The Criterion Voyages (Spine #1182): THE SERVANT -- One of the Most Gorgeous Restorations in the Criterion Collection
Review by Sean Boelman
Filmmaker Joseph Losey’s The Servant is a product of a time where it’s stunning that a movie this transgressive was even able to exist. Although the film suffers from some issues with pacing, its historical context and beautiful visuals make it more than a worthy addition to any cinephile’s Criterion shelf.
The movie follows an upper-class man who hires a new servant, whose intentions may not be as altruistic as they seem. The film’s commentary on class relations is quite interesting, and made even more so when one realizes the context of the director having been blacklisted from Hollywood during the height of the Red Scare.
In many ways, the movie is an extremely slow burn. And given how bleak so much of the story is, the combination of the dark tone and slow pacing can start to feel somewhat oppressive at times. By the end of the nearly two-hour runtime, viewers will be absolutely exhausted, and not necessarily in a way that feels rewarding.
Although the film is effective in developing characters that are morally ambiguous, this can also end up being somewhat frustrating. We are presented with protagonists who, for lack of a better word, simply aren’t very likable. And while the purpose is clearly to challenge and provoke audiences, it’s not always effective.
That being said, the movie is brilliant as an exercise in formalism. The visuals are fantastic, as is the score. Even when the story and its power dynamics aren’t able to keep the viewer engaged in the film, the brilliant aesthetics will keep their eyes glued to the screen. The atmosphere that Losey is able to correct is fantastic.
The new 4K restoration of the movie included on the Blu-Ray edition is perhaps one of the finest restorations the Criterion Collection has put out in recent years. It’s absolutely stunning — a sight to behold, making the crisp black-and-white cinematography by Douglas Slocombe pop in ways one would never expect.
The bonus features are much stronger than recent output from the Criterion Collection, with some new documentary materials as well as interviews, including a rare one with director Losey that cinephiles might not be able to find anywhere else. Additionally, author Colm Tóibín contributed an essay for the booklet.
The Servant is an interesting product of its time, and while the story might not be the most captivating, the beautiful 4K restoration offered by the Criterion Collection accentuates its gorgeous visuals. The fact that the Criterion Collection is giving a platform to such challenging films as this is why cinephiles love them.
The Criterion Collection edition of The Servant is now available.
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