Institute Benjamenta, Or This Dream People Call Human Life

Institute Benjamenta, Or This Dream People Call Human Life

DVD Rating: ****

Reviewed by: Anton Bitel

Read Anton Bitel's film review of Institute Benjamenta, Or This Dream People Call Human Life

This excellent Dual Format Edition from BFI combines standard and high definition versions of the feature on DVD and Blu-ray respectively – the latter, a new transfer made under the supervision of the Quay brothers and their DP Nic Knowland. Such deluxe treatment is well deserved by a film so obsessively and eccentrically concerned with the play of light and shadow – and the results are dreamy in every sense.

The featurette On The Set Of Institute Benjamenta, originally compiled in 2000 for Kino's now out-of-print DVD, comprises 16 minutes of raw, commentary-free behind-the-scenes footage of such poor technical quality that it is included here only on the DVD – but the all-new Inside The Institute: An In-Between World, shot in crisp HD and included on both discs, is 30 minutes of pure joy for Quay fans, as stars Mark Rylance and Alice Krige, co-writer Alan Passes, Knowland and editor Larry Sider, as well as the Quays themselves, all reflect upon their experiences making the film.

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Rylance recalls how his first audition involved playing a game of baseball with stuffed animals in a park, Krige enthuses about the freedom granted to the actors on a set which she describes as "just organised chaos of improvisation", Knowland discusses "the idea of light as a character", while Sider relates how the artificiality of post-synchronised sound "completely enchanted" the twin filmmakers. Finally the Quays describe (with a graphic illustration) how they modeled their design of Lisa Benjamenta's 'inner chambers' on the interior of a rococo church built by the Zimmerman brothers, which the filmmakers literally turned upside down so that its ceiling became their floor. It is in this set, of course, that Lisa Benjamenta is herself memorably inverted, as are the usual boundaries between reality and fantasy.

BFI has previously collected the Quay brothers' animated shorts on their three-disc 2006 title The Quay Brothers: The Short Films 1979-2003 – so it makes sense that they should include on this new edition two more recent shorts by the Quays, namely their mannered Monteverdi tribute Eurydice – She, So Beloved (2007, 11 minutes) and their unsettling videos for four Steve Martland musical works, Songs For Dead Children (2003, 24 minutes). It also makes good sense that The Comb (1990, 18 minutes) has been made available again here despite having already been presented in the previous BFI collection - after all, this Walser-inspired short paved the way for Institute Benjamenta, so that it furnishes an essential creative context for the main feature. This might, however, leave some to wonder why the short Tales From the Vienna Wood – Stille Nacht III (1992, 4 minutes) has not also been deemed worthy of a reappearance, especially given that all the footage which makes up the (included) original theatrical trailer for Institute Benjamenta and the feature's central animated sequence has in fact been excerpted wholesale from the 1992 short.

Still, such quibbling about what is missing from these discs in no way detracts from what is there. BFI has once again done an exceptional job, and this dual format edition, from the audiovisual specs of the discs to the quality of its accompanying booklet, is a fitting tribute to the Quays' own meticulous approach to collection and curatorship.

Reviewed on: 17 May 2010
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Institute Benjamenta, Or This Dream People Call Human Life packshot
Enigmatic story of a man who enrolls at an institute to learn to be a servant.
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Product Code: BFIB1033

Region: 0

Ratio: 1.66:1

Sound: Dolby digital mono audio

Extras: Feature presented in both Standard and High Definition formats, two featurettes, original theatrical trailer, three animated shorts by the Quay brothers, illustrated booklet of newly commissioned essays and notes

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