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    Martin Scorsese's World Cinema Project Blu-ray Review

    Blu-ray Criterion

    Dec 12 2013 02:21 PM | Matt Hough in DVD & Blu-ray Reviews
    Perhaps the most recognizable and influential cheerleader for film preservation and proper projection in the world today is Academy Award-winning director Martin Scorsese. In 2007, he began his World Cinema Project, a group that spends time scouring the planet for films in dire need of rescue and restoration. This new Criterion box set Martin Scorsese’s World Cinema Project presents the results of six of his organization’s restoration projects, films little seen from around the world and selected for their international reputations and appeal representing the diverse cultural heritages from Senegal to Bengal, Turkey to Mexico, and Morocco to Korea.

    Title Info:

    • Studio: Criterion
    • Distributed By: N/A
    • Video Resolution: 1080P/AVC
    • Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1, 1.66:1
    • Audio: Spanish 1.0 PCM (Mono), Other
    • Subtitles: English
    • Rating: Not Rated
    • Run Time: 9 Hr. 50 Min.
    • Package Includes: Blu-ray, DVD
    • Case Type: three book-style cases in a cardboard slipcase
    • Disc Type: BD50 (dual layer)
    • Region: A
    • Release Date: 12/10/2013
    • MSRP: $124.99

    The Production Rating: 3.5/5

    Touki Bouki – 3.5/5

    Anxious to escape their dead-end existence in Senegal where street gangs taunt and abuse them, Mory (Magaye Niang) and Anta (Mareme Niang) embark on a series of get rich quick schemes hoping to raise enough money so they can sneak onto a boat and make their way to France for a new life. Most of the schemes backfire in major ways, but Mory lucks out with a gay man Charlie (Ousseynou Diop) who’s interested in him, and while Charlie is occupied in the bathroom, Mory steals him blind including a car which may get them to the port of Dakar and a chance at a new life.

    Not really interested in telling much of a narrative story (great chunks of narrative are simply omitted with the viewer having to fill in the blanks or not even caring if continuity is dashed), writer-director Djibril Diop Mambety instead focuses on the tones and textures of the area with Mory and Anta playing only minor roles in the daily existences of these very different lifestyles in this African culture. We see the daily rituals of hog and goat slaughters, watch street fights between women and card hustling and gambling on every corner, observe a Saturday at the popular town wrestling matches (where another of Mory’s schemes to steal the admissions cash runs foul), and watch our two protagonists withstand the slings and arrows that befall them. Though unschooled in cinematic conventions, Mambety certainly uses lengthy tracking shots as well as any director and suffices his film with a real feel for the time and place of the events. Conundrums abound with his two leading characters, of course; enigmas he doesn’t seem all that interested in exploring.


    Redes - 3.5/5
    Tired of being exploited by the fat cat owner (David Valle Gonzales) of the fishing boats on which they slaves for pennies a day) and a local politician (Rafael Hinojosa) he has in his hip pocket, fisherman Miro (Silvio Hernandez del Valle) tries to get the other fishermen to organize together so they can insist on better pay as a large group. Though there is much support for Miro, there is some division between the men, some of whom need even the few centavos offered with which to buy bread for their starving families. A fight erupts between the differing factions and a shot rings out for one specific target.

    The neo-realistic look at the downtrodden fisherman at the mercy of the rich ship owners was written by the film’s cinematographer Paul Strand along with Velazquez Chavez. Two directors worked on the project, Fred Zinneman and Gomez Muriel who were at odds during the seven-month shoot over approach and tone. The result, though, doesn’t seem show the chaos that was operating behind-the-scenes; the plot is told straightforwardly, and even with the mostly untrained actors, the overall effect can still be engrossing. Zinneman’s constant insistence on action resulted in a really lively fishing sequence, the film’s best scene, and even if he is wooden with his line readings, the camera really loves the film’s star Silvio Hernandez del Valle.


