Eve's Bayou

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Synopsis

“The summer I killed my father, I was ten years old . . .” So begins Kasi Lemmons’s spellbinding feature debut, an evocative journey into the maze of memory steeped in fragrant southern-gothic atmosphere. In 1960s Louisiana, a young girl (Jurnee Smollett) sees her well-to-do family unravel in the wake of the infidelities of her charming father (Samuel L. Jackson)—setting in motion a series of deceptions and betrayals that will upend her world and challenge her understanding of reality. Rooted in Creole history, folklore, and mysticism, Eve’s Bayou is a scintillating showcase for a powerhouse ensemble of Black actresses—including Lynn Whitfield, Debbi Morgan, and the legendary Diahann Carroll as a voodoo priestess—as well as a profoundly cathartic exploration of trauma, forgiveness, and the elusive nature of truth.

Picture 9/10

In a wonderful surprise The Criterion Collection releases Kasi Lemmon’s Eve’s Bayou on Blu-ray in two cuts: the theatrical version and the director's cut. The two-disc set presents each cut on individual dual-layer discs both with 1080p/24hz high-definition encodes and in the aspect ratio of 1.85:1. Each presentation is also sourced from a brand-new 4K restoration, scanned from the 35mm original negative and the 35mm interpositive.

I strongly suspect both presentations use the same restoration at their respective base since the edits don't differ all that much, simply switching out or adding in individual shots and sequences where they do differ. Both presentations don't appear to differ in terms of quality, each one looking remarkable thanks in part to a thorough restoration that leaves no mark or minor blemish behind, at least nothing noteworthy. The digital presentation itself renders the details sharply and without issue, and grain is captured and presented in a clean manner most of the time, maybe looking a little noisy in darker areas or across the sky in a few shots. I'd say it's all still easy to overlook, though. It’s also worth noting that while the director’s cut is presented alongside the features on the first disc and the theatrical cut is presented all by its lonesome on the second, neither presentation has been favored over the other since both have been given a lot of room to breathe on their respective discs with the file sizes for both being around the same: the director's cut takes up about 36GB on the disc whereas the theatrical cut takes up around 34GB.

Colours feature a noticeable push towards teal in both presentations, though I can't say I found it to be all that bad. I haven’t seen the film in a long while, having only previously seen it on VHS and then on television (I have not seen the Trimark or Lionsgate DVDs, the latter of which I wasn’t even aware existed until recently), so even if I did remember how those presentations looked I doubt they're reliable references. Still, the look here is suiting to the gothic tone of the film and it also fits with the film's colour scheme, which is laced with a lot of blues, greens, aquas, violets and such. I also didn’t find the hue to negatively impact any other area of the presentation, black levels still looking rich. The range offered in the shadows is also extraordinarily wide, which helps in delivering details in the film’s darker shots. Ultimately both presentations come out looking striking.

(All screen captures are from the Director's Cut.)

Audio 8/10

Both versions of the film include DTS-HD MA 5.1 surround soundtracks.

The film has a surprisingly active audio mix for what it is, a relatively quiet gothic drama. Some crowded areas, parties, and even storms deliver a lot of activity through the surrounds, with thundercracks sticking out especially. Terence Blanchard’s evocative score is also mixed beautifully through the surrounds with some subtle lower bass thrown in there, and there are some nice ambient effects thrown in for great effect. Dialogue sticks primarily to the fronts and it's all easy to hear and crisp.It's an impressive mix all around.

Extras 8/10

Criterion’s special edition packs in a good amount of material over Lionsgate’s and Trimark’s previous editions, though it doesn’t appear Criterion was able to port everything over from those editions.

The biggest bonus here is the inclusion of both the original theatrical and director’s cuts, the director's cut presented on the first disc and the theatrical on the second. It’s explained elsewhere in the features that following Lemmons finishing her original edit (which is what the director’s cut represents) she was asked by Trimark executives to remove a character, Eve’s (Jurnee Smollett) Uncle Thomy (John O’Neal), who is afflicted with cerebral palsy, fearing he would put audiences off. Lemmons, who was conflicted since the character represented someone from her own life, did give in only to later regret it.

