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Institute Benjamenta
SPECIFICATIONS
  • 1.66:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
  • English PCM Mono
  • English subtitles
  • 2 Discs
FEATURES
  • Dual Format Edition: Includes both the Blu-ray and the DVD of the film and extras
  • Inside the Institute: an in-between world (BFI, 2010, c.30 mins): a brand new documentary about the making of the film, featuring actors Mark Rylance, Alice Krige, as well as the directors, writer, DoP and film editor
  • Original trailer
  • Eurydice - She, So Beloved (Quay Brothers, 2007, 12 mins): Monteverdi's opera L'Orfeo
  • The Comb (Quay Brothers, 1990, 17 mins): this short animation explores some of the themes of Institute Benjamenta
  • On-set footage (15 mins, DVD only)
  • Songs for Dead Children (Quay Brothers / Steve Martland, 2003, 23 mins): Steve Martland's Street Songs as seen by the visionary animators
  • Fully illustrated booklet containing newly commissioned essays, biographies and stills by celebrated photographer Jill Furmanovsky

Institute Benjamenta

Blu-ray
Reviewed by: Chris Galloway

Directed By: Stephen Quay, Timothy Quay
Starring: Mark Rylance, Alice Krige, Gottfried John
1995 | 104 Minutes

Release Information
Blu-ray | MSRP: £24.99 | Series: BFI
BFI Video

Release Date: May 31, 2010
Review Date: May 23, 2010

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SYNOPSIS

Inspired by the writings of the Swiss novelist Robert Walser, Institute Benjamenta is the first live-action feature from the acclaimed surrealist animators, the Quay Brothers. Jakob (Mark Rylance) enrols into the Benjamenta Institute, a dilapidated boarding school for the training of servants. He then tries to unravel the hidden mysteries of the school, his fellow pupils, and Frau and Herr Benjamenta, the siblings who run it. A fascinating symphony of light and shade constructed on the prevailing Quay themes of death, decay, and nothingness.

Forum members rate this film 10/10

 

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PICTURE

BFI video presents the Quay Brothersí indescribable 1995 film Institute Benjamenta in the aspect ratio of 1.66:1 on this dual-layer Blu-ray disc. The transfer is presented in 1080p/24hz.

BFI again outdo themselves with the black-and-white transfer found here, presenting a true representation of the film. The film looks to be shot through a haze at times so a good chunk of the film does lack real definition, but this is the stylistic choice and has nothing to do with the transfer itself. But when the picture is sharp fine details are apparent and grain is noticeable throughout, the image retaining a natural, film-like look that hasnít been severely worked over digitally. Contrast looks very good with distinct and beautifully rendered gray levels and fairly deep blacks. The condition of the source material is excellent, with only a few minor imperfections here and there.

In all another beautiful job by the folks at BFI, stunning and perfect for the film.

(Note: BFIís edition of Institute Benjamenta is a dual-format release, containing not only this Blu-ray disc but also containing a DVD with a standard definition transfer of the film. This review is based on a check disc of the Blu-ray and I did not receive the DVD version so I cannot comment on its transfer or its region coding. As to the Blu-rayís region coding, though a UK release, the Blu-ray is region free and should play on all players worldwide. I had no issue playing it on my North American PS3 system.)

9/10

All Blu-ray screen captures come from the source disc and have been shrunk from 1920x1080 to 900x506 and slightly compressed to conserve space. While they are not exact representations they should offer a general idea of overall video quality.

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AUDIO

BFI includes a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 track that suits the film perfectly. I canít say I noticed any discernable damage to the track, but itís very clear and clean, dialogue sounding natural and very easy to hear, and the haunting music, which is used to beautiful effect in this very dreamlike film, is incredibly crisp. It sounds quite beautiful.