    Dry Summer - 4/5


    Turkish farmer Osman (Erol Tas) has two passions: the water spring which originates on his land and his brother Hasan’s (Ulvi Dogan) young wife Bahar (Hulya Kocyigit). Osman has decided that with the dry summer at hand, he’ll build a dam to retain his water for his own crops thus blocking most of the water stream from his neighbor’s farms down below. Though they protest and even go to court about his dam, the judge eventually rules that Osman’s water is his property. When one of the neighbors tampers with the dam and is shot by Osman, he persuades his younger brother to take the rap with the assurance he’ll get a short sentence while the bigger, stronger Osman will remain behind to protect the family’s farming interests. Hasan gets eight years freeing Osman to plot a scheme to win Bahar for himself.

    Metin Erksan’s direction lifts his very conventional story of twin passions and sibling rivalry into something approaching real poetry with his uncanny mix of image and the hypnotic music by Ahmet Yamac. With Osman’s two obsessions, his water and his brother’s wife, occupying his every thought, the director really helps us understand his rather twisted and selfish way of looking at the world where “me first” is his ruling edict. Erksan mixes point of view shots with lots of imaginative displays of the people and places in this farming community with an especially vivid sequence where the neighbors ambush Osman in an attempt to help him change his mind about the water situation. And, of course, the symbolism isn’t lost on the viewer as Osman meets his completely fitting and ultimate end. The three leads, especially Erol Tas and Hulya Kocyigit, give wonderful performances for the camera (the dialogue was post synched). Ulvi Dogan not only co-starred in the film but also produced it with the director.


    A River Called Titas – 2.5/5

    The two-act film centers (but is not wholly focused on) a decade or more in the life of young Bengali widow Basanti (Rosy Samad) whose up and down life, mostly down, parallels the rocky cultural shifts in the fishing village on the Titas River where she lives. Basanti is eager, open, and loving, but the tragedies of the years (losing her husband after one night of marriage, continual fights with her argumentative, shrewish mother (Roushan Jamil), her abandonment by young orphan Ananta (Shafiq Islam) when she gets stern with him) finally overpower her. Along the way, we’re treated to other stories: rivalries between fishing villages, the sad parable of soul mates separated right after their marriage and reunited only moments before each of them dies, the dying economy paralleled by the drying up of the river.

    Writer-director Ritwik Ghatak was not an expert in narrative. The über-melodramatic twists and turns in his story are almost laughably broad compared to the kind of storytelling we’re accustomed to here. But it’s clear his aim is really to comment politically on the problems facing his country by using these characters as vessels for his propaganda. An elderly character speaks early on that existence is noted by “a spark of life and then it disappears.” The more than two-and-a-half hours that this movie takes to unfold can be summarized by that one notation. Ghatak is a visual stylist often offering hypnotic images as he shows us slices of life along this riverbank, but the film was not successful even in his own country due to its bleak outlook, very few relatable or sympathetic characters, and the laggard pacing. Leading actresses Rosy Samad and Kabari Choudhury (who gets abducted by river pirates the day after her marriage, is lost in the river, and eventually floats to land where she can’t remember her husband’s name or what he looked like, not because of amnesia but simply a lack of looking!) carry the burden of the film’s dramatic through lines, and they have moments of poignancy and effectiveness, but many of the other actors seem brittle, over-the-top, or stilted.


    Trances – 3.5/5

    Ahmed el Maanouni’s Trances is a 1981 concert documentary featuring the Moroccan folk-pop band Nass el-Ghiwane. Like many such concert-based documentaries, there is much footage from their musical tour, and there are private moments with each of the band’s four members – handsome Larbi Batma, jokester Omar Sayed, soulful Allal Yaala, and serious-minded Aberrahman Paco. We see Larbi drive around the city and worry about a continuing dream he’s having concerning a girl who summons him and then sneers at him. We watch Allal, Paco, and Omar individually interact with friends away from the concert hall and yet bring music with them almost wherever they go. The group discusses without pretension the nature of art and their immersion into it and speculate on what they’d do if they weren’t musicians. And we see the hypnotic effect their style of chanted singing with incessant rhythm has on their audiences. The film isn’t called Trances by accident though that is the title of one of the songs they perform. All of their music is tinged by their religious beliefs and stress the importance of freedom and the lack of oppression. (One song plays vintage footage of the Portuguese invasion of Morocco as the counterpoint to their lyrics celebrating freedom from tyranny.)

