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Koch Lorber presents
Sombre (1998)

"No, but...he's the guy who brought me here. I thought he'd gone."
- Claire (Elina Lowensohn)

Review By: Chuck Aliaga   
Published: June 29, 2007

Stars: Marc Barbé, Elina Lowensohn
Other Stars: Geraldine Voillat
Director: Philippe Grandrieux

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (adult situations, violence, nudity)
Run Time: 01h:55m:16s
Release Date: April 10, 2007
UPC: 741952309598
Genre: foreign

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A- A-C-C D

DVD Review

A somber, foreboding tone is set as soon as we press "Play," with the title, Sombre, filling the screen before a quick fade to black. What follows is just as bleak, and often just as black. Director Philippe Grandieux takes us on a journey of madness and obsession, but in a way we rarely see. Armed with a unique style that might prove too intense for some viewers, but just what art-house patrons long for, it's surprising that he's made only one film since this bowed in 1998. Perhaps this higher-profile DVD release will land him another directing gig in the near future, but he might simply be a filmmaker who is smartly picky about his projects and has yet to find the right one to tackle next.

The loosely-strewn plot involves serial killer Jean (Marc Barbé), whose victims are usually road-side prostitutes. His general pattern is to at least garner some sort of physical pleasure from these women, then strangle them to death. Things change when he meets Claire (Elina Lowensohn), a virginal introvert who goes along for the ride and the killings. It's difficult to tell whether Claire actually enjoys watching these murders or if she is simply drawn to Jean, but she soon realizes that there is no escape once she's in this deep.

Instead of jumping right into some sort of narrative or simple character exposition, Grandieux takes us right from the opening titles to a gathering of small children. We're never told exactly what these screaming children are reacting to (a scary movie?), but a brooding tone is established nonetheless. Once we meet Jean and eventually Claire, it becomes evident that these actors are fully invested in the director's dark, unrelenting vision. Dialogue is kept to a minimum, as this is all about atmosphere, but Barbé is always believable as a completely heartless killer. Lowensohn has the more difficult job of making us care about someone who seems so innocent at first, yet becomes enamored, on some level, with someone so vile and destructive, but she pulls it off.

Grandieux's camera work and lighting choices make this an effectively claustrophobic experience. Jean comes off as wolf-like when he's about to go for a kill, with Grandieux's tightly-zoomed, jittery camera giving us a first-person perspective of this murderer's technique. While it might be very difficult to see exactly what's going on during a given murder, we're left more terrified by being in the dark. This human-as-animal dynamic gives the proceedings an inner layer which proves as interesting as it is horrifying, taking this film to a higher level of effectiveness.

The music, by Alan Vega, plays a huge part, also. One pivotal sequence, in particular, is made all the more powerful by a song from the band Suicide, which Vega was the lead singer for. The song plays as Jean is about to claim his latest victim, with its bass line building to the sequence's startling conclusion, which introduces another dynamic to Claire. It always amazes me when a single song or music cue can completely change the complexion of a film, but this scene is a prime example of such an occurrence. In addition, this scene might introduce more people to the incredible music of Suicide, and that would be an even bigger bonus.

Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: A-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.66:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: This 1.66:1 non-anamorphic widescreen presentation is somewhat of an enigma. The director's intentions call for a very dark image during much of the film, but the handling of contrast and shadow levels in this transfer make things way too dark. There are many instances where we can't make out anything that's going on, whereas a bit more image detail and overall sharpness might have cleared things up. The brighter-lit scenes look much better, and dirt and grain are kept to a minimum.

Image Transfer Grade: C-


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Frenchno

Audio Transfer Review: The Dolby Digital 2.0 mix does a wonderful job handling the excellent music, but the track is mainly unspectacular. Any distortion seems intentional, and the sparse dialogue is always crisp and easy to understand.

Audio Transfer Grade: C


Disc Extras

Static menu with music
Scene Access with 12 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
6 Other Trailer(s) featuring Le Petit Lieutenant, Tiresia, Hostage, Fratricide, Triple Agent, Un Coeur en Hiver
Packaging: Keep Case
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extras Review: The only extras are the trailer for Sombre and previews for other Koch Lorber releases.

Extras Grade: D


Final Comments

Most serial killer movies are far too straightforward, using excessive violence and gore to draw in as wide an audience as possible. The anti-Hollywood Sombre, has so much going for it, that it's a shame it didn't receive more attention when it was released in 1998. Koch Lorber makes it easy to discover it now, but unfortunately, the disc suffers from mediocre audio and video presentations, and a near complete lack of extras.


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