7/10

SUPPLEMENTS

BFI has put together some wonderful supplements for this release (all of which are presented in 1080p on the Blu-ray disc) starting with a great 31-minute ďmaking-ofĒ called Inside the Institute: An In-Between World. The interview features the Quay Brothers, writer Alan Passes, actors Alice Krige and Mark Rylance, cinematographer Nic Knowland and editor Larry Sider. Though entirely a ďtalking-headsĒ piece itís an interesting look into the making of the film. The brothers explain how they moved on to making a feature film, looking for a ďnarrativeĒ and going to the writings of Robert Walser for inspiration, the two, along with writer Passes, explaining the film is a sort of portrait of Walser entering the mental home, which he would stay in, eventually dying from a heart attack while on a walk outside the institution. Krige and Rylance talk about their confusion over the script but their excitement over doing something this original, and even talk about their charactersí relationship. Thereís only a little in the way about miniature work but Knowland and the Brothers do talk about the look of the film which includes the sets (the inspiration for one set in the film being a little shocking) and the lighting, and by the sounds of it some of the more beautiful looking shots in the film were caught accidentally or by chance. Thereís also some details about the differences between filming live action and miniatures. Sider then talks about the editing, specifically the use of sound, which was inspired by the sound that was used in the Quaysí short film, The Comb (also included as a supplement on this disc.) Itís a decent little making-of that is certainly more technical in nature, but it also offers some analysis and possible meanings to the film as well.

Next is a short 1-minute-and-21-second trailer for the film, completely done with miniatures and creepy, to say the least.

But the real gem on here would certainly have to be the three short films by the Quay Brothers. BFI includes The Comb (18-minutes), Songs for Dead Children (24-minutes), and Eurydice, She so Beloved (11-minutes). Songs for Dead Children, which is stop-motion animation set against music by composer Steve Martland, is visually the most stunning with a very creative use of light (and a fairly morbid wood model near its conclusion.) Eurydice is an operatic take on the Orpheus myth, told from Eurydiceís point of view while in the underworld. But The Comb may be the most fascinating, which is a bizarre fairy tale of sorts following a doll making his way up a variety of ladders, intercut with the image of a woman sleeping in bed. Itís somewhat eerie, certainly poetic, but Iíll admit I didnít completely understand it. Still itís imagery is striking and fascinating, as it is in all of the films, all of which make great companion pieces to the film.

BFI then includes one of their wonderful booklets. Samuel Frederick offers a wonderful essay on the film, the Quaysí work in general, and how Walserís writings have inspired their work. Michael Brooke then offers a short piece covering the Quayís work since their early days, touching a bit on their move to a feature film with Insititute Benjamenta. The next piece is interesting and somewhat bizarre (rather suiting to the release in all honesty) in that itís apparently an e-mail sent from producer Keith Griffiths to the Brothers Quay not too long ago (March 15, 2010 to be precise.) In it he mentions he was contacted by the BFI to provide an edited version of his entry from the book Inside Stories: Diaries of British Film-makers at Work, and ten amusingly proceeds to talk about that entry, and then about the Brothersí work, Benjamenta, and whatever else seemed to enter his head at that moment. Itís actually a great little inclusion. The booklet then concludes with a bio on Griffiths, notes on the music in the film, and then a bio of sorts on photographer Jill Furmanovsky, who shot many of the still photos for Institute Benjamenta, used in publicity and throughout this booklet. Like always, the booklet is a strong and important inclusion for this BFI release and is definitely worth reading through.

The final release of this edition (again, I am working from a check disc of the Blu-ray) will also include a DVD, which will contain a standard-def version of the film, along with all of the supplements found on the Blu-ray. The DVD will also contain an exclusive feature, a short 2000 piece called On the set of Institute Benjamenta. Since I do not have the DVD I cannot comment on it but people who purchase this should be aware that itís there.

A solid set of supplements, the shorts being a gem.

7/10

CLOSING

I couldnít help but think of David Lynch or Salvador Dali while watching Institute Benjamenta, which feels like a dream unfolding, but the style and look to the film is still all the Quayís own. Itís a unique looking film and not something Iíve really ever seen before. Yet while its imagery is heavy and poetic, the film is adventurous and actually a little playful, even amusing. Itís actually quite a bit of fun if you can let yourself just go with it. And BFIís Blu-ray presents it beautifully. The transfer is absolutely gorgeous, and the supplements add a bit to the film. A high recommendation.




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