Writer/director Marleen Gorris won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film in 1995 for her project Antonia’s Line. Prior to earning the accolade for her LGBTQA+ feminist fairy tale, the Dutch filmmaker opened her feature film career with feminist thriller A Question of Silence (1982) and Broken Mirrors (1984), two films which explored the way in which women engage with the world, and, more importantly (and specifically), how the world expects women to operate within it. In June 2023, Cult Epics released a 2K restoration of A Question of Silence and now they are following that with a 4K HD restoration of Broken Mirrors.
On the streets of Amsterdam, as a cleaner for Happy House Club goes to work to reset the house before the girls arrive in preparation for the lunch rush, another is also on their way to clean up — a killer with a penchant for chaining up women until they die drops the body of his latest victim. The girls of the Happy House Club and the killer all partake in the struggle of sexual power, yet their perspectives and outcomes are vastly different.
Ordinarily a home release review is spoiler-free, but as this film was released in 1984, moving forward, we’ll be exploring the film without regard for protecting surprises.
This is only the second Gorris film I’ve seen and both are absolutely worth exploration. Like the first, Broken Mirrors isn’t likely to hit you until its final moments, and when it does, it hits hard. The first film speaks to the micro and macroaggressions against women to the point that the men seeking justice for the three protagonists on trial for murder can’t process that the three are totally sane and take responsibility for their actions. “They must be insane,” the prosecutors declare, their ignorance leading them to miss the point entirely. Here, Gorris explores the gender divide and sexual politics by juxtaposing sex workers and a serial killer. In both instances, women are the commodity and none would argue this to be the case, however, the sex workers are given as much latitude as possible to remain *individuals* whereas the victims of the killer are restrained and made to be as uniform as possible. It’s unclear if the killer does anything sexual with the woman he kidnaps (I suspect not given the constant cleaning he does; preferring things to be of a certain tidiness and order), however he does relish their begging, pleading, and vocal terror. In contrast to the sex workers who put on a performance with each client, what happens in the killer’s cage is all honesty, a presentation of true control. Thus, when the victim the audience “meets” (portrayed by A Question of Silence’s Edda Barends) realizes that the killer takes pleasure in her vocal grief, she declares her recognition and abstinence of the activity. Though it means she gives up a chance at food or freedom, she will go to her grave without giving the killer the paltry pleasure he craves: her declarations of his control.
This serial killer aspect of the story is explored considerably less than the story of Lineke Rijxman’s (Miss Minoes) newcomer Diane and her friendship with Henriëtte Tol’s (A Question of Silence) Dora, itself rife with LGBTQA+ overtones, and that’s because the narrative needs to spend more time at the brothel and with those characters in order for the audience to realize that sex workers are (a) just working a job that specializes in fantasy and (b) as far as the film is concerned, in possession of their power. As Dora explains to Diane when the latter comments that the clients are buying them, the clients just rent their bodies and nothing else. They own nothing and are owed nothing. Seemingly in defiance of the man who runs the place (Johan Leyssen’s The Boss), woman of the house Ellen (Coby Stunnenberg) ensures that the women are allowed to reject a client of their choosing, are given a means of calling for help, and are supported in times of danger. Throughout the film, Ellen is not compassionate for the sake of the business, but for the sake of the girls themselves, treating them as people in a job versus something to be used until well-worn and cast aside. The humanity of the characters is on display in the way they interact together, the focus less on them at work, with the cinematography matching their liveliness. It’s only in the scenes with the killer that the color tones are washed out, denoting an absence of energy and agency, which is returned in a powerful scene of the woman’s declaration of independence from the killer. There’s no shift in color at any other point in the film, implying that Gorris doesn’t see the life of a sex worker as less-than, just something that someone does to make ends meet. A different film would see the women be reduced before the end, but Gorris skips over this, ensuring that the audience knows that the proper villains of the film are the supposed “nice guys” and other patrons of the Happy House Club.
The review copy sent by MVD Entertainment Group is not one of the limited edition versions that comes with a postcard and a poster, so this will not speak to those materials. Instead, I can tell you that the packaging is a clear plastic which enables the artwork on the reverse side of the cover to be seen: a depiction of Carla Hardy’s Irma sitting inside a bedroom of the Happy House Club. The lone Blu-ray has the Cult Epics logo, the release number, the film’s title treatment, and a film still of Diane. The tactile aspects of this version are fairly basic, so make sure to be fast (or at least hope to be lucky) on the pre-order if you’d like a little more.
On disc is something entirely different. While there is some obvious artifacting in a few sequences, denoting the age of film more than the restoration, there’s not enough to distract modern audience or to diminish a recommendation. The Cult Epics film site indicates that the 4K HD transfer was created using the original 35 mm negative, but there’s no other information denoting the process of restoration or creating the new master. That said, as the film uses color specifically, the cinematography shifting to convey perspective, where the world is intended to be rich and vibrate, it is, and when it’s supposed to be washed out, life truly feels absent. A restoration shouldn’t make a film modern so much as clean it up to be the best version of itself when projected on modern systems and that’s what Cult Epics has achieved here. The era of the mid-‘80s is baked into the film from the costumes, set design, and production design, each one looking their absolute best. As for the audio, this presentation is a 2.0 mono so my 5.1 home theater system didn’t get a workout, yet there’s no complaint regarding the sound. The dialogue is clear (a mix of Dutch and English) and the score comes through clean. This isn’t a film that would really benefit from surround and the audio mix we’re given does make one feel immersed as this is a character-driven dramatic thriller versus an action/adventure thriller.
Be advised that Cult Epics is planning to release a trilogy collection of the aforementioned two films and 1990’s The Last Island. No release date is set for either The Last Island or the collection, but keep this in mind if you’re considering picking up one or both of currently available Gorris films. While I absolutely do recommend this restoration, both for the quality of the work done by Cult Epics and for Gorris’s work, as well as A Question of Silence, if you’re even remotely thinking of snagging one of these films sight unseen, just get them both. The story they tell is disparate narratively, yet their thematic elements are so profoundly connected as to seem like a natural extension from one to the other.
Broken Mirrors Special Features:
- 4K HD Transfer (from the original 35 negative) & Restoration
- Audio Commentary by Film Scholar Peter Verstraten
- Interview with US Sex Worker Margo St. James (Adriaan van disc/Cinema 3, 1984)
- Promotional Gallery
- Dual-layered Disc
- Double-sided Sleeve
Cult Epics website Exclusive: First 100 Pre-orders of Blu-ray or DVD receive US Poster Postcard.
Available on Blu-ray and DVD August 15th, 2023.
For more information, head to the official Cult Epics Broken Mirrors webpage.
This piece was written during the 2023 WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes. Without the labor of the writers and actors currently on strike, the movie being covered here wouldn’t exist.