    What the documentary doesn’t do is really give us deeper insights into the personalities of these four men. We see no private lives: some wear wedding bands, but there is no discussion about wives or children or the hardships on families when they’re away for long periods. They appear to be genuinely humble and undemanding (there is one interesting sequence where Larbi demands they hire a lawyer to assure the group that they aren’t being taken advantage of in contracts and negotiations: more of this kind of behind-the-scenes look at their dealing with the business side of show business would have been very valuable). Otherwise, we see them in a series of concerts and in the recording studio, occasionally riffing with one another in private as they work through new material. But the personal side of their lives is what’s notably lacking in this otherwise admirable look at pop musicians and their effect on the culture in a part of the world far from us (and yet inarguably similar in crowd immersion to pop and rock concerts in our country at the same time).


    The Housemaid – 3/5

    A choral music teacher (Kim Jin Kyu) has his hands full with the young ladies at the factory where he works falling in love with him. Miss Cho (Um Aeng-ran) in particular is so smitten that she gets a friend to write a mash note for her which leads to the friend’s expulsion from the plant (and the friend later commits suicide from shame). But with the musician moving into a fancy new house on the urging of his delicate wife (Ju Jeung-nyeo), he feels a maid will be needed, and Miss Cho brings along her friend (Lee Eun-shim) to begin working for the family. But the new maid falls for her employer, too, and when the wife is away at her mother’s, the maid seduces the teacher and becomes pregnant. When the teacher’s wife learns the maid is carrying her husband’s baby, she convinces her to abort it, but the maid is so bitter after doing it that she blackmails the family into allowing her to become the one in charge with the husband as her sexual slave and the wife as her servant. She systematically terrorizes the family with her total and maniacal domination of them.

    Three decades before Glenn Close killed the family rabbit in Fatal Attraction, director Kim Ki-young made this way over-the-top melodrama that’s part domestic drama, part horror film, and, as it inevitably becomes, part morality tale. One can’t think about the machinations of the plot too carefully because it quite easily falls apart even given the wimpy nature of the supposedly irresistible music teacher who is the catalyst for everything that happens to this pitifully manipulated family. Ki-young’s great gift, of course, is in visual expression: using his camera to gradually build the mounting tension and dread in the viewer at the next outrageous enterprise this insane housemaid thinks up to keep her hold on the family firm and tight. Viewers may feel they’ve been had by the surprising coda that’s been tacked onto the end of the movie in effect making the film a cautionary lesson in proper behavior and stressing the avoidance of temptation when there are all signs of trouble directly ahead. It’s hard to judge this kind of melodramatic acting: it’s so out there that it’s both engrossing and infuriating at the same time. But Lee Eun-shim has the same kind of maniacal sparkle in her eyes that Glenn Close had in Fatal Attraction and Rebecca De Mornay exhibited in The Hand That Rocks the Cradle, both films which share much of the same mood and tone of this film.

    Video Rating: 3.5/5 3D Rating: NA

    Touki Bouki – 4/5

    The film’s 1.37:1 aspect ratio is delivered in a 1080p transfer using the AVC codec (resolution and corresponding codec are the same for all six films in this set). Sharpness is very good, and color is deeply saturated (reds tend to bleed just a touch especially on a fiery red truck driven through town) with realistic flesh tones the rule. There is occasionally a tinge of brown to the image, but that’s not consistent nor are a few scenes which seem to have been just a bit dark on their way to Blu-ray. But the restoration has removed all traces of time from this 1973 film resulting in a clean and clear transfer. The white subtitles are easy to read. The film has been divided into 18 chapters.

