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  • Writer's pictureTyler Foster

Broken Mirrors Blu-ray Review

Cult Epics

Blu-ray Release: August 15, 2023

Video: 1.66:1/1080p/Color

Audio: Dutch LPCM 2.0 Mono and DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 Mono

Subtitles: English

Run Time: 111:43

Director: Marleen Gorris In Marleen Gorris' sophomore feature, the drama centers around the women who work in the brothel Club Happy House -- in particular, the newest worker, Diane (Lineke Rijxman), and the cynical, smart-mouthed veteran she befriends, Dora (Henriëtte Tol). Meanwhile, in the same time, a mysterious, monstrous man whose identity is concealed kidnaps a woman, Bea (Edda Barends) and locks her in a small room, where she is chained to a bed and given nothing to eat while her silent captor watches her physical and mental state crumble.

In 1982, writer/director Marleen Gorris burst onto the scene with A Question of Silence, a drama following three women, strangers to one another, who meet in a clothing store and murder a shopkeeper for mysterious reasons. Lauded for its boldness, and its exploration of women whose personalities and behaviors resisted easy categorization, the film went onto win the Golden Calf at the Netherlands Film Festival, the Dutch equivalent of an Academy Award. Two years later, she reunited with many of the same cast and crew to make her follow-up feature, Gebroken Spiegels, aka Broken Mirrors, which would later be identified as the middle chapter of a thematic trilogy formed by Gorris' first three features (the third chapter, The Last Island, is also coming to U.S. Blu-ray soon via Cult Epics). Like A Question of Silence, Broken Mirrors explores a group of women pushing back against patriarchal society. Given the movie's subject matter, it may seem strange to say that Silence feels playful by comparison, but Broken Mirrors certainly aims to stick in the knife and twist it when it comes to depicting the casual cruelty of evil men. The movie mostly centers around the women who work at a brothel in Amsterdam called the Happy House Club. Ellen (Coby Stunnenberg) runs the client-facing part of the club, serving drinks at the bar and introducing the clientele to the women, while the actual owner (Johan Leysen) mostly hides in a backroom (as well as using Ellen as a shield when he makes demands of the staff). Among the women, Dora (Henriëtte Tol) is the resigned veteran; Francine (Marijke Veugelers) is the ruthless businesswoman; Linda (Anke van 't Hof) is more level-headed; Irma (Carla Hardy) seems a bit fragile; Jacky (Hedda Oledsky) speaks English and tries to carry herself with a bit of class; and Tessa (Arline Renfurm), a Black immigrant from Surinam who works to support her family, watches mostly silently. The story is told mostly through the perspective of Diane (Lineke Rijxman), a newcomer who needs the money for her newborn, especially as her junkie boyfriend sits at home contributing nothing. In addition to the club and the women who work there, there is a concurrent side story about a woman named Bea (Edda Barends), who is kidnapped by a man whose face is obscured. He chains her to a bed and gives her water but nothing to eat, and silently watches while she slowly unravels. A series of photos on the wall suggest she is his seventh victim.

If any element of the film is going to stroke mild controversy in 2023, it's Gorris' negative view of sex work. Not only are most of the women at Happy House disillusioned and depressed (right down to the janitor, who is seen struggling to clean the rooms in the morning), but Gorris tops that with the juxtaposition of Bea and the women at the brothel, a side-by-side comparison of emotional and financial captivity and more literal physical captivity which lands with the subtlety of a sledgehammer. In recent years, there has been a rallying of progressive support for "the world's oldest profession," especially as conversations about women's bodily autonomy and sexual equality have been pushed to the forefront of the American political stage. In that context, it seems possible that the film's bitter and despairing tone will come off as antiquated or lacking in nuance to some contemporary progressives, especially when this type of focus on pain and ugliness surrounding sex work is fairly common in cinema (rare exceptions that come to mind include Josephine Mackerras' 2019 film Alice, which focuses on liberation through financial independence, and Sophie Hyde's 2022 film Good Luck to You, Leo Grande, which focuses on a woman's experience with a male sex worker). To be clear, that's merely an observation, not a criticism -- the film is almost 40 years old, and Gorris shouldn't have felt obligated to soften her views of sex work in her own film. Although Gorris is probably not making a distinction between Happy House Club and any other brothel, one can still choose to view the conditions there as specific to those women and that club without ignoring the metaphorical and literal connections Gorris is drawing between the film's two stories. It's also clear, regardless of how one views the film's political commentary on the sex industry, that the looming sense of threat is meant as a backdrop for the camaraderie between all the women in the club, especially newcomer Diane and veteran Dora. Even as they bicker with one another, sometimes viciously, they are linked through a shared defensiveness and understanding that they can only count on each other, with every man who first appears at the frosted glass front door as a warped, anonymous blob that may or may not match up with the kidnapper whose face we can't see. When there is a violent attack in one of the rooms, one man steps in to help, but when Dora thanks him on the drive back from the emergency room, he comments, "I'd have done the same for a dog." The only decent man in Dora's life (and the entire film) is an unseen homeless person living in a shack outside her apartment, who chats with her as she walks by. In one of the film's best scenes, the women all go out to dinner together and have a cynical laugh about the fairy tales they grew up with. Later, just like in Silence, where Gorris (who would later come out as gay herself) included a fascinating scene between Tol's murderer character and the psychologist interviewing her, she suggests the possibility of romance between Diane and Dora. As the level of menace and discomfort in the club increases, Gorris builds to a climax that is the equivalent of a righteous, self-assertive scream. Similar to courtroom climax of A Question of Silence, which also culminates in a similar burst of emotion, what unfolds won't solve the problems of the world these women inhabit, but there's no question that they've been heard, and that they have each other.


