with fellow New Yorker Jason (Gary McCleery, TAPS) who is apprenticing under his antiques dealer uncle Joshua (Charles Durning, DARK NIGHT OF THE SCARECROW). While exploring the old city, they stumble upon a derelict mansion that once belonged to a ballerina seemingly obsessed with the ballet "Swan Lake" which galvanizes Claire to go back to the theatre and audition. Returning to her room, she finds black roses with a care for someone named Natalie and receives a supernatural visitation from Balakin's choreographer (Olimpia Carlisi, FELLINI'S CASANOVA) and male dancer (ballet dancer Mario Marozzi). When she fails to meet up with Jason the next morning, he finds a note telling him that she has changed her mind and is returning to New York. At the airport, Claire responds to a page for Natalie Horvath and gets into a Rolls Royce chauffeured by Balakin's manservant Karol (Donald Hodson, LADYHAWKE). Jason is in poor spirits until he spots Claire in a park although she claims that her name is Natalie and that she is a prima ballerina about to star in a production of "Swan Lake." Discovering that Natalie Horvath died in an accident in 1891 before what was purported to be a special staging of "Swan Lake" with a different ending, Jason tries to get through to Claire before the past can repeat itself.

A wonderfully atmospheric if more than a little imperfect ghost story, ETOILE cannot really be described as Italian horror any more so than American director Peter Del Monte's previous production JULIA & JULIA, an Italian television film shot in primitive high definition by Giuseppe Rotunno that starred Kathleen Turner (CRIMES OF PASSION) as woman grieving the death of her husband (Gabriel Byrne, GOTHIC) who simultaneously inhabits parallel worlds in which her husband died and one in which he survived that is complicated by her relationship with an old lover (Sting, THE BRIDE). The script by Del Monte, Sandro Petraglia (THE GIRL BY THE LAKE), and Franco Ferrini (OPERA) – which appropriately works in the myth of Apollo and Daphne as subtext – is a bit too draggy for its own good, with the love story not compelling enough to sustain interest in the more clichéd aspects of the tale while the score of Jürgen Knieper (THE AMERICAN FRIEND) is alternately effective and leaden. Connelly's acting improved over her earlier work in PHENOMENA, but McCleery gives an uneven performance that seems as though he is going for youthful naiveté, and Durning just chomps his way through the attractive scenery. Sergio Stivaletti (DEMONS, PHENOMENA) provides a large animatronic black swan that figures into the climax, but it is just as well that it is only briefly glimpsed as it looks more like a Jim Henson Muppet creation. ETOILE was not the only Italian genre film to take advantage of Hungary's tax breaks from the period as Michele Soavi's THE CHURCH and Gianfranco Giagni's THE SPIDER LABYRINTH were also lensed in some of the same locations. Executive producer Achille Manzotti's other genre credits include NOTHING UNDERNEATH and its sequel TOO BEAUTIFUL TO DIE as well as Dario Argento's and George Romero's TWO EVIL EYES, along with Italian distribution of a number of Joe D'Amato Filmirage titles from the late eighties including the LA CASA films.

Unreleased in the United States, ETOILE was available in English-friendly form only in Japan owing to Connelly's popularity over there via a Dolby Surround letterboxed import VHS and laserdisc from Columbia Home Video. The later anamorphic 1.66:1 PAL-converted DVD release from Happinet, however, only offered Italian audio, as did the barebones Italian DVD from Medusa. Derived from a new and "heavily color-corrected" 2017 HD scan, Scorpion's 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC widescreen Blu-ray is framed at 1.85:1 and restores a lustrous elegance to the images of Portuguese cinematographer Acácio de Almeida (O SANGUE). What once seemed paler, alternately over-lit or murky, and blandly pretty reveals new textures in the film's derelict locations and old stonework as well as lighting accents that enhance the supernatural aspect of certain characters. The increased clarity provides a better look at the black swan's monstrous mouth in its single close-up. The DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 stereo track is relatively clean, with some hiss noticeable during the quieter passages of the score (although that hiss is also present on the RCA soundtrack CD which pairs the film with Franco Micalizzi's score for STRIDULUM/THE VISITOR).

The disc includes two new interviews. In the first, writer/director Del Monte (18:37) recalls that he was approached by Manzotti to do the film based on the international success of JULIA AND JULIA, and that he took the undeveloped project because the producer offered him an advance. He speaks glowingly of the entire cast and his crew and takes full responsibility for the film's faults which he feels were caused both by the disagreement between him and the producers about the nature of the story as well as his own overly serious approach to the film while cinematographer Almeida was an artist whose approach clashed with the industry technicians under him. In the second interview (9:36), producer Claudio Mancini (THE 10TH VICTIM) proves to be as "crude" as Del Monte described in the above featurette, slamming Del Monte, Almeida, and McCleery while describing Terzieff as having one foot in the grave during production (although he died in 2010). The original theatrical trailer (2:16) is included along with trailers for BARBAROSA, CITY ON FIRE, STEAMING, and TEN LITTLE INDIANS. While the Scorpion Releasing Blu-ray is only available from RoninFlix and DiabolikDVD, a wide-release DVD edition from the same master is available from Kino Lorber.
(Eric Cotenas)