    Redes – 2.5/5

    The 1.37:1 theatrical aspect ratio is retained here. Brought back into existence from only two existing prints, sharpness is rather admirable throughout, and the grayscale is good, too, with its crisp whites and more impressive black levels than one might expect from a 1936 film this damaged. But there isn’t much of the movie that doesn’t show black and white scratches and some damage and spotting. It’s rather constant and sometimes a bit distracting. The white subtitles are very easy to read. The movie has been divided into 14 chapters.

    Dry Summer – 4.5/5

    The 1.33:1 theatrical aspect ratio offers a gorgeous grayscale rendering with impressive black levels and clean whites. Sharpness is outstanding throughout with some exceptional deep focus photography and with contrast dialed in perfectly. There is a slight lighter vertical band running down the right side of the frame for part of the running time, but that’s the only notable artifact. The white subtitles are clearly printed and easy to read. The film has been divided into 20 chapters.

    A River Called Titas – 2.5/5

    The 1.37:1 transfer is a real bundle of problems. About one-fifth of the film looks pristine with a gorgeous grayscale and expert sharpness (this comes about an hour into the movie for a nice stretch of time). Otherwise, though, the image is plagued by scratches, some light and some heavy, emulsion damage, gate jitter, softness that doesn’t appear to be deliberate, and mediocre blacks and blown out whites. White subtitles are easy to read, and the movie has been divided into 30 chapters.

    Trances – 4/5

    Filmed in 16mm, the 1.66:1 transfer looks very much a part of its era (1981). Some shots can be sharp while others are soft; color can vary from strong to rather lackluster. Black levels are acceptable but no more. But the image is clean and clear, and there are no age-related artifacts to mar the viewing experience. The white subtitles can be read easily, and the movie has been divided into 17 chapters.

    The Housemaid – 3/5

    The 1.66:1 transfer was taken from the camera negative except for two missing reels which had to be restored as well as possible from a battered print with large English subtitles which had to be digitally removed. So, 70% of the film looks spotless: clear, sharp, detailed, and with striking grayscale which boasts clear whites and good black levels. But those two missing reels are like night and day in terms of viewability. Digitally harsh with amped contrast and yet a faded picture, scratch laden and with missing frames, those scenes are a trial to endure until the picture straightens out again. The two missing reels were not back-to-back reels, so the viewer has a spotless picture for about 45 minutes which is then interrupted by an appalling image for eleven minutes or so only to go back to something beautiful again and then a further descent into mediocrity until that reel eventually concludes and the film returns to something beautiful for its ending. The white subtitles are easy to read. The film has been divided into 17 chapters.

    Audio Rating: 3.5/5

    Touki Bouki – 4/5

    The PCM 1.0 sound mix (1.1 Mbps, the same bitrate which is found on all six films in the set) features better than expected fidelity and just a tiny trace of hiss. Director Djibril Diop Mambety has used pop tunes to complement his visual ideas, and they resonate quite nicely ("Paris! Paris! Paris!" is repeated several times during the movie since that’s the destination of the two young people). The dialogue has mostly been post-synched, but there is no problem at all with the dialogue, music, and sound effects occupying the same track.

    Redes – 2.5/5

    The PCM 1.0 sound mix features Sylvestre Revueltas’ stirring music with adequate fidelity, but when the microphones are turned on to record the post-synched dialogue, hiss and some attenuated crackle are pretty constant companions. The dialogue, music, and sound effects all exist comfortably enough in the same track, but this oldest of the films in this set certainly shows its age despite all the best efforts of the restorers and Criterion’s engineers to bring it back to life.

    Dry Summer – 4/5

    The PCM 1.0 sound mix offers the post-synched dialogue sounding very canned and with little variety. The music and sound effects also occupy the mono track agreeably with the dialogue.

    A River Called Titas – 4/5

    The PCM 1.0 sound mix expertly weaves the dialogue, sound effects, and near-constant music without any of them intruding on the other. The film, except for one brief passage of direct recording (which has some hiss attached), was post-synched, and the unvarying nature in the tones of voices and the sometimes tinny Foley effects makes for a somewhat monotonous listening experience.

