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

A Woman Kills

Rarely seen and out of print for decades, Radiance Films brings A Woman Kills to Blu-Ray with superior sound, picture, and bonus features

The Film 

Director Jean-Denis Bonan’s debut feature A Woman Kills is a taunt Serially Killer movie with more than its tricks up its sleeve.  

Hélène Picard – a sex worker – and accused serial killer has recently been executed.  The detective behind the case Solange Lebas (Solange Pradel) begins a relationship with the Executioner of Picard, Louis Guilbeau (Claude Merlin). As the murders begin to occur again, Solange opens the case and begins to investigate – finding more than she expected making the case even more personal. 

Though we’ve seen films of similar ilk in the five decades since Bonan produced the feature, but none are as astute as A Woman Kills.  What makes the film so astute and separates it from other serial killer films is the way that the film is shot and creates its own sense of clinical dread.  Those looking for the more exploitative nature of serial killer movies will not find that here.  Rather the film takes a more clinical approach to how the serial killer’s victims are shown and given more life than your average “victim”.  

This is where Bonan’s film gets under one’s skin.  It isn’t the violence that we see little of.  It is the account of the person’s life before they were murdered. Something we rarely see even now after five decades of cinema.  It’s what separates A Woman Kills from even the very best of the genre.  

The Transfer

The 2K restoration of the film from the original 16mm elements is a beautiful and arresting image.  The work Raidance has done here is revelatory.  The film’s restored image is sharp but does not sacrifice any of the grain structure that makes 16mm, especially during this period – so lovely and vital. 

The Extras

They include the following: 

  • Audio commentary by critics Kat Ellinger and Virginie Sélavy
  • Introduction by Virginie Sélavy 
  • On the Margin: The Cursed Films of Jean-Denis Bonan 
  • Short films by Jean-Denis Bonan: La vie brève de Monsieur Meucieu (1962, 13 mins), Un crime d’amour (1965, 6 mins), rushes of an incomplete film; Tristesses des anthropophages (1966, 23 mins), Mathieu-fou (1967, 18 mins), Une saison chez les hommes (1967, 16 mins)
  • Trailer

Introduction by Virginie Sélavy (4:53) – the introduction by the film historian gives us a bit of historical and political context, a preview of the themes, the sexuality in the film, how the film was lost, and how it was rediscovered.  She discusses Jean-Denis Bonan’s short films and his involvement in the political uprisings in France in the 1960s.  A vital introduction giving us some great preparation for what we are about to see. 

The Audio commentary by critics Kat Ellinger and Virginie Sélavy begins with an introduction between the two and the bonafides of the film.  Some of the details include a discussion of if A Woman Kills is a genre film, why the film has been until the last decade has been out of circulation and so difficult to see, a discussion about director Bonan’s personal and professional history – including his service during the French Algerian War, some of the troupes that the film uses to create an interesting mix of psycho-sexual and PTSD, the May ’68 Student Movement in France and how Bonan was connected to this protest movement and his filmic contribution at the time, at the time in 1968 the serial killer genre moving forward with films like The Detective

The Boston StranglerNo Way to Treat a Lady and how they relate to A Woman Kills, a dissection of the detective character Solange and how she rubs against the cliches of detectives, the use of repetition in the film in various forms and how it informs the film stylistically, the political strife and protests that occurred during the production and how Bonan added it into the film, a discussion of how the victims in the film and how much more focused the film is with them and how that’s achieved, how the film uses the lack of exploitative moments of sex and violence effectively, Bonan’s placement in the French Second Wave and the more obscure artists and how difficult it was for not just Bonan but other experimental filmmakers/artists, and much more.  Ellinger and Sélavy provide a vital commentary track that gives historical, political, and artistic context to this very special but forgotten film.  

On the Margin: The Cursed Films of Jean-Denis Bonan (37:51) –Using photos, interviews, and film clips Lecomte creates a portrait of director Bonan and how he came to make A Woman Kills. Some of the other details include his relationship with director Jean Rollin, the themes he is drawn to and show up in his films, the censoring of his short films and how it affected his career, how that censorship begat another short that all about the director self-censoring – which ended up being censored, his time spent in what can be described as a commune or retreat to develop artistic endeavors with a healthy amount of psychology called Clinique de La Borde, the creation of ARC his film protest group, the production of A Woman Kills, how they were involved with the May 1968 protests – during the production of A Woman Kills and much more.  Director Francis Lecomte’s created a documentary that not only discusses the life and films of Jean-Denis Bonan but of Paris during those volatile times.  The doc was made in 2015 and was recently updated in 2022.  Featuring comments by director Jean-Denis Bonan, cinematographer Gérard de Battista, editor Mireille Abramovici, musician Daniel Laloux, and actress Jackie Rynal.  French with English Subtitles.  

Short films by Jean-Denis Bonan 

  • La vie brève de Monsieur Meucieu (13:02) – Mental illness, violence, consumerism, the past, and the future, all swirl in one killer’s mind as he flees, but from what?  The short produced in 1962 is an interesting short that shows some of the style and visual references that would mature into the style of A Woman Kills.  Not a complete narrative.  More of a tone poem.  Exactly what you would expect from a student film.  In French with English Subtitles.  
  • Un crime d’amour (6:53) – this incomplete short film from 1965.  Director Bonan provides a commentary of sorts on the footage and discusses the images and the story he was attempting – a beat between a farmer and his friend – the bet is his daughter.  In French with English Subtitles.  
  • Tristesses des anthropophages (23:38) – Bonan’s first professionally produced short film, even now is sure to strike a bit of controversy.  An experimental piece about people who eat feces that are coupled with religious art and iconography (the rising of the Christ Figure, et. al.), on the run, sex, war, and more.  The result is something gross, ridiculous, and fairly critical if looked through the right optics. In French with English Subtitles.  
  • Mathieu-fou (17:01) – Bonan stars in and directs this tale of love gone awry between a young girl (Catherine Deville) and a man (Bonan) who becomes obsessed with her and the terrible things that come of it.  A film that begins deceptively simple and ends with beautiful complexity and wild pieces of colorful art.  In French with English Subtitles.  
  • Une saison chez les hommes (18:43) – as the title card begins director Bonan used repurposed sounds and images taken from the unused bits of News Reels from Algeria, France, Senegal, Chad, and Tunisia.  This short is more experimental art film than an actual “documentary” which we are all the better for it.  The work here is profoundly beautiful, giving us a glimpse at life rarely seen.  Think of this as the predecessor to The Qatsi Trilogy.  In French with English Subtitles.  

Trailer (1:39) – French with English Subtitles 

The Final Thought 

A Woman Kills is required viewing for anyone that loves ‘60s French Cinema.  Radiance has filled the disc with a wealth of contextual extras.  Highest possible recommendations!!! 

Radiance Films’ Blu-Ray edition of A Woman Kills is out now

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