Release Date(s)1974 (July 6, 2021)
Studio(s)20th Century Fox/Joseph Green Pictures (Kino Lorber Studio Classics)
- Film/Program Grade: B+
- Video Grade: A-
- Audio Grade: B+
- Extras Grade: B
Icy Breasts (AKA Les steins de glace) is an unsettling 1974 thriller from director Georges Lautner which defies easy categorization or analysis. The story may seem straightforward, but the way Lautner presents it is far from simple. Francois Rollin (Claude Brasseur) is a writer who becomes attracted to Peggy Lister (Mireille Darc) when he spies her walking along a beach. He pursues her despite her lack of interest and eventually wears her down, even though she never really opens up to him. She tells him that she’s divorced, but when he later encounters her sinister lawyer Marc Rilson (Alain Delon), he discovers that she actually killed her husband and was acquitted due to temporary insanity. Or did she? Since Rilson is also obsessed with her and uses all of the means at his disposal to keep her under his control, her actual guilt or innocence remains an open question even as more bodies begin to pile up.
Lautner wrote the screenplay based on the novel Someone Is Bleeding by the legendary Richard Matheson, moving the location from California to France, but otherwise retaining the broad outline of the story and the interplay between the characters. Like the writer David Newton in the book, Francois isn’t an entirely sympathetic protagonist, leaving viewers feeling appropriately uncentered as the narrative unfolds. He seems a bit boorish in his pursuit of Peggy at the beginning of the film, but as the story progresses, her own history complicates that perception. Lautner plays with audience identification all throughout the film by shifting points of view continuously, which prevents viewers from ever fully investing in any single character. The nominal hero doesn’t always feel heroic, and the victims of circumstances may be anything but victims.
Those changing perspectives are the key to understanding Icy Breasts, and they also explain the lack of catharsis in the finale. In the end, everyone in the film is both victim and perpetrator, so there can be no satisfactory resolution for any of them. But that’s what makes Icy Breasts so memorable, and it’s what makes the film rewarding on repeat viewings. There’s too much depth to absorb on a single pass. Similar thrillers may be more satisfying initially, and are quickly forgotten afterward. Icy Breasts isn’t so easy to dismiss.
Icy Breasts was shot on 35 mm film by Lautner’s favorite cinematographer Maurice Fellous and framed at 1.66:1 for its theatrical release. Like Kino Lorber’s Blu-ray for Lautner’s The Road to Salina, this release features a 4K restoration taken from the original camera negative, but the benefits here are not always as obvious due to the difference in photographic styles between the two films. Same director, same cinematographer, but very different looks. Much of Icy Breasts was shot with light diffusion filters, so the image is often softer with less contrast, and the appearance of the grain can vary somewhat. The unfiltered shots look sharp and detailed, with a more clearly defined grain structure. The colors are also muted, not just in terms of the cinematography, but also because of the production design and costuming—earth tones are dominant. There are a few small scratches, but those are minimal and the only other real issue is some instability during the closing credits. Overall, it’s a faithful representation of the intended look for the film—it isn’t dazzling, because it wasn’t supposed to be.
Audio is offered in French 2.0 mono DTS-HD Master Audio and English 2.0 mono DTS-HD Master Audio, with optional English subtitles. While the fidelity shares the typical limitations of the era, the dialogue is always clear and the striking score by Phillipe Sarde really stands out. It’s not particularly subtle music, but it keeps the tension level high throughout the film.
Extras include reversible cover art and the following features:
- Audio Commentary by Howard S. Berger, Steve Mitchell, and Nathaniel Thompson
- Diabolically Yours Trailer (SD – 3:31)
- Farewell, Friend Trailer (SD – 4:02)
- The Sicilian Clan Trailer (SD – 2:21)
- The Widow Couderc Trailer (HD – 2:47)
- Texas Across the River Trailer (HD – 2:43)
- Le Professionnel Trailer (SD – 2:12)
As the resident Lautner fan in the group, Berger takes the lead on this commentary track, but Mitchell and Thompson offer many interesting observations as well. They talk about the way that French screenwriter Michel Audiard influenced Lautner in using humorous dialogue which doesn’t always translate well into other languages, including the untranslatable double entendre in the title, and they also mention how humor is used in Icy Breasts to show the protagonist’s vulnerability in an otherwise serious story. They talk about how surprising that it is that this is the only adaptation of Richard Matheson’s work in French cinema, since Matheson seems like a natural fit for the crime films from that country. Most interestingly, they discuss how Lautner handles the shifting points of view throughout the film, and that leads to Thompson making a mind-blowing observation on one possible interpretation of the story based on the structure of the opening scenes. It may not have been Lautner’s intent, but it’s certainly a valid reading of the film, and one which could partly explain the hazy, filtered look of the cinematography. As usual, film historians Berger, Mitchell, and Thompson are the perfect trio to provide a commentary for this kind of film—there’s no doubt that their affection for it is real.
Icy Breasts hasn’t achieved the cult status of other Lautner films like The Road to Salina or The Professional, but it’s just as interesting and worthy of rediscovery. And this Blu-ray from Kino Lorber is a great way to start.
- Stephen Bjork
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