Damage (1992) (Blu-ray Review)

  • Reviewed by: Stuart Galbraith IV
  • Review Date: Feb 23, 2024
  • Format: Blu-ray Disc
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Damage (1992) (Blu-ray Review)


Louis Malle

Release Date(s)

1992 (June 28, 2023)


New Line Cinema (Imprint/Via Vision)
  • Film/Program Grade: A-
  • Video Grade: A
  • Audio Grade: A
  • Extras Grade: B+

Damage (1992) (Blu-ray)

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An outlier of the French New Wave, director Louis Malle (1932-1995) defied classification. He made narrative features but also documentaries, and movies in both France and in America and elsewhere. He courted controversy with films like Pretty Baby (1978) and Murmur of the Heart (1971) and made memorable, unconventional works such as My Dinner with Andre (1981). During the 1980s he also produced a few clunkers—remember Crackers (1984)?—but returned to form with the autobiographical, deeply-felt Au revoir les enfants (1987). Damage (1992), his penultimate feature is about as far removed from Au revoir as can be imagined. A hot-and-steamy romantic psychological drama, it’s less profound than it seems to think it is, but it’s gripping and memorable, disaster porn of a different sort. I hadn’t seen it since it was first released in 1992, and was surprised I had remembered so much of it so vividly.

Dr. Stephen Fleming (Jeremy Irons) is a rising star in the British Parliament, a wealthy, conservative (Tory) minister. He has a loving wife, Ingrid (Miranda Richardson), admiring adult son, journalist Martyn (Rupert Graves), and doting teenage daughter, Sally (Gemma Clarke). Yet in an early scene of Stephen wandering about his stately home, the viewer gets the sense Fleming feels a certain emptiness in his seemingly idyllic life.

Martyn has a new girlfriend, Anna Barton (Juliette Binoche), the daughter of British diplomat and a French mother. Stephen becomes fixated on this mysterious woman, and very quickly they embark on a torrid love affair, with Ingrid and Martyn completely unaware of his betrayal. Indeed, despite the frequent hot sex Anna and Stephen enjoy on a regular basis, Anna and Martyn announce their engagement as if all were right in this family unit.

Anna’s mother, Elizabeth (Leslie Caron) turns up, and instinctively aware of the relationship between her daughter and Anna, she privately warns Stephen to break it off, that Anna is damaged goods (thus lending multiple meaning to the film’s title), unintentionally bringing destruction to every relationship she has. Indeed, the audience gradually learns that, years before, she was likely involved in an incestuous relationship with her older brother, who committed suicide when Anna ended it. Later, Stephen becomes jealous of Peter (Peter Stormare), a former lover who helped Anna through her brother’s suicide.

A 1992 British-French co-production more or less made for mainstream consumption, Damage nevertheless plays much more like a 1960s French film in terms of subject matter and execution. It particularly reminded me of François Truffaut’s underrated The Soft Skin (1964), starring Jean Desailly as a successful writer who cheats on his wife, and becomes similarly obsessed with flight attendant Françoise Dorléac. One might have expected Malle to subvert this kind of thing with comically stuffy English attitudes toward sexual relationships and so forth, but the movie doesn’t really go there.

Instead, it’s really a fairly simple story of self-destructive carnal obsession, the sex scenes pushing its R-rating to the brink of an NC-17 one. (Cuts were made to ensure this.) Binoche, having made a strong impression on international audiences four years before in The Unbearable Lightness of Being is undeniably alluring, the film’s sex scenes offset somewhat pairing her with gaunt and bony Irons, who has an alarming full-front nude scene near the end that even he later admitted was a distracting mistake.

The performance of Miranda Richardson, who has two brief but outstanding scenes, was singled out for praise, but everyone delivers fine performances, including also Ian Bannen as her father. The screenplay by David Hare is spare but intelligent, and the musical score by Zbigniew Preisner hits all the right notes.

Imprint’s Region-Free Blu-ray presents the 1.85:1 widescreen release in in 1080p and looks great; the sharpness, color, contrast, all reflect well Peter Biziou’s fine cinematography. Equally good are the LPCM 2.0 stereo tracks, which are immersive for an intimate drama with a handful of characters. Optional English subtitles are provided.

Supplements consist of a new video essay, Professor Hugo Frey on Damage; An Early Obsession, a new interview with editor John Bloom; press junket-type video interviews with Irons and Malle and a One on One featurette with the director; and, finally, a trailer.

Though not quite the great film many critics thought it was back in 1992, Damage holds up well and still impresses. Its adult examination of family and sexual relationships has become rather rare in mainstream films, so younger audiences may be surprised, even startled, by the film’s frankness. Recommended.

- Stuart Galbraith IV