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Blu-Ray Review: Radiance Films’ A Woman Kills (Limited Edition)

A Woman Kills

A Woman Kills has had a lengthy and somewhat difficult journey to its first ever Blu-ray release, but Radiance Films has uncovered this obscure French production and brings it to new audiences alongside a list of special features.

Shot in Paris during the turbulent times of May 1968, A Woman Kills is a somewhat unsettling (yet not graphic) serial killer film.

The film opens with the trial and execution of a prostitute – Hélène Picard – for the murders of a number of sex workers in Paris. As the public settles into accepting that the killer is no longer on the loose, similar crimes to Picard’s continue to take place. Investigating police officer Solange (Solange Pradel) begins a relationship with Executioner Louis (Claude Merlin) while on the trail of the killer, and begins to question whether Louis is hiding something from her.

A Woman Kills is shot in black and white and often with hand-held cameras, which follow the characters up and down the stairwell of an apartment block, or along the Parisian streets, presenting almost a documentary feel at times (the voiceover with newsreel-style facts and figures also contributes). Given that Paris in 1968 was a place of social conflict and pressure, it’s inevitable that this feeling slides in to the narrative and that the levels of tension are high from beginning to end.

Louis’ secret is revealed quite a way before the end of the film (and viewers may already have guessed what is happening), but that gives time for a quite singular and lengthy denouement involving a rooftop chase in which seemingly no stunt actors were used. 

A Woman Kills definitely has more than a hint of nouvelle vague around it, but it’s unusual in that it merges this with a documentary-feel. It also challenges gender identity and stereotypes in more than one way, one of the most obvious being the female investigator whose work and private life converge at the centre. I’ve been struggling to think of many female detectives on screen prior to 1968, and certainly none in the centre of such a taut and challenging story.

The film failed to be accepted for release due to controversy around director Jean-Denis Bonan’s previous short films, one of which, Tristesse des anthropophages, was banned outright. Distributors were then unwilling to give a platform to this, Bonan’s first full-length film, and it languished on a shelf for several decades. Radiance Films now brings A Woman Kills to audiences who will perhaps have never heard of the film before, let alone have seen it, along with the short films which were the stumbling block for the director in the late 1960s.

The Radiance Films limited edition set boasts the following special features:

  • 2K restoration of the film from the original 16mm elements
  • Original uncompressed mono PCM audio
  • Audio commentary by critics Kat Ellinger and Virginie Sélavy
  • Introduction by Virginie Sélavy
  • On the Margin: The Cursed Films of Jean-Denis Bonan (Francis Lecomte, 2015/2022, 37 mins) – a newly updated documentary programme featuring director Jean-Denis Bonan, cinematographer Gérard de Battista, editor Mireille Abramovici, musician Daniel Laloux, and actress Jackie Raynal
  • Short films by Jean-Denis Bonan: The Short Life of Monsieur Meucieu (1962, 13 mins); A Crime of Love (1965, 7 mins, rushes of an incomplete film, narrated by Bonan); Sadness of the Anthropophagi (1966, 24 mins); Crazy Mathieu (1967, 17 mins); A Season with Mankind (1967, 19 mins)
  • Trailer
  • Newly translated English subtitles
  • Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by maarko phntm 
  • Limited edition 52-page booklet featuring new writing on the film by author and scholar Catherine Wheatley, writer and musician Richard Thomas on the short films, Cerise Howard on gender identity tropes in A Woman Kills and the horror film, an interview with Francis Lecomte, the French distributor who rescued the film, and newly translated archival reviews and film credits
  • Limited edition of 2000 copies, presented in full-height Scanavo packaging with removable OBI strip leaving packaging free of certificates and markings 

A Woman Kills is available from Radiance Films on 6th February 2023.

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