Though there are a couple of additional short sequences, primarily between Samuel L. Jackson’s and Lynn Whitfield’s characters, the inclusion of the uncle encompasses the biggest alteration to be found within the 7 additional minutes, and though I can’t say the tone of the film changes all that much overall it does end up altering a key moment during a reveal near the end ever so slightly. What proves especially fascinating from having both, though, is comparing the two versions to see how slickly the character was edited out. Uncle Thomy does have a significant presence in a couple of scenes in the director's cut yet he was removed entirely from these portions leaving no trace of him in the finished product. Though I know it broke Lemmons’ heart removing him I have to say I’m impressed at how seamless he was removed because I had no sense of the character at all when I initially watched the theatrical cut.

Criterion typically only include the director’s “preferred” version or and in cases where they do present an alternate version it may be in a less-than-ideal form, like a presentation from a dated master. Interestingly they’ve put a lot of effort in presenting both versions here, giving each a new restoration and even making sure to present them of about the same quality when it comes to encode. They also include DTS-HD MA surround soundtracks for both. Now, as to why Criterion is including both versions with new restorations I can’t say with certainty, but it may have to do with comments that Lemmons makes on the included audio commentary for the director’s cut, which was originally recorded for Lionsgate’s 2004 DVD edition and also features producer Caldecot Chubb, director of photography Amy Vincent, and editor Terilyn A. Shropshire.

On this track Lemmons explains how the director’s cut is her cut, the original one she made, and she goes over that guilt she felt over giving in to studio demands. Yet she does admit the decision was more personal since the character is based on someone from her family, so she can’t separate herself appropriately from it. Because of that she does wonder if it was maybe the best thing for the film to cut him out. I must assume she may still feel that way and that she felt it made sense to offer both cuts just in case.

Interestingly, producer Chubb (who I understand wasn’t one of the people pushing for the character to be cut) feels the theatrical cut is the better one since the focus of the ending changes when Uncle Thomy is present, which I do have to say I agree with..

Some interesting conversations do come up about the alterations and how they impact the film, whether in positive or negative manners, but if there is one slight disappointment about the track it’s that it does focus maybe too much on the director’s cut and the differences between it and the theatrical version. Details around the production, Lemmons’ influences, and the long road to actually getting the film made can sometimes feel to take second chair and there’s some jumping back and forth. Still, one of the more interesting discussions outside of those about the two cuts is when Lemmons and crew go over the scene featuring Aunt Mozelle (Debbi Morgan) telling a story about the death of her one husband. Lemmons explains that it was a scene that would have been in danger of being cut (or not even filmed) since it was 8-pages of dialogue and wasn’t vital to the plot outside of character, so she had to come up with a way to make it stick out and feel integral to the film. It’s an incredible scene and to learn that it basically came about last minute and out of desperation is kind of shocking. Details like that (and other similar ones) make up for any slight shortcomings the track may otherwise have.

As with the two previous DVD editions Criterion includes Lemmons’ 19-minute short Dr. Hugo, which was made as a proof-of-concept for Eve’s Bayou. As she explains elsewhere she wanted to direct Eve’s Bayou but producer Chubb realized she would have to prove herself to executives since not only was she a first-time director but also a Black woman, which was sadly but unsurprisingly a huge caveat for the studio. Chubb got her the money and crew (some of whom would help on the feature, including Vincent) and she created this short film that was, more or less, about the same character played by Samuel L. Jackson in the feature, jthe names differing.

Played by Vondie Curtis Hall here (who would also have a different role in the feature), the film follows the popular town doctor who gladly “helps out” his female patients and makes sure their needs are met. The plot of the short focuses on his house call to a young housewife who has been feeling ill for a while (though is probably faking). This sequence is replicated to an extent in the film, but the plot takes a different and rather funny turn in the last few minutes of the short. Based on it you can see why everyone was put at east with Lemmons' directing: it’s an incredibly confident short, beautifully shot and edited, and it evokes the same look and feel that would carry over to Eve’s Bayou.

It appears that the previous DVDs included an optional commentary by Lemmons over the short but that sadly hasn’t been carried over here. Instead, Criterion is using a new 4K restoration, which has been encoded decently enough here. Interestingly it also has that bit of a teal push to the colours.

