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Institute Benjamenta [UK Release] Blu-ray Review

  • Aspect Ratio: 1.66:1
  • Video Codec: AVC/MPEG-4
  • Resolution: 1080p/24
  • Audio Codec: English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0
  • Subtitles: English SDH
  • Region: ABC (Region-Free)
  • Classification: 12
  • Discs: 2
  • Studio: BFI
  • Blu-ray Release Date: May 17, 2010
  • RRP: £19.99

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Overall
[Rating:4/5]
The Film
[Rating:4.5/5]

Video Quality
[Rating:4/5]

Audio Quality
[Rating:4/5]

Supplemental Materials
[Rating:4/5]

Click thumbnails for high-resolution 1920X1080p screen captures

(Screen captures are lightly compressed with lossy JPEG  thus are meant as a general representation of the content and do not fully reveal the capabilities of the Blu-ray format)

The Film

[Rating:4.5/5]

The US-born filmmaking team the Quay Brothers, who work out of London, made their live-action feature film debut in 1995 with this haunting twist on the fairytale. The cult status animators easily moved human actors into their bizarre and surreal world of minutiae, shared subconscious symbolism, and almost nightmarish imagery.

Institute Benjamenta, loosely based on Swiss writer Robert Walser’s 1909 novella Jakob von Gunten, takes place inside the eponymous Institute Benjamenta, where there are seven students learning to become servants. Jakob arrives (Mark Rylance) becoming the eighth. The students are taught lessons in subservience by the seemingly deranged Herr Benjamenta (Gottfried John) and the sexually fiery dominatrix-like Lisa Benjamenta (Alice Krige). As Jakob, who narrates in the first person, settles into life in the institute he begins to discover more about its bizarre inner world. Lisa, becoming more desperate and unhinged as the story progresses, is drawn to our protagonist and the film becomes more and more surreal.

Benjamenta is truly a piece of art in motion; filmed in hazy, diffuse black and white with imagery pulled right out of the dark recesses of the collective consciousness of western society. Heralded as the first live-action film for the Quays, it is still full of their signature animation style, with humans dropped neatly in place of puppets. It is dark fantasy; uneasy and disturbing. A true fairytale that reaches right back to the Brothers Grimm, where there weren’t necessarily happy endings. You always felt like you were dangling on the precipice of danger, and the stories would linger with you long after you put them down. That is how Institute Benjamenta is.

It is not the sort of film easily described in words, but one that must be viewed to be understood and even then, it will need to be viewed more than once to truly sink in.

Video Quality

[Rating:4/5]

Appearing in its original 1.66:1 aspect ratio, Institute Benjamenta was transferred in high definition from a 35mm finegrain and a low-contrast 35mm print, both held by Channel Four. The picture was restored using HD-DVNR and MTI systems, removing dirt, scratches, warps, replacing torn or missing frames and improving stability issues. The transfer was supervised and the master approved by the Quay Brothers and Director of Photography Nic Knowland

Benjamenta’s purposely-diffuse black and white picture does not allow for a sharp, detailed high definition transfer, and there are many instances of intentional scratches and other marks in the image. Still, the BFI’s transfer is true to the source and the intent of the filmmakers. It appears on this release in a 1080p/24 AVC/MPEG-4 encoding free from any obvious compression issues and processing issues of any kind.

Audio Quality

[Rating:4/5]

The soundtrack was transferred from the original master mix mags and audio issues such as pops, crackle, and noise/hiss were improved.  It is presented on this release in a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 encoding.

It would have been nice to be able to hear Benjamenta’s textured sounds and Lech Jankowski’s haunting score in a full 5.1 mix, but I cannot argue against the presentation of the original 2.0 soundtrack’s presentation at all. There is sufficient three-dimensionality to the soundstage with, stereo separation across the soundfield and clean, full dialogue.

Supplemental Materials

[Rating:4/5]

With everything in high definition, except one featurette exclusive to the DVD, and three of the Quays’ animated shorts, the supplements on Benjamenta not only provide plenty of value, but also can certainly be watched many times over.

The supplements provided on this release are:

  • The full film and supplements provided on both Blu-ray and standard definition DVD
  • Inside the Institute: An In-Between World (2010; 1.78:1; 1080p/24; 0:30.59) — The filmmakers discuss creating the film based on the Robert Walser novel, Jakob von Gunten.
  • On the Set of Institute Benjamenta (2000; DVD only)
  • Trailer (1.66:1; 1080p/24)
  • The Comb (The Quay Brothers; 1990; 1.85:1; 1080p/24; 0:18.05) — The ingenious animated short which paved the way for the Quays’ first feature
  • Songs for Dead Children (The Quay Brothers/Steve Martland; 2003; 1.78:1; 1080p/24; 0:24.02) — Steve Martland’s Street Songs realized in eerily-beautiful animation.
  • Eurydice, She so Beloved (The Quay Brothers; 2007; 1.78:1; 1080p/24; 0:11.05) — Orpheus’ attempt to rescue his dead lover from Hades.
  • Illustrated booklet of newly commissioned essays and notes

The Definitive Word

Overall:

[Rating:4/5]

The BFI have done it again by resurrecting a film that forgoes the typical Hollywood drivel for something with more artistic merit and presenting it in the best possible manner. Institute Benjamenta is an eerie delight and this Dual Format release from the BFI is a true value.

Additional Screen Captures:

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