The Legend of the Holy Drinker

The Legend of the Holy Drinker

(Ermanno Olmi, 1988)

Rating: 5/5

Reviewed by Dave Lancaster

: Rutger Hauer's finest performance has just been given the Blu-ray treatment it has always deserved. You must see this.

Rutger Hauer delivers an absorbing, masterful performance as a drunk on a stumble towards redemption and sobriety in The Legend of the Holy Drinker. This is a performance for the ages and hopefully one that will receive the kudos it deserves now that it has arrived on a beautifully restored Blu-ray via Arrow Academy.

Hauer commands every frame as a homeless man who is given a shot to clean himself up when a kindly, ethereal gentleman (Anthony Quayle) grants him a 200 Franc loan out of the blue. As a plot catalyst, that is pretty much it in this minimal narrative that one feels could play out like a silent film with Emil Jannings in the lead.

You so want Hauer's character Andreas Kartack to be able to clean himself up and pay the man back but tragedies of the present and his past converge to distract him (and in doing so enrich the audience's understanding of how such societal outcasts are born).

Italian cinema stalwart Ermanno Olmi's adaptation of Joseph Roth's 1939 novel is a slow, brooding and compelling approach to a theme of alcoholism. Abandoning his usual policy of casting non-actors in the lead, Olmi grants his audience a more accessible entry point than, for example, his revered three hour neo-realist epic The Tree of the Wooden Clogs.

In terms of tone, Olmi negates the horrific and noir undertones of Billy Wilder's The Lost Weekend instead opting for a more naturalistic path that feels tinged with impressionism as if it were a spiritual sequel to Murnau's 1924 classic The Last Laugh or Peter Watkins' 1974 masterpiece Edvard Munch. If you happened to see those and were as transfixed as I was during those deeply personal filmic experiences, then you will surely find plenty to savour with The Legend of the Holy Drinker.

For those who only know Rutger Hauer as the bad guy from Blade Runner or that deranged old man in Hobo With a Shotgun, this will be one hell of an eye-opener. Hats off to Arrow Academy for granting us this gift of a Blu-ray. It looks and sounds terrific and - as per usual from Arrow - it has been supplemented with some thoughtful bonus materials.


  • Brand-new 4K restoration from the original negative, produced by Arrow Films exclusively for this release
  • High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) and Standard Definition DVD presentations of both the English and Italian versions of the film
  • 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio and Stereo 2.0 options for the English presentation with optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard-of-hearing
  • Stereo 2.0 audio for the Italian presentation with optional newly translated English subtitles
  • Brand-new interview with actor Rutger Hauer, recorded exclusively for this release
  • Interview with screenwriter Tullio Kezich
  • Theatrical trailer
  • FIRST PRESSING ONLY: New writing on the film by Helen Chambers, author of Joseph Roth in Retrospect: Co-existent Contradictions

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