Criterion then includes two new interviews recorded exclusively for this edition: a 36-minute one featuring director Kasi Lemmons and a 12-minute one featuring her (more than likely cut from her same interview) and composer Terence Blanchard. Lemmons’ interview is especially comprehensive as she talks about her childhood and move into acting before looking to become a filmmaker, mentioning that she found inspiration after working with the likes of Spike Lee (School Daze), Jonathan Demme (The Silence of the Lambs) and John Woo (Hard Target). From here she talks more about coming to make her debut feature film, sharing stories around the casting process before getting into some of the more technical aspects of the production, like storyboarding. Blanchard’s contribution isn’t as in-depth but he shares how the film came to him at the right time in his career and further invigorated him. He also speaks of his admiration for the film and what Lemmons was able to capture, finding it to be one of the few films where he could recognize people from his own life. Both are great though they lose a few points for reminding me that the abysmal romantic comedy ‘Til There Was You exists: in a funny little coincidence both of them worked on that film before starting on Eve’s Bayou.

Criterion then digs up a recording from a cast and crew reunion conducted over Zoom in 2021 for the New Orleans Film Festival and what I assume was a screening of the film (or however it was handled in those days of COVID). In attendance are Lemmons, Blanchard, Lynn Whitfield, Jurnee Smollett and Meagan Good with filmmaker Zandashé Brown moderating. Debbi Morgan also pops up through a pre-recorded video to wish everyone else well. After everyone gives updates about their lives that include what they’ve been doing during lockdown the remainder of the 59-minute discussion has all five members reflect on the film and the importance it has played in their lives. They talk about several subjects related to the film, including the importance of representation and how much easier it is for wannabe filmmakers to get their message out there nowadays (all one needs is an iPhone now to make a film), before sharing stories from the time with each other. It’s a fun conversation with a couple of insightful subjects.

Criterion then includes a couple of photo album features. The first is a 3-minute video around a literal album of Polaroids that Amy Vincent took in order to test the light before shooting. Lemmons liked a lot of them and wanted some only for Vincent to pretty much tell her “no.” But at the end of production the cinematographer gifted Lemmons this album and it still remains one of the director’s favourite things. The second gallery is a standard navigable gallery featuring 20 (out of what is apparently over 200) photos shot by William Eggleston when he was hired by Chubb to visit the set. The short gallery opens with text introductions written by both Lemmons and Chubb. The film’s theatrical trailer closes the first disc and there are no additional features on the second.

The insert then features an essay by Kara Keeling, who first recounts her excitement at seeing the film during its initial release before examining Lemmons’ assured debut, even comparing to other films of the time featuring predominantly Black women in their casts.

Disappointingly Criterion couldn’t get their own new interviews with any of the cast members, though maybe they figured the cast reunion was good enough. Outside of Keeling’s contribution in the included essay there is also no academic slant to the features. The biggest possible upsets come down to the features Criterion didn't port over, like the second commentary found on the Lionsgate DVD featuring members of the cast (including Jackson), the commentary recorded for the theatrical cut of the film found on the Trimark DVD, or Lemmons’ commentary for her short film. I haven’t listened to any of those admittedly, so it’s possible Criterion didn’t think they were worth licensing, but I do sort of suspect that Lionsgate may have withheld that material just as I’m pretty sure they did for Criterion’s edition for Amores perros, maybe in an effort to keep some appeal for their editions.

Despite all of that Criterion has still assembled a nice little package of material here, all of it well worth going through.

Closing

Feeling to have fell somewhat into obscurity through the years Criterion’s new special edition shines the light back on Kasi Lemmons’ assured debut. A very easy recommendation.

BUY AT: Amazon.com Amazon.ca

 
 
Directed by: Kasi Lemmons
Year: 1997
Time: 115 | 108 min.
 
Series: The Criterion Collection
Edition #: 1154
Licensor: Lionsgate
Release Date: October 25 2022
MSRP: $39.95
 
Blu-ray
2 Discs | BD-50
1.85:1 ratio
English 5.1 DTS-HD MA Surround
Region A
 
 115-minute director's cut and original 108-minute theatrical-release version   Audio commentary on the director’s cut featuring Kasi Lemmons, Amy Vincent, producer Caldecot Chubb, and editor Terilyn A. Shropshire   Dr. Hugo (1996), a short film Lemmons made as a proof of concept for Eve’s Bayou, in a new 4K digital transfer   New interview with Kasi Lemmons   Cast reunion footage   Interview with composer Terence Blanchard   New program showcasing black-and-white Polaroids that Vincent took during production   Cast and crew photographs by William Eggleston   Trailer   An essay by film scholar Kara Keeling