Film & DVD Review: The Balcony

Directed by Joseph Strick and starring Peter Falk and Shelley Winters

Reviewed by Patrick Harrington

The Balcony (DVD cover)

Click on image to buy this DVD

In a brothel known as The Balcony the Madame provides a secure environment where clients can explore their fantasies through role-play. Directed by the award-winning Strick it is based on the play by Jean Genet, produced and published in 1956 as Le Balcon. As Strick explains in the notes with the DVD: “If you read gas meters for a living you can imagine yourself a bishop of the Church in The Balcony, complete with costumes, organ music (sorry!) and a charming female cohort. If you yearn to be a judge and punish impertinent thieves, this is the place you can act it all out. You can even take on the costume and appurtenances of a general of the armies, then exercise army discipline on a lovely woman-horse to your heart’s content.”

Outside the bordello a contemporary European city is aflame with a revolution raging.

This film is probably the closest that a US prodution has got to reproducing a piece of European theatre accurately and passionately. One forgets the type-casting of Leonard Nimoy (playing a revolutionary leader) and Peter Falk (playing a fascistic Police Chief) which is no mean feat in itself.

The film explores complex philosophical issues of authority, status and the relationship between revolutionaries and the establishment. The costumed patrons of the brothel: a General, Lawyer and Bishop are gradually persuaded to adopt the roles in real life, filling the vacuum created by the deaths of the leaders of the City. Their roles are taken out of the bedroom and on to the streets. The film suggests that the distinction between reality and illusion may become blurred. Even the revolutionaries seem to prefer the replacements.

The score for this risky, intriguing film is all Igor Stravisnsky and features L’histoire de soldat and his octet for woodwinds.

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