The Name of the Rose Jean-Jacques Annaud

This international filmmaking effort — based on an Italian book with a French director, German money and Scottish (Sean Connery) and American (Christian Slater) stars — emerges on DVD for the first time, and it holds up well against a lot of period work done in the mid-'80s. In fact, The Name of the Rose is one of the best dramatic interpretations of the medieval period in mainstream cinema because it deals with the thematic issues at play and doesn't simply use a 13th century monastery as set dressing. The film by Annaud, whose previous success had been the wordless Quest For Fire, is pretentious enough to call itself "a palimpsest" of Umberto Eco's novel. (A process by which old writing is rubbed off a parchment to make way for new.) What's left are hints of Eco's medieval scholarship — which surrounds a series of controversial books on comedy — with a large chunk of murder mystery. Playing Watson to Sean Connery's Holmes is Christian Slater, acquitting himself fairly well in his first role, but it's Connery's performance that's a real revelation. At this time so tied was his career to (as Annaud calls it on the commentary) "zero zero seven" that the film's original financing fell through when the studio found out Connery had been cast! In fact, it was this performance that got Connery out of the spy game rut. F. Murray Abraham has top billing in a small, pivotal role as a Catholic inquisitor, but for the most part Annaud keeps his monks unknown and unusual. In fact, he found many of them by visiting travelling circuses and carnivals looking for unusual faces. Annaud's obsession with period detail comes out in his commentary, as well as in an unusual "making of" documentary done in German, which obsesses over the interpretation taken of Eco's book. (The film was shot in English but made for the German market.) In fact, the entire project was almost derailed when the book became a must-have (but not must-read) bestseller for Hollywood phonies. Annaud, who originally bought the rights for $15,000, was offered over a million shortly after, but would have preferred to be left alone to make the movie he wanted. Which, in the end, he managed to do. Plus: photo gallery, more. (Warner)