Blu-Ray Spotlight: Broken Mirrors
Filmmaker Marleen Gorris examines two extreme environments in which misogyny is cultivated by male-dominated society in Broken Mirrors. One such environment is a small brothel with a handful of women in its employ, struggling to make ends meet despite its good reputation amongst the men who frequent it. The next is, as we discover, the dedicated path of one faceless man targeting seemingly random women to kidnap and imprison, holding them just to starve them to death and document their demise. They begin separate as can be but grow exponentially closer over the course of the film until the two worlds eventually converge.
Films that set themselves within the world of sex workers, particularly those worlds populated by women, usually find themselves focusing more on the comfort they provide each other in the face of unchecked violent, oppressive acts. Sometimes these acts are minimized, dismissed, or flat-out ignored by the view behind the lens in favor of a more cheerful disposition, in finding camaraderie amongst those who share undesirable conditions. But Gorris, in realizing the day-to-day operations of the cramped Amsterdam bordello, paints each woman’s shadow as starkly as their shining light. And although the whorehouse’s den mother at the humorously named Happy House is supportive of each of the girls who work there, she is not the one who truly “runs” the business. A single man reviews every decision made by her and if approved, grants it, however any patron who enters is served the illusion that they are the only one of the opposite sex to set foot inside.
We come to know each woman in time and what brought them to the profession but Diane, a newcomer to Happy House, joins after growing sick of sharing space with her heroin-addicted husband who neglects supporting their child. Diane undergoes a transformation during her time at Happy House, and by the time the two above threads intertwine she is already a different person. Broken Mirrors was nominated for Best Feature at the Chicago International Film Festival (1985) and the Audience Award at the Warsaw International Film Festival (1987), and won two Audience Awards in the Nederlands Film Festival (1985) and the San Francisco International Lesbian & Gay Film Festival (1985). The film has, since its theatrical release, been relatively hard to find in decent shape and then only on VHS transfers but now makes its high-definition debut from Cult Epics.
Broken Mirrors or, its Dutch title Gebroken Spiegels, is presented in its original 1.66:1 aspect ratio and in a brand new 4K scan from the original negative. Recollections of how the film looked on video tape have all pointed out the inconsistent quality inherent to the medium, made even more difficult to watch given the considerable damage these tapes took, yet still were barely watchable. That problem is now completely and utterly nonexistent, as each frame is not only solidly consistent in its impeccable presentation but its condition looks to be as immaculate as the element of time can grant it.
Even through the color grading of a grimy-looking lime green permeating most scenes within the brothel details are exquisitely intricate, and contrasts nicely with sequences following the serial killer that are either muted or staged devoid of color in-camera, accents of reds, greens, and oranges peeking through. The level of grain does not detract from the focus of sequences with low-light shots, if the level is even noticeable after a certain point. The more subtle color palettes are much easier to identify in this transfer and would likely be incomprehensible on an earlier video tape copy. One detail to note is the title sequence however, as the title card and credits roll over a black screen the outline of each visual element leaves a burned-in artifact that is easily noticeable against the deeper black of the background, but is the only instance noted where this happens.
The film comes with two mono audio choices from the original Dutch language track: 16-bit LPCM 2.0 mono and 16-bit DTS-HD 2.0 mono mix. The audio has a pristine quality to it, and the lossless DTS track especially picks up some of the softer sounds of the film, if a little quiet in the realm of the entire feature’s dynamics, but the mastering work is enough to keep your sound level set on a comfortable level without any fiddling during louder sequences. Dialogue comes through clean & clear, and optional English subtitles are available as well.
There are only a couple special features offered on the disc, a commentary by author & scholar Peter Verstraten and an interview with Margo St. James. The complete list is below:
- Audio Commentary by Film Scholar Peter Verstraten
- Archival television interview with U.S. sex worker and union advocate Margo St. James (Adriaan van Dis/Cinema 3, 1984) (8 mins. 17 sec.)
- Promotional Stills Gallery
- Trailers from other Cult Epics titles
- Double-sided sleeve
Coming off of the relatively recent release of A Question of Silence, this title will most definitely appeal to those who appreciate unflinching interrogation from a feminist perspective, and those who interrogate views held by those who yet still subscribe to binary gender norms. Outsiders coming into this film may review its synopsis and expect something more in the realm of a thriller given its depiction of a serial killer, but is a far different picture than that. The film explores oppression within a chosen profession for some and a last resort for others but isn’t fully transparent about where each subject’s desire lies in working at Happy House. The film is a bit like a prism (formed from pieces of a broken mirror, if you’d like), refracting differing arguments that can support the women’s push to take over their own profession from domineering men or statements that submits the idea that sex work only attracts hateful bigotry and otherwise undesirable aggression from those who directly benefit from female oppression. Broken Mirrors is certainly a film that starts a conversation that has yet to be continued in virtually every part of the world, and is more than compelling — it is absolutely essential. Recommended.
Broken Mirrors releases on Tuesday, August 15, on Blu-ray and DVD from Cult Epics. For those reading this that would like to buy a copy I recommend the below sites over Amazon.
DiabolikDVD | Grindhouse Video | Piranha Records | Hub City Vinyl
Cheap Thrills Records | Forbidden Planet
Disclaimer: MVD Visual has supplied a copy of this disc free of charge for review purposes. All opinions in this review are the honest reactions of the author.