Mona Lisa comes to Region A-locked US Blu-ray complete with a 1080p High Definition video rendition, presented in the movie’s original theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1 widescreen. The movie has, for some reason, always suffered on its home format releases – even when Criterion handled it back on SD-DVD, it was one of the early titles they released with a non-anamorphic transfer. Here things are clearly a step up, but also far from what you would ideally like. With all that in mind, you should note that Neil Jordan’s style does lend itself well to a more gritty, grainy image – and therefore a video presentation which is, at least technically, marginally disappointing, is far from the end of the world. Detail is generally quite good, but far from noteworthy, with softer moments peppered throughout and very limited fine object observation. Close-ups should be better, but at least the grain structure has been left intact – with facial representation never taking on that plastic-like look that heavily DNR’d catalogue titles can suffer from. Some would argue that this presentation goes too far in the grain direction, however, and some of it must clearly be inherent noise, the image looking expectedly worse during the darker and more poorly lit sequences. The colour scheme is well represented, but boasts mostly faded tones to represent the dilapidated and seedy locales, only a few rich, deep mahoganies and sparks of vibrant red breaking through (Hoskin’s shirts look suitably awful). Black levels are decent enough, but still suffer from some of the aforementioned noise. Again, you have to take this all with a pinch of salt – Mona Lisa was non-anamorphic on the Criterion SD-DVD and still looked right, considering the subject-matter; and the same can be said here, where we have a clear step-up, and where all of the numerous flaws still seem to be in-line with the material on offer.
On the aural front we get a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track which is distinctly front-heavy. Dialogue comes across clearly and coherently, largely dominating the frontal array wherever appropriate, the score seeps through many of the sequences (dated much more than you would like by the Phil Collins tracks played out, particularly during the montage scene) and effects are nicely represented; and, in fact, basically all of these elements come at you front and centre. I would argue that this is not a front-only offering, but I couldn’t note any particular points of reference where the rears see much action at all, so it’s certainly a very front-heavy offering, leaving you with little atmospheric integrity and ambient accompaniment. Bass is basically non-existent, with a couple of moments reaching the low end, but nothing to write home about. All in all it’s a decent enough accompaniment for the movie, which pushes most of the right buttons (only a couple of high score notes distort a tiny bit) but fails to bring the movie to life in the way that you would perhaps like, particularly for such an obviously atmospheric affair.
This is the real shocker – there’s nothing here but a Theatrical Trailer. The Criterion release, however outdated now, sported only one other extra, but it was a very important one – and audio commentary by the director Neil Jordan and the lead, Bob Hoskins. I couldn’t think of a better accompaniment for the movie, nor two better contributors, and it’s a great shame that this wasn’t included here. It can’t have cost so much to get the rights to the Criterion commentary and I think it is particularly disappointing that this wasn’t included here.
My latest BFI Top 100 review looks at Neil Jordan’s very personal 80s thriller Mona Lisa, an unrequited love story framed as a nightmarish fairytale romance, wrapped up in a Brit gangster thriller format with the premise of Taxi Driver in London. Offering up a tragically authentic depiction of the dangers of poeticized romance, and of constructing idealised visions of those you are enamoured with, the wonderful character-study is grounded by a powerful and touching central performance by Bob Hoskins, on Award-winning form as the inarticulate romantic, and woefully bigoted but surprisingly kind-hearted lead, whose quest to ‘help’ the high-class escort girl that he chauffeurs for, becomes something of an obsession – the image of her that he paints for himself becoming so far from the truth that only tragedy can ensue.
On Region A-locked Blu-ray we get disappointing but just about acceptable video, audio which doesn’t give you much atmosphere, and just a trailer in the way of extras (when there’s a great audio commentary up for grabs had the studios bothered to include it). Honestly, if you’ve got the Criterion SD-DVD you won’t find this a very satisfying upgrade, even if – technically – it does give you better video. Still, those who don’t own the title will probably be reasonably content with this edition, although many fans will still be waiting – perhaps somewhat unrealistically – for Criterion, or some other similarly caring studio – to put some love into a release of this great little movie. Rediscovering Mona Lisa was a real joy, it had much more to it than remembered, having only watched it in my youth, and an exploration of the multiple facets and layers to this drama exposes the reason behind why it has endured on as one of the BFI Top 100 classics. Recommended.
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