    Trances – 3.5/5

    The PCM 1.0 sound mix is clear but rather lackluster for a music-based movie. There’s not a great amount of resonance with the sound, but likely that’s due to the small budget and the dated original elements. There is no hiss or any other problematic sound anomalies that jar the listening experience.

    The Housemaid – 4/5

    The PCM 1.0 sound mix is typical for its era, but fidelity is quite good for the music which blares ominous chords at regular intervals when something heinous happens or is about to happen. The dialogue is not compromised by the music or sound effects, but the dialogue was post-synched, so there is that monotonous sameness of recording level which gives the track a rather lifeless ambiance.

    Special Features: 4/5


    Touki Bouki


    Martin Scorsese Introduction (2:16, HD)

    Abderrahmane Sissako Interview (11:56, HD): the filmmaker offers an informed video critique of the film.


    Redes


    Martin Scorsese Introduction (1:57, HD)

    Visual Essay (7:43, HD): Kent Jones has written an informative history of the project with his script read by Bruni Burres.


    Dry Summer


    Martin Scorsese Introduction (2:03, HD)

    Metin Erksan/Fatih Akin Interview (15:03, HD): two directors who have each won the Golden Bear at the Berlin Film Festival discuss director Erksan’s prize-winning work. Erksan’s interview was recorded in 2008 before his untimely death. Akin’s interview is from 2013. Erksan shares memories of the difficulties in getting the movie made and his unusual way of creating movie stars.


    A River Called Titas

    Martin Scorsese Introduction (2:40, HD)

    Kumar Shahani Interview (15:34, HD): the filmmaker who claims director Ritwik Ghatak as his mentor explains the filmmaker’s approach to creating art in his only eight lifetime films. Shahani offers a laudatory critical explanation for the director's methods and motifs in A River Called Titas.

    Trances

    Martin Scorsese Introduction (2:00, HD)

    On Trances (18:04, HD): as the first film restored by Scorsese’s World Cinema Project, the making and reception of Trances is discussed by Martin Scorsese, director Ahmed el Maanouni, and producer Izza Genini who, quite frankly, offer more insight into the personalities of the four musicians than the film itself does. Musician Omar Sayed also looks back on the movie and offers his views on its production.

    The Housemaid

    Martin Scorsese Introduction (2:17, HD)

    Bong Joon-ho Interview (15:04, HD): the filmmaker discusses the qualities of the film which set it apart from anything that was being made in Korea then or now.

    Sixty-Four Page Booklet: contains the cast and crew lists for all six films, a nice selection of movie stills, an overview essay on the collection by Kent Jones, and individual essays on each of the six films by Richard Porton, Charles Ramirez, Adrian Martin, Bilge Ebiri, Sally Shafto, and Kyung Hyun Kim.

    DVD Copies: each film has its own individual disc.

    Timeline: can be pulled up from the menu or by pushing the red button on the remote. It shows you your progress on the disc and the title of the chapter you’re now in. Additionally, two other buttons on the remote can place or remove bookmarks if you decide to stop viewing before reaching the end of the film or want to mark specific places for later reference.

    Overall Rating: 3.5/5

    Martin Scorsese’s World Cinema Project presents six films from around the world which would under ordinary circumstances not have been seen on American movie screens. Individually and as a group, they’re not for all tastes, and reactions to them will undoubtedly vary widely. But his organization in its seeking out the world’s cinema treasures and making sure they’re not lost to the ravages of time is a worthwhile one making these six examples of the work they’ve done more than worthy of attention.

    Reviewed by: Matt Hough
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    1 Comments

    Thanks for the thorough review on this one. A title I was curious about since it seems like a noble cause of a release but your review confirms that it's probably, ultimately, not my cup of tea. I'm more in love with the idea of the project than the actual result. I'll be passing on these.