Even before a frame of actual cinematography appears on screen, one can tell that the materials available to Cult Epics to remaster Broken Mirrors were better than what they had to work with on A Question of Silence -- the clarity of the red text characters on a rich black background during the opening credits is already pleasing to look at. In this case, per the packaging, this new transfer has been done in 4K from the original camera negative. Detail is excellent throughout most of the film, with the occasional darker scene offering a nice rich grain field, and the transfer capturing the nice hazy glow of the film's cinematography. The only potential issue here is the color, which is rich and vibrant, but also occasionally displays a familiar drift to modern color schemes, with lighting that should be white turning a yellowish green, or skin tones looking a little flushed. I don't think this takes away from the presentation, and it varies from scene to scene, but it's present enough to be worth mentioning.


As with A Question of Silence, two audio tracks are provided: a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 track and an LPCM 2.0 track, both in the original Dutch. I flipped back and forth between these two tracks, and I could not hear any significant difference between them. Both offer an impressive crispness and clarity when it comes to the dialogue, with no age-related hiss or distortion. The movie's sparse synthesizer score also sounds good, although I suppose I wonder if synthesizer is designed to sound "crisp." Obviously, given the nature of the movie, this is not an especially complex mix, but it sounds nice on this disc. One minor complaint: there is some English dialogue in the film, and it is not subtitled. In this case, I did not have any meaningful trouble understanding the English dialogue, but I always appreciate it when foreign films with English dialogue offer two subtitle options, one which covers only the non-English dialogue, and one which covers the entire film. There are also one or two very minor spelling errors.


  • Commentary by Peter Verstraten, Assistant Professor in Film and Literary Studies at Leiden University - I was a little surprised that Verstraten kicks off the track by talking about the restoration itself in great detail, but he is well-informed. He then segues into more expected subjects, like the careers of the cast (which is a bit more interesting than some tracks because the cast is less familiar to American audiences), the themes of the film (including a deep dive into "the male gaze"), and Gorris herself. In particular, it's interesting to hear some of his comments about the filmmaker, who is retired and apparently no longer grants interviews, which explains her absence from these Cult Epics discs. It's a shame to not hear from Gorris, but Verstraten is a engaging and interesting speaker, and he articulates several ideas throughout the track that I thought were very insightful. Only warning is that he does spoil the endings of Ken Russell's Crimes of Passion and Chantal Akerman's Jeanne Dielman during the track (as well as, less surprisingly, A Question of Silence).

  • Interview with U.S. sex worker Margo St. James (8:17) - This 1984 clip from "Cinema 3" with Adriaan van Dis was shot when St. James was the American representative helping to announce the launch of a Dutch union for sex workers called The Red Thread. St. James' comments remain, unfortunately, totally relevant in 2023, and as a result this is an incredibly fascinating clip, especially as it relates to Broken Mirrors -- St. James' views align more with the contemporary view of sex work, as opposed to the one Gorris depicts in the film.

  • Promotional Gallery - A collection of 18 poster designs, lobby cards, and still images from Broken Mirrors.

  • Theatrical Trailers - A trailer for Broken Mirrors is included, as well as additional trailers for A Question of Silence; Angst; Death Laid an Egg; My Nights with Susan, Sandra, Olga, & Julie; and Obsessions, also available from Cult Epics.


Marleen Gorris' debut film was already a pointed commentary on women trying to liberate themselves from the narrow boxes that patriarchal society tries to put them in, and Broken Mirrors is even more scathing, dropping the larger-than-life elements that made A Question of Silence feel more playful for an incredibly dark central metaphor and a relatively grounded approach. Both movies are well-deserving of rediscovery and re-appraisal via Cult Epics' new Blu-rays of them, and Broken Mirrors has the benefit of being restored from the original camera negative for an even better presentation. It only remains a shame that Gorris herself chose not to participate in the discs, and that her final film, the 2009 Emily Watson drama Within the Whirlwind, was never picked up for distribution -- maybe Cult Epics can change that as well.

The images on this page are taken from the Blu-ray and sized for the page. Larger versions can be viewed by clicking the images.



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